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THE VERDICT: Heart and drive propel Keith to career milestone

Team Historian Bob Verdi writes about Duncan Keith, his career and the celebration of his 1,000th NHL game

by Bob Verdi / Team Historian

Duncan Keith played his 1,000th game for the Blackhawks Saturday night. That's a lot of action for a man who, as a child, often heard warnings about how his average frame might not quite belong in the National Hockey League.

Video: Believe in Legacy, Believe in One Goal

Denis Savard also quashed that notion and went to the Hall of Fame. So has Patrick Kane, and he's going to the Hall of Fame. What the size police keep missing is the unmistakable truism that heart and drive are essentials, moreso than height and weight. A scale that measures devotion to duty has yet to be invented.

You will see more people at Thanksgiving dinner than witnessed Keith's debut with the Blackhawks 13 years ago. But Saturday night, the United Center was sold out as usual, in part to honor a superstar who is popular with fans, beloved by teammates and perfectly happy to celebrate a milestone with family, friends and no speech whatsoever. Let the excellent video tell the story.

Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook, two of Keith's best buddies, presented a silver stick. Jonathan Toews and Kane skated out to unveil a painting of Keith in motion. Chairman Rocky Wirtz, President and CEO John McDonough and the Blackhawks executives gifted a trip to England for Duncan and his absolute best buddy, son Colton. Duncan's mother Jean, beaming on the red carpet, was born in England, so that was a nice touch.

Video: Patrick Kane on his rookie year with Duncan Keith

Duncan took it all in somewhat sheepishly, free with hugs for all. But there was a tilt pending against the St. Louis Blues-who courteously observed the ceremony from their bench. Keith lost seven teeth during a playoff game and kept on ticking. He wasn't about to delay official business Saturday night just because it was his 1000th start. Drop the puck. He would talk later.

"It was emotional," said Keith, following the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime (what else?) triumph before 21,634. "A lot of people who have supported me were here, which I appreciate. You only have one career, so I might as well leave it all on the line. I guess this means I've played a lot of games."

Keith is kinetic energy during games and workouts, but he shifts to a more deliberate gear for mundane chores. He is a fastidiously slow eater, chewing as if he is trying to prolong his last supper. During postgame interviews, he is thorough and honest. But he answers all inquiries in a basic monotone, like he's reciting microwave instructions to himself. He's one of the most interesting people in the NHL, but he doesn't do loud, so you have to listen closely.

Or, better yet, just watch. Keith has been a staple of three Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks-in 2010, 2013 and 2015. During the latter postseason, he was a unanimous choice as winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player, a remarkable stretch he capped by scoring the clinching goal in Game 6 of the Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He earned the James Norris Trophy as best defenseman twice, in 2010 and 2014. Only Pierre Pilote (1963, 1964, 1965), Doug Wilson (1982) and Chris Chelios were so feted as Blackhawks. (Chelios won in 1993 with the Montreal Canadiens.)

Video: Brent Seabrook on Keith's 1,000th game

In 2017, when the NHL celebrated its centennial anniversary, Keith was voted among the 100 greatest players ever. Meanwhile, in his spare time, Keith achieved gold medals with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Only five Blackhawks have played more games for the franchise: Stan Mikita (1,396), Bobby Hull (1,036) and Eric Nesterenko (1,013) All were forwards. On Saturday night, Keith's frequent blueline partner, Seabrook at 1,009 took over fourth from defenseman Bob Murray.

Keith was drafted in the second round and 54th overall in 2002. He split time with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and Michigan State, then turned pro in 2003, spending two seasons with the Norfolk Admirals, the Blackhawks' farm club in the American Hockey League. In 2005, he joined the Blackhawks and never looked back.

Given the fetid state of hockey in Chicago at that time, Keith made his mistakes in relative privacy, but they were few. He gradually became a marathon man, consuming massive minutes. If Keith had grown up to be a mail carrier, he would take a walk on his day off.

At the start of this season, it was posited in certain domains that reduced ice time might benefit Keith. He greeted that proposition with a cold stare.

"I don't know about that," said Keith, who logged 25:52 in Thursday night's overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild. "I didn't play my best last year. We'll take it day by day, hour by hour, but I feel good. I feel hungry."

And as Keith is wont to remind on occasion, a hungry wolf hunts best.

For pregame warmup Saturday night, all the Blackhawks wore No. 2 sweaters. But not all of them could glide on those skates like the real No. 2, Duncan Keith, just like he did as that kid who was too small, dreaming the dream. And he's only 35.

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