There is a reason I shelled out ten bucks to sponsor the Mike Keane page at Hockey-Reference.com: it's because Mike Keane is/was/and forever will be a warrior. One of those players that the hockey cliches "grinding" and "gritty" were written for. A guy who, for 20 years now, has left everything on the ice, every time he's played the game professionally.
Mike Keane didn't spend much time with the Colorado Avalanche---two full seasons and parts of two more---but during that time he helped win a Stanley Cup and cement an infamous sports rivalry that people still talk about with awe and reverence, to this day.
For those reasons, Keane is a shoo-in to the list of Top 19 Avalanche Players Of All Time.
Keane began his NHL career with Montreal in 1988-89, when he signed as an undrafted free agent after a successful season with the Sherbrooke Canadiens of the AHL.
Immediately he began carving out a reputation as a scrappy son-of-a-gun who won tough battles in the corners, pressured opposing offenses and potted his fair share of goals (16 in his rookie season). Keane would stay with the Canadiens for seven and a half seasons, and would win a Stanley Cup with them in 1992-93 and serve as their captain during the first half of the 1995-96 season.
The second half of that year was spent somewhere else. After the infamous Patrick Roy meltdown that saw the goalie demand a trade after being shelled in a game but not pulled, Keane was packaged with Roy for a deal with the Colorado Avalanche, playing their very first season in Denver after moving from Quebec. He and Roy were reunited with former Canadiens teammate Claude Lemieux, who had also joined the Avs that year.
As everyone knows, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup that season, adding a second ring to Keane's fingers (and a third to Roy's). Keane fit right in with that Avs team, providing a hard-working, veteran presence to a diverse but talented lineup.
Keane also played a significant role in the birth of the Avs-Red Wings rivalry that dominated the hockey world in the 1990s. During the Brawl In Emptytown of March 26th, 1997, Keane was involved in much of the on-ice fireworks, including this "lovely scrap" with Tomas Holmstrom, who the officials let Keane sit on top of and pound with punches:
And then, once that atrocity of a game was over, and the Red Wings had won in overtime after Darren McCarty---who should have been given a game misconduct for his attack on Claude Lemieux---scored in overtime, Mike Keane gave one of the greatest quotes in the history of the NHL:
"You know, I think they proved that they're a bunch of homers. I don't think they have the balls to play like that in our building, and, you know, they proved that."
Unfortunately, the only video clip of this quote I've ever been able to find has been taken down from YouTube. But I've done what I can to preserve it by including it on his Hockey-Reference.com page. I'll renew that sucker every year for the rest of my life, if that's what it takes to keep it alive.
1996-97 was a disappointing year for the Avs. They lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to Detroit and Keane decided to play the free agency market, signing with the New York Rangers. But after 70 games the Rags traded him to the Dallas Stars, which was very good for Keane's ring collection. He won his third Stanley Cup the very next year when Bret Hull's skate defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six games.
One of Keane's best highlights from his time in Dallas came during the 1999-00 playoffs, when he put Jay Pandolfo through the glass at center ice:
SIDE NOTE: I think it's a freakin' crime that Gary Thorne doesn't do any hockey play-by-play these days. And Bill Clement sounds great doing the color work for him. It's a crime Versus fired him from their intermission reports. The reason I decided to go to law school was to fight criminality such as this.
After a very brief stint in St. Louis, Keane found himself back on the roster of the Avalanche in 2001-02, just missing his fourth Stanley Cup ring. The Avs got close that season, though, eventually losing---again---to the Red Wings in the playoffs. Keane played 65 games with the Avs in 2002-03, the final year of his old buddy Patrick Roy's career, and then signed with the Vancouver Canucks.
2003-04 was Keane's final season in the NHL. After the Lockout, nobody seemed interested in the services of a veteran grinder with diminishing speed and agility. The "New NHL" didn't have a place for him, unfortunately. So Keane did what any hockey warrior would do after a long, successful career: he went home. But he didn't go home to retire. Mike Keane went home to keep playing hockey.
In 2005-06, Keane signed as a free agent with the Manitoba Moose after a pro tryout, and has since played three seasons as the AHL team's captain and veteran mentor. Despite a 2007-08 season that saw him score only 16 points in 73 games, and despite being 41 years old, the Moose renewed his contract and he will play for them in 2008-09.
Hopefully Mike Keane never stops playing hockey. If I ever start buying game-worn jerseys, the very first one will have his name on it, no doubt.
[Highest rating: 14. Lowest rating: 19. Average score: 17.58]