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Red Wings' DeKeyser earns Western Michigan degree

Defenseman was doing schoolwork while on the road and during the summer

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

For hockey players, off-ice work is just as important as on-ice work.

For Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser, his off-ice work had been a little different but it paid off in a big way Saturday as he walked across the stage at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium to receive his long-awaited diploma.

"It's pretty cool," DeKeyser said in a phone interview. "It was something that I wanted to do. I left school but I didn't get around to it right away so it's nice to have it finished up though."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: An official @WesternMichU Graduate. 👨���🎓 Congrats, @DeKeyser5!

DeKeyser said his family would be there with him for graduation, including his proud parents, Linda and Mick.

"It's just a cool accomplishment," DeKeyser said. "All my family, they have their degrees, my siblings, stuff like that. I just thought it would be something cool to do."

During the down times on the road the past two seasons, most of the Wings would relax with things like naps, favorite movies or TV shows and maybe a video game or two.

Not DeKeyser.

The lanky defenseman was most likely found in his hotel room doing homework or reading his textbooks.

When DeKeyser left Western Michigan in 2013 to sign with the Wings as a free agent, he hadn't completed his degree, and was ready to get his professional hockey career underway.

"My mom, especially, when I left, she was like, 'You're going to finish that when you get a chance, right?' I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it,'" DeKeyser recalled. "She kept asking so I was like, I gotta do it. Kind of buckled down, talked to some people there and got the classes going again and finally got it done."

It wasn't like DeKeyser had to finish just a couple of classes either. He had some real work to do.

"I had about 35 credits or so. So I've been working on it for the last two years," DeKeyser said. "I think I started in the middle of the summer in 2017 and I've taken just classes every semester since then. A few semesters, I took two classes, but during the season I just did one class each semester."

Tweet from @BeauregardKathy: CHEERS for GRADUATE DANNY DEKEYSER , Current DETROIT RED WING Leader! SO Proud of everything you have accomplished, but Congratulations on reaching your Game winning GOAL with your Graduation from WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY today !

To complicate matters -- in a very good way -- DeKeyser's wife, Melissa, gave birth to their first child, daughter McKinley Ann, in late February 2018.

So that's why DeKeyser was doing so much schoolwork when the team was away.

"It was time-consuming but I did most of the work when we were on the road in the hotels and stuff," DeKeyser said. "I tried to keep the family time the same way at home and then when we were gone, I'd do most of the work. It worked out pretty good, I guess."

Thanks to today's technology, DeKeyser was able to take his classes online.

"Some of the classes, there's like class discussions that you have to take part in so whatever the chapter material is based on, you put a post up saying what your thoughts were on the chapter or the material," DeKeyser said. "So everybody in class does that and then comment on other people's posts and stuff like that, just put your insight in."

Because he couln't be on campus, DeKeyser had to change his major.

"When I was at Western actually taking classes on campus, I was a public relations major and a criminal justice minor but for me to finish up and do all the classes online, it was just general studies degree," DeKeyser said. "I figured that was the best way to do it. I wasn't going to have enough time to go back to campus and take classes so that was pretty much my only option and my best option."

That doesn't mean that the online classes DeKeyser was taking were a piece of cake.

"Last semester, I had a bio sciences math class. I know, it sounds terrible," DeKeyser said, laughing. "It was just a lot of math work and problem solving involved, stuff like that. I feel like anytime there's math involved, like complicated math, it's tough. It wasn't an easy class. I'm just glad I passed it."

For inspiration and encouragement, DeKeyser did not have to look far.

Teammate Justin Abdelkader completed his Michigan State degree a few years ago.

"Actually when I saw him finish up a few years ago, I thought that was really cool," DeKeyser said. "I know he had been working on it for a bit after he had left Michigan State. I told him, 'That's pretty sweet that you did that.' I told him that I was interested in finishing up mine and he told me, 'You do three years at school and you're that close to finishing up, you put all that time in, you might as well just do it.' He gave me a little pep talk, I guess you could say, about it, too."

At home, DeKeyser also knew that his wife got her degree so that served as a bit of extra motivation.

"I always walk by her office and her degree is hanging on the wall," DeKeyser said. "I was like, I want mine up there, too.

"I knew I wanted to get it done. It was just a matter of actually putting in the time and the effort of getting back into it. Once you're out of school for a couple years, it's hard to jump right back into it."

DeKeyser has done well in his pro career and probably did not need to return to school but he was thinking ahead to his future when he's done playing.

"It just kind of keeps things open for later in life if you have a degree," DeKeyser said. "I think to be a college head coach or maybe any assistant coach in college, you have to have a degree. I know (former assistant coach) Tony Granato, when he was with us, he left and went to Wisconsin, he's the head coach there. I know that they made him finish up his degree at Wisconsin. I thought that was kind of cool.

"It also made me think like, well, if I'm coaching or something, I want to have that option available and not have to worry about it. So I might as well finish it now and then if I ever am a college coach, it's already done with."

That is likely years away but now that DeKeyser has his degree, maybe he can take a break when the Wings are on the road this season.

"The majority of the time, there's a little down time on the road," DeKeyser said. "I like to kind of kick back and relax but I had to be doing that. I'll be glad this year to actually relax, maybe watch some movies."

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