From the aftermath of a tumultuous season has emerged a leader in one of the most unlikely of candidates: Sheldon Keefe.
Resigned to the Lightning’s B Camp, filled with mostly young prospects, Keefe is taking his experience from last season and putting it to good use. “There are a lot of young guys. Not many have been through what I have,” Keefe said when asked of his leadership role. Then again, few players in the entire league have had to deal with the issues or make the decisions that Keefe has faced throughout his career. Nonetheless, Keefe is still working hard and returning to the leadership role, which he played through his junior career, especially while in Barrie. Keefe, who has more NHL experience than the entire B Camp combined, says he tries to lead by example.
“I talk to them a lot on the ice, try to keep them relaxed,” said Keefe, who has been noticeably vocal on the ice during camp. He has taken a special liking to Russian Evgeni Artukhin, who speaks little English. Keefe has shown a great deal of patience in working with Artukhin and helping him to understand the drills and exercises.
Some could view Keefe’s being assigned to Springfield as a demotion. And in a sense it is, though it does have its perks…like seeing him go head-to-head with former teammate and close friend Mike Jefferson. Keefe and Jefferson were the driving force behind the Barrie Colts’ Memorial Cup run two seasons back.
“Mike has a good chance of making the team in New Jersey,” Keefe explained. Should he not, he will be assigned to the Albany River Rats, who meet up with the Springfield Falcons in their third game of the season—an encounter that Keefe says “will be exciting.” The River Rats and Falcons face each other another seven times during the season, allowing the two former bad boys of the OHL plenty of time to get reacquainted and give each other a taste of their own medicine. Jefferson, who is about the same size as Keefe, is also known for playing the same gritty style.
Keefe has always been known for his intense style, which has provoked comparisons to Darcy Tucker. It’s a likeness Keefe feels is fairly accurate. “He does some things different than I do and I do some things different than he does, but we play with the same passion and intensity.” That passion for the game will continue to help Keefe throughout his career.
“Keefe is the hardest working guy out there,” said Springfield assistant coach Brad Shaw, who is running the Lightning’s B Camp so that Tampa Bay coaches John Tortorella and Craig Ramsay can focus on the A Camp.
The only way back to the NHL for Keefe is through hard work and more hard work, though his previous experience will not hinder him. “At 20 years old, to have that much experience is a huge advantage,” he admits. “Taking that into the season gives you more confidence. That comfort level brings a lot to a game.”
Keefe will have a lot to bring to Springfield come October 5th, when the Falcons hit the ice. He could prove to be a valuable commodity to the young players there, as he works his way up the ranks and back into the NHL.
-Andrei Zyuzin, Stan Neckar, Nikita Alexeev, Martin Cibak and Dimitry Afanasenkov did not make the trip to Halifax for the Lightning’s first pre-season game due to trouble with their work visas. They will be heading to Syracuse, N.Y. for the next game.
-Thomas Ziegler missed practice due to a strained back.
-Brad Yeo and Nikita Alexeev both scored during today’s scrimmage to end the game in a tie, which Sheldon Keefe broke in a shootout to give the Blue team the win.
-Kenton Smith, who had returned to playing defense after spending the past season at forward, played wing during today’s scrimmage.
-Dieter Kochan participated in his first scrimmage since camp began, overcoming an eye injury.