By J.P. Anderson | November 25, 2015 | People
He’s won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and the Conn Smythe trophy as the 2015 playoffs MVP—not to mention the hearts of hockey fans across Chicago. But as far as Blackhawks star defenseman Duncan Keith is concerned, he’s just getting started.
Sweater, Belstaff ($1,295). Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan Ave., 312-642-5900
Duncan Keith will never be mistaken for a native Chicagoan—his Ontario accent is as thick as the province’s famous maple syrup—but in sports terms he’s as close as they come. Drafted by Chicago in 2002 and making his NHL debut in 2005, the 32-year-old Fort Frances native has never not been a Blackhawk, playing every game of his career thus far with the team. And what a career it has been, as part of a squad whose three Cups in six years has fans and foes alike throwing around the word “dynasty.” As arguably the NHL’s best defensive player (with two James Norris Memorial Trophy awards to prove it), Keith has been a crucial part of the team’s success—and with a contract set to keep him in Chicago until 2022, he’ll continue to be. As the Roscoe Village resident recently prepared for the coming season, he sat down with Michigan Avenue to talk fatherhood, frozen custard, and why he firmly believes that more championships are in his team’s future.
This was the first time in 75 years that the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup on home ice. How did that feel?
That made it really special; our fans deserved it. To be able to win the third one at home in front of our fans was just a surreal moment for everybody. I got some good video on my iPhone, so I always flip back and look at those things—the skating around on the ice, and video of the fans.
Three championships in six years is an incredible achievement. After so much success, what keeps you motivated?
Every year is different. But we’ve got that experience now where we know that come playoff time, there are certain times in a game and in a series where you have to step up and try to answer the bell. It’s easier said than done, but we’ve got a lot of great motivated players on our team, and we’ve got a lot of talent—you can work hard and you can have all the desire you want, but you have to have guys that can put the puck in the net, and we’ve certainly got that. We all just feed off one another. It’s a good environment and a good culture.
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What makes this team special?
The thing I enjoy about this team is how everybody’s so committed to being their best, never being satisfied. You’d think that after winning one or two [championships], the guys might change, but nobody’s really changed. We’ve all stayed true to what we believe in, what we want to be, and what we feel like we can accomplish here. I think all the guys in the locker room would say the same thing—that we want to keep it going. We want to keep winning.
You mentioned Patrick Sharp, and obviously with the joy of the Cup came the bittersweetness of saying goodbye to him and the other players who were traded. How do you process that?
It’s been a little different, to be honest; I’ve never played with a guy that long and then all of a sudden they get traded. It’s a tough loss when you lose a guy like Sharpie, as well as Saad and Johnny Oduya—those guys were big parts of our team as well. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is now; it’s the business side of the game, where there are going to be changes made, new guys come in, and you try to bring them into the fold as quickly as we can, and hope they get off to a good start.
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Let’s talk about your charity, Keith Relief. What inspired it?
I’m making a pretty good living with the Blackhawks, and the people in this city have been so nice to me and my family and my friends, it’s just a way to give back the best I can. I started thinking of different ideas and finally decided on one to help alleviate the burden of families stuck in a medical crisis, when they can’t pay their bills. It’s been great so far, and we’ve helped a lot of people.
You’ve had so much success in your career—does any single accolade stand out from the rest?
It’s tough to put one ahead of the other, the Stanley Cup or the Olympic gold medal. When you play as hard as you can and for as long of a season as we did, it’s tough to beat that feeling of being a team and battling with them all year long and then the two-month playoffs grind and being able to come out on top and know you’re the champion. To me there isn’t really any better feeling than that. I don’t know if it’s more special that the season’s finally over and you can relax or that you’ve won the Cup. [Laughs] The Olympics were special in a different way—you’re representing your country, and I’ve been able to do that twice so far, so it was pretty special to do that on home soil in Canada the first time in 2010.
Blazer ($2,795) and sweater ($595), Ermenegildo Zegna. 645 N. Michigan Ave., 312-867-3040. Jeans, Rag & Bone ($185). Bloomingdale’s, 900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-440-4460. 18k pink-gold Cellini dual time watch, Rolex ($19,400). C.D. Peacock, Old Orchard Center, Skokie, 847- 679-1837. Sneakers, Strange Matter ($360). Barneys New York, 15 E. Oak St., 312-587-1700
What do you enjoy most about playing in the NHL?
It’s certainly the prestige of being a part of a league where there’s only 600 to 700 jobs in the world. I don’t think it matters what league you’re in, anybody that plays hockey or a team sport would enjoy the camaraderie of being in a locker room on a daily basis. That never gets old. You talk to guys who end up retiring and they say that’s what they miss the most, and I can believe it.
You’re surrounded by talented players. Are there any skills your teammates have that you’re envious of?
I wish I had Patrick Kane’s puck-handling ability and some of his patience and poise. Marian Hossa—in tight spaces being able to guard the puck with his size, his strength, and his reach. You’ve seen before in the offensive zone he’ll have two or three guys on him and he can just hold everybody off and handle the puck with one hand and beat guys. So all those offensive things that us defensemen don’t get to do, I think we all admire that or wish we could be in those situations.
What do you enjoy most about playing defense?
