DENVER – Hard to imagine that there were two prouder parents at the Pepsi Center than Linda and Mick DeKeyser on Friday night.
The Michigan natives were among 18,007 fans at the sold out arena when the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Red Wings. But unlike the overwhelming majority in attendance, the DeKeysers were there to mark a very special occasion.
“What can you say? It’s definitely going to be a whole lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to it,” said Mick DeKeyser, as he, his wife and a few other family members settled into their seats in Section 106 to watch the NHL debut of Danny DeKeyser.
DeKeyser had a strong start to his NHL career too, and it sure didn’t hurt that he could celebrate the milestone with a 3-2 overtime victory.
“It’s definitely good to get the first one out of the way,” the 6-foot-3, 190-pound defenseman said. “I had some jitters at the start, but after that you kind of settle down a little bit, you make some different decisions out there, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The DeKeysers never expected this day would come for their son, that is, until a few years ago when they were told, with a high degree of certainty, that Danny had the skill set and physical attributes that NHL teams coveted.
“When we took him to British Columbia the coach said, ‘Bring everything as if you’re going to live in Canada for the next six months for the tryout,’” Linda said. “Then when (the coach) saw him play, he met with us and said, ‘He’s staying. He’s a find.’ So, British Columbus recognized his ability and all of his hockey sense.”
To watch him Friday it sure looks like the Red Wings have landed a special player. With the exception of one first-period miscue that led to a scoring chance for the Avs, it was difficult to tell that DeKeyser was making the jump from college hockey to the best pro league in the world.
His maturity and hockey sense was on display when late in third period with the score tied at 2-2 and Colorado on the power play, DeKeyser intercepted an Avs’ pass along in the half wall and fired the puck down the ice. He logged 16:36 of ice-time, including 1:35 of short-handed time.
“It was a big kill for us,” DeKeyser said. “I don’t know how much time was left in the game there for us, but I know we needed that kill. … I was just happy to help out the guys there.”
For most of the game DeKeyser was paired with veteran Ian White, who was impressed with what he saw out of the rookie.
“I think he was pretty good right off the bat,” White said. “Probably 2-3 shifts in when you touch the puck a little bit and you make a good pass or you get a hit or something, you really then feel like you’re in the game.
“I just told him to keep it simple. Sometimes you get the tendency to do too many things. But the game is a real simple game, just get the puck and try to find the open guy. We talked over a few situations and he’s a good player.”
When asked about DeKeyser’s play Friday, coach Mike Babcock smiled and said, “I liked him. He's going to be a good player in the league for a long time. Obviously, he's got to get a lot stronger and just as he gets comfortable playing in his own end, but he skates so good and passes the puck so good and he's smart, good defender, makes it pretty easy to like him.”
DeKeyser attended St. Mary Grade School in Mt. Clemens before spending four productive years at Warren De La Salle, where he was an outstanding student, despite playing travel hockey, which forced him to often miss plenty of class room time. But even at a very young age, he made a commitment to himself to be the best that he could be at whatever he put his mind to.
“He was always a very good student and was never a problem,” Linda DeKeyser said. “He’s always done what has been asked of him, and he had to work hard because he traveled with travel hockey. He could be in Canada, Quebec, Toronto. We could be in a tournament in Florida, out west, anywhere. So we always had homework in the vehicle. A lot of times he was eating his meals as we were driving somewhere. You sacrifice a lot. You miss your birthdays at home sometimes, his grandma’s birthday at home.”
But now, after days of deliberating over contract offers from practically every NHL club, the DeKeysers have their son back home, and attending his games will be much easier now that he’s suiting up for his favorite boyhood team.
“He finally did decide to go with his home team, because this is where he is from, he was born in Detroit,” Mick DeKeyser said. “He had a chance to play here and how can you pass that up?”
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