And with that, Colorado Avalanche alternate captain and right winger Mike Keane dismissed his team's 6-5 overtime defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings on March 26, 1997---the game forever known as "The Brawl in Emptytown". Or something like that.
Keane was always a head-strong, never-back-down kind of player. He began his junior hockey career with the Moose Jaw Warriors in 1984-85, and, despite never being drafted, he eventually earned a spot on the roster of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988-89. There he proved himself a hard-working, scrappy kind of player not afraid to fight it out along the boards and win the tiny one-on-one battles that define a hockey game.
Keane spent seven full seasons with the Habs. His best season by far was 1992-93, in which he scored 60 points and helped the team win the Stanley Cup. During that time, he became very close friends with a certain standout goaltender named Patrick Roy, and after Roy's meltdown with Habs' management, Keane was traded with him to Colorado in 1995.
Keane never again scored 60 points, but with the Avalanche he provided the outspoken veteran bravado and personality needed to compliment captain Joe Sakic's quiet, reserved leadership style. Keane wore the "A" of alternate captain during his stint in Colorado in both the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.
Unfortunately, his lack of offensive production meant the Avs did not renew his contract prior to the 1997-98 season, and Keane ended up being signed by a declining New York Rangers. The next year he found himself on another new team, this time in Dallas with the Stars, and that proved far more fruitful. The Stars won the Cup in early 1999, and Keane became one of only eight NHL players to ever win the Stanley Cup three times with three different teams.
A couple of years later, Keane found himself in another new city, this time St. Louis, but he played just part of the 2001-02 season with the Blues before being traded back to the Avalanche. During his second stint with the Avs, the team won no Cups and Keane struggled offensively, but this gritty journeyman kept a team filled with superstars well-grounded. He again served as alternate captain. His contributions down low and against the boards provided the opportunities for his more-skilled teammates to score many, many goals. His abilities to block shots and shut down opposing lines were, as always, invaluable.
Unfortunately for him, as Keane got older and the Avs grew more interested in stacking their lineup with offensive powerhouses, there was no longer any room for him on the Colorado roster. Prior to the 2003-04 season, Keane signed with the Vancouver Canucks and played what would become his final NHL season. After the lockout, no teams called looking for his services.
Since then, Keane has found himself back in his hometown of Winnipeg, playing in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose and serving as their captain. He still doesn't score many points, but his work ethic and his dedication to the game inspire the young players he leads to become better hockey players. Though no longer at the top level of his sport, Keane entertains no thoughts of quitting professional hockey any time soon.
Keane was one of my favorite players growing up, and if I ever get to a position where dropping $600 on a game-worn Avalanche jersey sounds like a good idea, you can bet it will have his name on the back.