DETROIT − Danny DeKeyser sat down for a plate of tacos at a nearby restaurant, after he was done walking me through a dazzling $1.2 million waterfront home in St. Clair Shores that’s listed for sale by his realty company.
It was a Tuesday, after all. Beautiful, bright and warm with the sun streaming in through the garage-door windows at Zef’s Dockside Bar and Kitchen. It’s a casual eatery on the water along Jefferson Avenue that has lived many lives. It used to be Captain Jack’s Lakefront Bar and Grill, which used to be Rojo Mexican Bistro, which used to be Andiamo Lakefront Bistro.
DeKeyser used to be a defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings, an elite skater defined by his great decisions and rare mistakes in 547 games over a 10-year career. Before that, he was an unlikely success story as an undrafted player out of Western Michigan. Before that, he was the local kid from Macomb climbing the junior ranks after he graduated from Warren De La Salle.
Now he’s turning himself into something new again at 33 years old, a year after injuries put him on the brink of retirement following a brief tryout with the Toronto Marlies, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate. He called to talk it over with his wife, Melissa, who was back home in Grosse Pointe Shores with their three young daughters. It was his decision, she told him.
“Basically just kind of talked to her and I guess that was maybe the other side of it, too,” he said. “She was at home, I missed the kids a little bit, wasn't playing and stuff like that. I was in the minors. Nobody wants to be in the minors.”
On the four-hour drive home from Toronto, DeKeyser had plenty of time to think about a future he always knew he would have to face.
“I guess it's just one of the things you really never prepare for as a hockey player,” he said. “You hear a lot about it.”
Veterans told him about “life on the other side,” an uncertain place where DeKeyser hadn’t been since Mick and Linda DeKeyser signed up their 3-year-old for hockey 29 years ago.
“You just gotta go through it and it kind of sucks,” he said. “But you know, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and just try to find a new path forward.”
The path might have been new to DeKeyser but the journey wasn’t. When he went undrafted out of WMU, he made his way onto an NHL roster, turned himself into the Wings’ best defenseman and earned a six-year, $30 million contract in 2016.
DeKeyser majored in communications and took public-relations classes that help him communicate, present and market himself. He left college early to sign with the Wings, but completed his university studies degree online and graduated in 2019.
But he always had an innate interest in real estate. Just like more than 200 million realty junkies do every month, DeKeyser found himself thumbing through the Zillow app and keeping tabs on the market.
“It was always just kind of interesting to me,” he said, “and I always wanted to find a way to just kind of get involved. But at that time when I was playing, really didn't have the time for it.”
From our high-top table at Zef’s, DeKeyser could see the Shore Club high-rise where he and Melissa lived before they moved to Birmingham for a couple years. DeKeyser grew up an East Sider boating on Lake St. Clair and knew he always wanted to return, so the couple bought a home in Grosse Pointe Shores in 2016.
DeKeyser knew the area well, had an interest in real estate and finally had the time, so he took a 40-hour class for his license and passed the three-hour test on his first try in June.
Then he had to find a job. That's when he received an invaluable tip, thanks to not forsaking his hockey life entirely. He still runs youth camps and has stayed connected with the Wings’ alumni network, sometimes taking part in promotional appearances. During an event in July at the Detroit Zoo, he spoke with Andy Dirks, the former Tigers outfielder who has his own realty company.
“He said the biggest thing from going from an athlete to a real-estate agent is making sure people know that you're serious about what you're doing,” DeKeyser said. “You know, because there's a lot of people that'll be like, ‘You know, well, he's a hockey player or baseball player. How serious is he really at what he does?’”
It's also about making sure there’s a team behind the agent. Yes, a team — but also the right team. That’s what led DeKeyser to Saros Real Estate Services in Grosse Pointe after interviews at other local agencies. He liked the training that is provided, and especially liked the meetings at the office twice a week and the interactions they foster. After decades of constantly going to the rink — sometimes twice a day — keeping a schedule and having a place to go was appealing.
DeKeyser started in August and has since sold two houses and helped a client purchase a home.
“So just three total sales in the last couple of months, which is nothing crazy,” he said. “But for a lot of agents, just kind of starting up is the hardest part the first year, year and a half, where you're kind of trying to build a client base. You know, just building a brand.”
So far, it hasn’t been a huge advantage to be a former Wings player. One of DeKeyser’s clients had no idea, which didn’t bother him in the slightest. He’s also OK if they’re big fans.
“I’ll answer any hockey questions, too,” he said, “but my main focus is going to be to buy or sell their house.”
There aren’t many parallels between hockey and real estate, but DeKeyser already has found one that resonates with him as he begins his new career.
“It's competitive in that there's a lot of real estate agents out there, just like there's a lot of hockey players,” he said. “And to try to be the best, you’ve got to compete and learn the ways to pick up deals and learn the best ways to close deals.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @cmonarrez.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings former player embarks on new career as realtor