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Hall of Fame

Keon celebrates 80th birthday quietly, while NHL season on pause

Maple Leafs legend is healthy, taking precautions during coronavirus pandemic

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

It was 80 degrees in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on Sunday morning, and Dave Keon, turning 80, would soon be stretching his muscles before heading out for a half-hour bike ride.

"We'd probably be having people here," the Toronto Maple Leafs legend said of his milestone birthday, good wishes arriving by phone early on this day. "My children would be travelling down, but under these circumstances, they'll not be coming."

The enormous impact of the coronavirus is being felt everywhere in the world, and Keon and his wife, Jane, have like so many others modified their lifestyle to remain in good health. 

"We'd go out for lunch maybe five days a week, and maybe one or two nights a week we'd go out for dinner," Keon said. "But that's changed. Along with everybody else we're following safe practices. Hopefully, that works.

Dave Keon (center) with fellow Hall of Famers Frank Mahovlich (left) and Yvan Cournoyer during NHL's 2017 Centennial year celebrations. 

"We're basically the same here as everybody else. Restaurants and facilities are closed, malls and such. There's takeout but you can't go into a restaurant or sit outside to eat. I still see people walking all the time -- the weather here is really nice -- and out on their bikes. Private golf clubs have closed their clubhouses but golf is still being played."

Keon's last trip outside of the U.S. was in late February when he flew to Toronto for the public-signing launch of his Alumni Whisky Series blend. He jokes that he doesn't have a drop of it in his Florida home, the product not yet listed in the U.S., the small sample of it given to him upon its blending last summer happily accepted by a grandson.

Nearly 45 years after his final game in a Maple Leafs sweater, the native of Noranda, Quebec remains beloved by Toronto fans as arguably the finest to ever wear the blue and white sweater. 

In October 2016, heading into the team's centennial season, a blue-ribbon panel voted Keon the greatest player in Maple Leafs history. His No. 14 is retired, hanging from the rafters of Scotiabank Arena, and his statue is among those outside the arena on Legends Row. 

Dave Keon cutting his lawn in 1963, and in mid-1970s action against the California Golden Seals.

Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986, Keon won the Stanley Cup four times with the Maple Leafs (1962-64 and 1967), the Calder Trophy voted as the NHL top rookie in 1961, Lady Byng voted as the most gentlemanly player in 1962 and 1963, and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1967 voted as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Toronto's most recent championship.

Keon says he's not suffering hockey withdrawal with the NHL on pause, finding things to watch on NHL Network when the mood strikes. Like others, he wonders about hockey's return to action, if and when that happens this season.

"I equate the NHL to the NBA, they kind of parallel each other with how their seasons run," he said. "If the NHL started up again, my feeling is they might go right the playoffs and I don't know how they do that with 10 or 12 games left in the regular season and wild-card teams within a couple of points of each other. 

Dave Keon in close against Detroit Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk, the puck between Sawchuk's left pad and the goal post.

"One way would be top three in each division, but I don't know how they could to that with teams a couple points out of a playoff spot. And I don't know how safe it would be. Do they start to play with no one in the arenas? I'm sure there are all kinds of options and I don't know that I'd want to be in a position to have to make that decision."

Early morning Sunday, Keon was uncertain what dinner plans were in the works. This much was for sure: he wouldn't be lacing up his skates, as he did on his birthday 10 times over 18 NHL seasons that spanned 1960-75 with Toronto, then 1979-82 with Hartford after a four-year detour to Minnesota, Indianapolis and New England of the WHA.

Five of those games were against the Montreal Canadiens, two against the Detroit Red Wings, and one each against the New York Rangers, California Golden Seals and, finally, the Maple Leafs, as a member of the Hartford Whalers in 1980-81.

Keon played eight times on March 22 between 1962-75 with Toronto and twice more with the Whalers in 1980 and 1981, winning five, losing two and tying three. He was on the road for seven of those games, scoring six points in all (3 goals, 3 assists), one goal a game-winner, another shorthanded, going plus-1 with 45 shots and four penalty minutes.

Tweet from @MapleLeafs: Wishing Leafs legend Dave Keon a very happy 80th birthday 🎂

"We'd probably celebrate my birthday the day before or after, if it fell on a game day," he recalled. 

Keon was game to take a quick quiz, in which he scored zero out of three in trying to name the goalies he beat on his birthday.

Against Detroit in 1964: "Hank Bassen?" 

In fact, Pat Rupp. "Pat Rupp. Wow."

Against Detroit in 1969: "Jim Rutherford?"

In fact, Roy Edwards.

And against the Golden Seals in 1974: "It wasn't Gary Smith, was it?"

In fact, Gilles Meloche.

The quiz taken, Keon was off to stretch and get out on his bike.

"Seven miles by the clock, about 25 minutes," he said. 

And Keon laughed when told about a black-and-white 1963 photo of himself that would be published with these words, walking on his lawn behind a push-mower.

"Our grass," he said, "is all taken care of."

Photos: HHoF Images/Getty Images

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