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Keefe prepared to fill role as coach of Maple Leafs

Spent past five seasons leading Toronto's AHL affiliate, won championship in 2018

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Sheldon Keefe has played a sizable role in the development of the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Now, he'll have the chance to help Toronto turn things around after being named coach on Wednesday, replacing Mike Babcock.

Keefe spent the past five seasons as coach of the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, where the 39-year-old led them to the best regular-season record twice (2015-16, 2017-18), and the Calder Cup championship in 2018.

 

[RELATED: Maple Leafs fire Babcock, name Keefe head coach]

 

This season, the Marlies were 10-2-2-1 and in first place in the North Division.

"Sheldon's record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organization has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Wednesday.

Among the current Maple Leafs Keefe has worked with include forwards Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Trevor Moore and William Nylander, defenseman Travis Dermott and goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. 

Defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are among Toronto's top prospects who played under Keefe with the Marlies this season.

"He understands that you have to be creative, so he lets us be creative," Liljegren told Sportsnet last season. "That's fun, but he can be hard on you, too. You have to push every day. It's a good environment for young guys to be in."

Keefe also has a strong relationship with Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who as the GM of Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League hired Keefe as coach in December 2012. 

Video: Elliotte Friedman reacts to Mike Babcock's firing

During the 2013-14 season, their only full season together, Sault Ste. Marie reached the second round of the OHL playoffs. The following season, Keefe was named the 2014-15 Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League coach of the year before Dubas, then the assistant GM of the Maple Leafs, hired Keefe as the Marlies coach. 

On May 28, Keefe signed a two-year contract extension with the Marlies.

"Ensuring that Sheldon remains tasked with guiding the development of our prospects was very important to our program and the reason we began the discussion to extend Sheldon months ago," Dubas said at the time.

Ottawa Senators coach D.J. Smith has known Keefe since they were roommates with Hershey of the AHL in 2003-04, and they worked together at times the previous four seasons when Smith was a Maple Leafs assistant.

"He's a very good guy, smart hockey man," Smith said. "He went to the Marlies and he certainly proved that he's well deserving and he's one of the better up-and-coming coaches. He's done everything you can do in the American Hockey League. The players that have come up under him have been very detailed and he's done a really good job."

Now he'll get the chance to prove he can do the same in the NHL.

"Not unlike the players that are here, I want to be part of the highest level as well," Keefe told Sportsnet in May. "I know that everything I do every day is about making this team better. It's also about making myself better. For when anybody in the business decides you're worthy of an opportunity, you have to be as prepared as possible. So I focus on what I can control and try to be the best coach I can."

LNH.com staff writer Guillaume Lepage contributed to this report

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