Fatherly advice has worked for UND freshman Jackson Keane
GRAND FORKS -- Mike Keane was an NHL captain and a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He played pro hockey into his 40s and is now works in the front office of the Winnipeg Jets.
He has plenty of wisdom to pass along. And one piece of advice that he gave to his son, Jackson, years ago has been vital for the University of North Dakota freshman, and came into focus on Saturday night, Dec. 2.
“My dad told me that you have to bring other aspects to your game, because you’re not always going to be able to score,” Jackson said. “Moving on to better programs and better leagues, you have to bring something else to the table every night. Being a more defensive player is something that I wanted to do.”
As a 17-year-old in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Jackson was a highly skilled forward, who easily exceeded a point per game pace. By the time he was 19, he was a defensive specialist playing for the United States Hockey League’s top team, Sioux City.
His ability to play both offensive and defensive roles has been critical in the last couple of weeks for a UND team that has faced an avalanche of injuries to its forwards.
Keane has been a much-needed utility player.
“He’s a guy who has embraced the opportunity to play in whatever situation,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “It didn’t happen by chance. He’s earned it through practice and staying with the process. Coming in, he maybe wasn’t figured to be in a higher role, but he’s earned an opportunity to try to get more minutes, especially now with guys out of the lineup.”
Despite not practicing on the power play for a single day this season, Keane was thrust into that role Saturday night after leading scorer Jordan Kawaguchi was ejected for a spearing major.
Despite not seeing much action on the penalty kill, Keane did that, too.
And when UND was trying to protect a one-goal lead at the end of the game, it put Keane on the ice. UND did hold on to that lead, handing Minnesota Duluth its first home loss of the season, 2-1.
It was a major ascent for Keane, a freshman from Winnipeg who only played a couple of shifts during the team’s first eight games.
“He plays tenacious, he plays relentless,” Berry said. “He plays on his toes and he’s a guy that can skate well, get up the ice and take away time and space. That’s a big deal when you’re trying to defend. His energy level is a big thing, but he’s also a very smart player. When he has the puck, he makes good decisions with it. He makes tape-to-tape passes and he knows what the next play is.
“Now, as I told him, the challenge is making sure you play consistently the way you have been and not letting off the gas.”
Keane, who finally practiced with the power-play unit on Tuesday, figures to play a big role again this weekend as UND hosts No. 6 Denver (7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7-8, in Ralph Engelstad Arena).
The injuries are still plentiful.
Senior center Nick Jones, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury, skated this weekend. Berry said there’s a possibility that he will play. That won’t be determined until closer to game time, though.
Other questionables include forward Dixon Bowen (undisclosed, missed last Saturday’s game), forward Joel Janatuinen (illness, missed last weekend’s series), forward Collin Adams (lower body, missed last weekend’s series), forward Ludvig Hoff (lower body, played last weekend) and defenseman Jonny Tychonick (undisclosed, played last weekend).
Playing numerous roles and skating with different linemates is something Keane got used to a year ago.
His junior team, the Penticton Vees, faced a load of injuries and was constantly shuffling lineups.
“Everyone kind of played with everyone,” Keane said. “It’s about going out there and working hard. Chemistry comes with hard work. I think practicing with these guys every day, you kind of know their tendencies and things like that. It’s all about going out there and doing your job.”
Keane wasn’t the only player who has taken on a larger role in recent weeks with all of the injuries.
Defenseman Josh Rieger was asked to move to forward Saturday night. Berry praised the way he played in the game’s opening period.
“Riegs is a big favorite in the locker room,” Berry said. “When he was announced in the lineup, there was a big uproar and cheer for him getting in there. He’s beloved by the team, knowing that he’s going to give it his all.”
Former UND player Scott Koberinski will serve as the color commentator for both games this weekend on Midco Sports Network. Regular color commentator Jake Brandt has a commitment. . . A number of tickets -- for both Friday and Saturday’s games -- were released to the public Thursday morning.