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Keith And Seabrook: Chicago's First Line Of Defense

by Anne E. Stein / Chicago Blackhawks
This is an excerpt from the October edition of Blackhawks Magazine, the official game program of the Chicago Blackhawks.

One's a country music fan, the other loves heavy metal. One’s a big, hard-hitting defenseman, the other’s a speedy puckhandler. One loves wearing Spider-Man costumes to parties, the other…never mind.

Off the ice, Brent Seabrook, 24, and Duncan Keith, 26, are best friends and hockey fanatics who spend hours watching hockey videos, sharing meals and driving together to practice and games. On the ice over the past four seasons, Seabrook and Keith have developed into one of the top defensive pairings in the National Hockey League.

Last season, the two longest-tenured Hawks racked up huge amounts of ice time and shut down top scorers throughout the regular season and well into the playoffs, helping to propel the team past Calgary and Vancouver and into the Western Conference Final – a trip the Blackhawks hadn’t made since 1995.

“They really complement each other well,” says former Blackhawks forward Martin Lapointe, who’s been a mentor to Seabrook and played with the two toward the end of his career. “They love to work hard and they’re always in top shape coming into training camp, and that’s something you can’t buy. They know what it takes to get better and they do it.”

The way they read off each other is outstanding, raves Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland. “They play against top lines night after night in the NHL and that’s no easy task. What they did last year for us and the years before, well, you can go around the league and a lot of coaches would take that pair any night. They’re out there shutting down all those top units. That hasn’t gone under the radar in the hockey world.”

Both young Hawks are obsessed with improving, and Keith is especially uninterested in being told he’s already near the pinnacle. “You hear some talk,” he says, “but I don’t think about things like that. I just want to keep getting better and so does Brent. We want to be the best we can be individually and as a pairing. As long as we’re shutting teams down and winning games and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup – after you do that, then you can relax a little bit in the off-season.”

Though the pair is getting noticed now – Keith was a 2008 All-Star and the two wrapped up their August vying for spots on Canada’s Olympic team – they spent the first few years flying largely under the radar along with their teammates. Keith, drafted 54th overall in the second round in 2002, and Seabrook, drafted 14th overall in the first round the following year, stepped onto the United Center ice for their first Blackhawks game in 2005, toward the end of hockey’s dark ages in Chicago.

“There was something missing,” says Keith, in his typically understated way. “Today it feels like you’re in the NHL, the real show. You’ve got people cheering and fans singing. Until you go through what we did last year, the winning season and the playoffs with people noticing you on the street and in restaurants… it makes you look back and realize this is a hockey town.”
The perkier Seabs is a little blunter: “It was tough to come to the rink and play [four years ago],” he admits. “We tried our hardest to win, but we just didn’t have it. Now we go into every game thinking we can win. It’s a lot of fun, especially with 22,000 people screaming and cheering. It’s special.”

While most outsiders describe Keith as the quieter of the two (a female fan at July’s Blackhawks Convention publicly announced that his voice was “soothing”), it’s the big-hitting Seabrook who’s really come out of his shell. “When I came into the league I was a little more shy and not as crazy as I am now, but Duncs transformed me,” Seabrook says, smiling. “I’m more confident and have more fun.”

“He was a quiet guy still trying to find his way, like the rest of us,” says Keith. “Before he used to take a lot of ribbing and not say anything back. Now he throws some chirps back at the guys.”

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