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Blackhawks' Keith excels even as ice time climbs

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith someday might run a marathon.

He's not the biggest fan of distance running, but he does have some experience with it and might get bored enough to try after he retires.

"I used to do a little running," Keith said Thursday following practice at United Center. "To me it wasn't a whole lot of fun … just plain running. But I enjoy exercise, you know? I was always a pretty good long-distance runner."

For now, Keith is content as a defenseman long on endurance. He'll look to continue as the Blackhawks' marathon man when they open their Western Conference Second Round series against the Minnesota Wild on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

Capable of playing at a high level for marathon minutes, Keith gives the Blackhawks an advantage most teams don't have defensively. Look no further for evidence than their six-game victory against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round.

Keith came up with multiple important plays that helped the Blackhawks win the best-of-7 series. He did it playing 44.9 percent of the 428:49 of game time in the series. During his 192:20 of ice time, Keith had two goals, five assists and averaged 40 shifts per game.

He scored the game-winning goal 7:49 into the second overtime in Game 1 at Bridgestone Arena. He had an assist on the game-tying goal by forward Brandon Saad at 11:03 of the third period in Game 4, which the Blackhawks won in triple-overtime. He set up two of the Blackhawks' three first-period goals in Game 6 and then scored the winning goal with 3:48 remaining in the third period.

"Whether he's producing or not, or if you notice his name or see it on the score sheet or not, he means the world to our team both ways. Especially in our own end," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It's huge for him to be as dynamic as he is offensively. But the minutes and the style that he plays, he means a lot to our team."

That's especially true heading into the second-round series with the Wild. Minnesota plays a tight-checking style that often leads to low-scoring games, and potentially overtime games. Keith's play rarely suffers because of his high-volume ice time.

The Blackhawks' annual fitness testing competition during training camp includes an exercise that measures a player's volume of oxygen capacity, commonly referred to as the VO2 max text. It usually involves a stationary bike and a mask that measures oxygen consumption.

Like he does during games, Keith can last a long time on the bike.

"He's a freak," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane said. "He's one of those athletes you don't see every day. He's as physically fit and prepared as they come, and he's a guy that obviously loves playing hockey."

Keith didn't reveal any of his VO2 max scores, mainly because he claims not to know them. He did, though, say they were high.

Asked how his score stacks up to Keith's, Kane said, "I try not to compare my score to his in that, so I don't look at that too much. I'm not sure what his score is, but it's always up there in the top ranks and he stays on the bike longer than anyone. I don't know if that translates over to his endurance in hockey, but it seems to have some correlation."

Keith said he doesn't really think of it that way. His superior endurance is something he takes pride in, but playing extended minutes is something he's always done. It dates to his youth hockey days.

Duncan Keith
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 19 | +/-: 3
"I've always played a lot of minutes," Keith said. "Growing up as a kid we only had four defensemen on the team, so we all had to play. I think every defenseman likes to play out there as much as they can, and I certainly think that we've got a lot of good [defensemen] on this team that have played a lot of minutes as well. It's not just myself."

When you look at the Blackhawks' ice time after games or a playoff series, Keith's name usually is by itself at the top and the player in second isn't even close.

Keith's teammates admire that about him. They don't see someone showing off by going over the boards so often; they see a passionate player who can't get enough.

"You can see that when he's on the ice," Kane said. "He's into the game. He's intense about it. He wants to be on the ice, plays a lot of minutes, and he really seems to eat up those minutes too. We're lucky to have him. No one will ever take him for granted in here."

Likewise, no one should be surprised if Keith does, indeed, run a marathon. Asked if he'd ever thought about it, he hunched his shoulders and left the door open for the future.

"I don't know; you never say never," Keith said. "Never know what it'll be like when I'm older. I'll try to figure out something to stay active. Maybe I'll enjoy that."

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