Wed May 19 05:23pm EDT
I stepped on the ice for my first BCHL practice as a spindly 18 year old who, by all accounts, was not the type of dude you'd ask to open a jar of pickles.
When I saw another player on the ice that looked out of the pickle-realm too, I was pumped to not be the frailest-looking guy on the ice.
Here are the depressing facts I found out real quick: The other kid — Duncan Keith(notes) — was a year younger than me, twice as fast, and a defenseman on his way to a 60-game, 82-point season. Hmm. Excuse me while I go get sent down to Junior B again.
I followed Duncan's career pretty closely — how could I not? He went to the college I dreamed of playing hockey for, Michigan State. Then he played for my hometown's WHL team, the Kelowna Rockets. And before you knew it, the guy was an Olympic gold medalist, a Norris Trophy finalist, and one hell of a model Canadian.
I got to know him a bit when he decided to move to Kelowna, dominate our summer shinny game, and just generally damage my confidence further because, hey, why not? It was already in rough shape — our regular attendees for the game included NHL All-Stars, a few Olympians, and me trying to wedge my way into a small roster spot in the NHL. Even then, much like how he looks going back on a puck in this year's playoffs, nobody had a snowball's chance of keeping up with the guy. He's never known the game any other way.
In his first few games with us, I heard one of his buddies refer to him as "Bambi" (after the newborn phase, I assume), probably because it's the only deer name anybody knows. It's exactly how he skates — like a deer. Powerful but graceful, quick and agile; the guy makes NHL regulars look like they're wearing mafia-brand cement skates.
I remember seeing him on the cover on Kelowna's sports section at about 20, lifting weights. His build was completely different from the other hulking beasts who were succeeding at the violent game of professional hockey a decade ago. There he was at that young age, with a lower percentage of fat than the milk in your fridge, doing incline bench presses with two 70-pound free-weights. Yet he still didn't look strong enough to lift the milk gallons yet.
He works as hard anyone at being super-fit — and that's part of why he doesn't seem to wear down. He's the Energizer Bambi.
To top it all off, he's still "whatever" about how good he's become. Half the time he's rockin' the no-tooth, win-and-grin attitude that fits him perfectly.
Every league he touches, he rises above. The NHL is just the latest to find that out.
And now, nine wins into the playoffs, he's looking like he could add a Stanley Cup to his resume. And I still need somebody to open these damn pickles.