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Keane epitomized role player during 15 NHL seasons

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

No matter the sport, every championship team needs its fair share of role players. Of course, those clubs wouldn’t reach such considerable heights without a superstar or two, but it’s those role players or glue guys who are equally invaluable to any team that has ever raised championship hardware after a hard-fought run to the title.

During his 15 seasons in the National Hockey League, few have epitomized and embraced being a role player like Mike Keane. He is one of nine players in league history to have won Stanley Cups with three different clubs.

Of course, Stars fans remember the three and a half years in Dallas, where he was a gritty and hard-working winger willing to do the little things to help the club to hoist the 1999 Cup, his third as a player.

All told, Keane skated for six different NHL clubs before his final stint in the league with Vancouver in 2003-04. But he wasn’t quite done with the game after his time as a Canuck. No, he went on to play six more seasons for the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League before hanging up his skates for good after the 2009-10 season.

Now, the 44-year-old Winnipeg native is content to be a hockey dad and while he won’t get back into the game this year, he sees getting into coaching in the near future as a strong possibility. But for now, he’s focused on being a dad and watching is two children play hockey.

“I’m enjoying catching up and being with my kids. I’ve got a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl that both play hockey,” Keane said. “I’m going to take this year off again and hopefully jump into it next year.”

So, in the meantime, he’ll watch his kids skate and plans on taking them to a few games now that the Jets have made their triumphant return to his hometown.

“Obviously [it’s] very fantastic, it’s not too often one announcement can fire up an entire city as positively as that did. I went to a couple of games [in preseason],” Keane said. “I came to the first exhibition game against Columbus. The building was full and there was a standing ovation for a warm-up. So, it just proves how hungry they were for the Jets to come back. It’s a real good thing for the city.”

Any time he’s at the Jets’ home arena, the CTS Centre, he’s constantly reminded of his five seasons with the Moose since his number hangs in the rafters as the only digits retired by that franchise in its history.

“Yes, it is [weird] but I’m honored. It’s a reflection of my family and parents and of what they did for me like my brother who taught me how to play the game,” Keane said. “It’s just a lot of fun and going in there, I have a lot of pride in my family name.”

During his 15 seasons in the NHL with six different employers, he played in 1,161 regular-season games and posted solid numbers for a role player (168-302-470) during that time. But if you ask him if he ever envisioned spending so long in the league, especially after he went undrafted, he quickly replies that he did not.

“I’m just lucky enough that I had a chance to play that long. I was lucky enough to play with different players, to play with different teams and experience a lot of what the league has to offer,” he said.

Keane added: “Yeah, I never thought I’d play as long as I did. But I was lucky enough injury wise. I was very lucky in getting hooked up with some great teams. Looking back, it was just so much fun. It just went by so fast. As I say, time flies when you’re having fun. I can’t believe that it’s already been two year since I’ve stopped playing.”

His Cup wins came with Montreal in 1993, Colorado in 1996, a team coached by ex-Stars head coach Marc Crawford and in 1999 with Dallas. The ex-Star is frequently asked which of those Cup-winning experiences ranks as his all-time favorite but as he states, that question is never an easy one for him to answer.

“I get asked that quite a bit but each one is different. First Cup, I was with Patrick Roy and then got traded. That was the first Cup, with Montreal. The Cup in Colorado, I got traded there that year that we won. Then, the third with Dallas was three Cups with three different teams. Each has a real different meaning but it was so much fun,” Keane said. “Dallas is still one of the favorite places that my wife and I lived. It’s always fun to come back.”

Jere Lehtinen was a teammate of his during his tenure with the Stars and it’s a fair statement to say the Finnish-born winger was impressed with what his veteran teammate brought to the club during that time.

“He was one of the best ones on the ice and off the ice. He was a great team guy in the locker room and on the ice,” Lehtinen said. “Every night, he would make things happen. It was great for me. I was pretty young when he came and I got to play with him. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Keane was in town for the Stars Alumni Weekend and seeing so many of his ex-teammates from that ’99 team, he was again reminded of what a special group that truly was.

“It’s great [to see all of them again]. It really is,” he said. “If you talk to players and they talk about what they miss, they’ll always talk about being around the guys in the dressing room and the travel. That’s what you miss. It’s great coming back to these events and seeing the guys. It’s a lot of fun.”

And given what he contributed on the ice during his two decades as a player along with his strong knowledge of the game, there is little doubt that Keane would make an excellent coach. But even he knows it’s all about timing and that being what he wants to do.

“I think so [that coaching is in my future],” he said. “I’m not going to veer too far from what I know. I’d like to be involved some way. You have to make sure you want to do it because once you’re in, you’re in. I have some friends who have gotten into it and it’s from seven in the morning ‘til 11 o’clock at night every day. It’s something you have to want to do. We’ll see what happens down the road.”

But he doesn’t think that being a scout would interest him for one pretty simple reason.

“Scouting’s a different ballgame. It’s something where a lot of travel is involved. I didn’t like to travel when I played,” Keane said. “There are different fields that you have to make sure you want to do. You don’t want to get in the game for the sake of being in the game. I know what I know and think I’m going to coach at some point. But there are a million people that want to get into the game, so you might have to take a job to break in the first couple of years. We’ll see what happens down the road.”

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