He’s played in over 1700 professional hockey games, dedicated nearly four decades of his life to the sport, and won three Stanley Cups with three different NHL teams. Though playing hockey pays the bills in the Keane household, strapping on skates and hitting the ice is about more than earning a paycheck for the captain of the Manitoba Moose.
After all these years, having fun is a top priority for Mike Keane. Some things never change.
Hockey has been good to the kid from River Heights, and Keane has always repaid the favour. Never one to take the game for granted, Mike’s work ethic, commitment, and perspective have changed little since he first strapped on skates as a youngster with the Sir John Franklin Explorers.
“My brother played, so I think it was a given that I was going to play,” he says. “I remember going to the rink – just running down there every day and putting the skates on, shooting pucks, and horsing around.”
Over 30 years later, Keane is still at the rink every day – putting skates on, shooting pucks, and – every once in a while – horsing around. Blame it on his jokester personality or the rookies in the locker room, but Mike’s youthful perspective has served him – and his teammates – well.
This season will be Keane’s third with the Moose and 20th since turning pro with the AHL’s Sherbrooke Canadiens in 1987-88. That season, 20-year-old Mike registered 68 points for the Canadiens – good for fifth on the team in scoring and a shot at cracking the famed Montreal Canadiens roster in ’88-89. He did, and played an important role with Montreal, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis, and Vancouver for the following 16 seasons.
Then came the NHL lockout in 2004-05 and a decision that would raise some questions among his peers and the media: In 2005, Mike took a pay cut, packed his NHL hockey bags, and – rather than hang up his skates and relish retirement – returned to his hometown and the AHL.
Keane has always stated that he’ll play professionally as long as he loves it and his body allows it.
“As a kid, I wanted to play hockey. That’s it. Obviously at the highest level, but if not, I wanted to play hockey anyway,” he remembers. “I was fortunate enough to play in the NHL for a few years, but if I hadn’t, I’d still be playing somewhere.”
This winter, that “somewhere” is the MTS Centre and other AHL arenas, but local community rinks might also see Mike the odd evening or afternoon. Although daughter Olivia isn’t playing hockey this year, 10-year-old Jackson is hitting the ice, and Mike and his wife Tammy are encouraged by both childrens’ athletic interests.
“I have friends that I grew up playing hockey with that are lifelong friends, and that’s what I want for my kids,” Mike says. “I want Olivia or Jay to go out and play sports, whether it be hockey or whatever, and to meet some buddies while playing. Keep playing and you have your friendships forever.”
Those friendships, Keane emphasizes, are what parents should be focusing on.
“People are very passionate about the game, at every level,” he says. “Is it healthy to push a child? Absolutely. But there’s a fine line between pushing and being a fanatic. Parents and their children are putting in a heck of a lot of time, so to do it when it’s not fun is just a waste of time.”
In balancing the hectic schedules of a professional hockey player and active family, wasting time isn’t an option for the Keanes. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. FIVE FAVOURITES
FAVOURITE FOOD: Jujubes
FAVOURITE NFL TEAM: Pittsburgh Steelers
FAVOURITE CEREAL: Capt. Crunch with Crunch Berries
FAVOURITE COLOUR: Blue
FAVOURITE SODA: Dr. Pepper