What I’ve always liked about defense is being able to be the quarterback; you see the whole play and you can dictate the play. As a forward, you’re reacting and trying to chase the puck, but as a defenseman, you always have the play in front of you.
How has fatherhood changed your perspective of your life as a hockey player?
It defnitely makes you realize that hockey’s just a game—and it makes you feel a bit older, that’s for sure, when [your son] starts picking up a hockey stick and he’s slapping the puck around in the living room. I really enjoy watching him do that, and it makes me wonder with time going by so fast that it could be him doing what I’m doing before I know it. So as much as we want to win and we hate losing, no matter how bad a day I’ve had at the rink, I’ll always have my son.
Would you like him to follow in your footsteps and play hockey?
It would be fun to follow his career, but at the same time I realize how hard it is and that hockey’s not for everybody. Whatever he wants to do, I want to support. I was never pushed into hockey, so I don’t want to be that guy that pushes his son. I want him to do whatever makes him happy.
You’ve played your entire career with the Blackhawks, and you’ve signed a contract that’s going to keep you with the team through 2022. What does Chicago and being a Blackhawk mean to you?
It’s very special for me to say that I was drafted by Chicago and it’s been my only team. When I first got [here], I was a little worried that it was such a big city and I didn’t know anything, but now I just feel like I know it like the back of my hand. It’s been amazing to be a part of such a first-class organization in the city that is I think the best in North America. It’s a great sports city, the people are hard-working, and I couldn’t have been luckier to be drafted to Chicago when I did. I’m hoping that I have a lot more hockey ahead of me here and a lot more championships to celebrate with the fans.
What do you appreciate about the fans?
They’re very passionate. The first thing you notice is how many fans there are, actually—and Blackhawks fans are everywhere, and I think other players on other teams take notice of that and realize how special it is. Even when we play on the road, they’re watching us out there in warm-ups, and it’s packed.
What do you love about Chicago?
I like the fact that I can go out any night of the week and have a nice dinner. I like watching all the sports—baseball season, football, basketball. Cheering for all the different Chicago teams is fun, and you can get into it pretty good with some of the other guys that are from different cities. It’s a big city, but to me it’s a city that you can make small.
Jacket, Salvatore Ferragamo ($5,850). 645 N. Michigan Ave., 312-397-0464. Shirt, Rag & Bone ($350). Bloomingdale’s, 900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-440-4460. trousers, Theory ($275). Bloomingdale’s, see above. Herringbone scarf, Porsche Design ($225). 520 N. Michigan Ave., Second Fl., 312-321-0911
You mentioned restaurants. Any particular places you’re a fan of?
I’ve always liked Girl & the Goat (809 W. Randolph St., 312-492-6262)—I don’t go there very often, but the food is tough to beat coming from a small town [like I do]. Mastro’s (520 N. Dearborn St., 312-521-5100) has good steaks and they’re very nice to us, getting us in and taking care of my family. If I go for fish, I like GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St., 312-929-3501), and Tavern on Rush (1031 N. Rush St., 312-664-9600) is always nice after a game for a steak. I also like this little frozen custard place in my neighborhood called Scooter’s (1658 W. Belmont Ave., 773-244-6415). I’d eat there every night if I could, but I don’t think it’d be the healthiest choice for me, especially before a game.
If you weren’t playing hockey, what do you think you’d be doing?
I don’t really have an answer, to be honest. Hockey’s the only thing I’ve really done, and I have more to do. I know I’ve always been told that I should have a backup plan, but I don’t. [Laughs]
Are there any other local athletes that you’re friends with?
I’ve gotten to know [the UFC fghter] CM Punk over the years. He’s from Chicago—his name stands for Chicago Made Punk—and he was a WWE champion. Now he’s ventured over to the UFC, so I’m excited to watch him; I know he’s been training really hard, and I hope he does well.
How do you feel about the team’s chances for the coming season?
I like them. I don’t think anybody can really count us out. We’ve got that experience, and we’re not going to sit there and just rest on our laurels. We know that every team is going to be hungry to beat us, and that’s part of what motivates us—to show teams that we’re still the best. It’s going to be a challenge, obviously. Like I said, there’s a lot of great teams, great players out there, but if you look around our lineup, with the guys we’ve got on our team and the new guys we’ve got coming up, it’s a good mix: a lot of speed, a lot of skill, and we just have to gel at the right time and step up come playoffs. Get into the playoffs, and then anything can happen.
You’ve got a lot of time ahead of you on the ice, but when you do hang up your skates, what do you hope your legacy will be?
At the end of the day, I try to play hard and compete hard and do everything I can to help the team win, and I guess I’d like to be known as a guy that left it all out on the ice and did everything he could to win, and be a respected teammate and a good teammate. That’s all I really care about.
Photography by Shane McCauley/Tack Artist Group. Styling by Faye Power. Grooming by Anthony Muti and Ofelia Suar-Feher at Mario Tricoci. Video by Anthony Pearson. Shot on location at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan Ave., 312-940-3552. Recently opened on Chicago’s iconic Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park, the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel combines its storied legacy as one of the nation’s most revered social clubs with modern-day sophistication. The hotel’s second-foor lobby, the Drawing Room, welcomes guests into the heart of the building, while the Game Room embraces the spirited play and athletic qualities inspired by the club’s historical past.
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