Sheldon Keefe (28) had 12 goals and 24 points in 125 games over three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as brief stints with the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
It is the league that spawned the coaching careers of Bryan Murray, Jacques Martin, Bob Hartley and Doug MacLean. Last month, it sent another alumnus into the OHL, as Todd Gill, who played 1,007 NHL games, joined the Kingston Frontenacs.
We're talking about the Central Canada Hockey League (formerly the Central Junior Hockey League) and the same team has won its last five championships. That's the Pembroke Lumber Kings. Sunday, the Lumber Kings advanced to the Royal Bank Cup, emblematic of national Junior A supremacy, and won it over the two-time defending champion Vernon Vipers.
It is the first time in 35 years a team from this league won the title, which used to be known as the Centennial Cup.
One man's fingerprints are everywhere. He is Sheldon Keefe: Pembroke's owner, president, governor, general manager and head coach. Keefe moved behind the bench for the 2006-07 season, the first in this record run.
His is a spectacular resume.
"Kids want to play there," said one person who knows the league very well. "He's done a great job and deserves a lot of credit. He gets the most out of his players. I don't doubt for a second that he could be an NHL coach."
Married with a son who was born on the first day of this season's training camp, Keefe clearly loves the Ottawa Valley. "I've never written a resume, let alone sent one out, " he said Tuesday. But, "Like players, everybody's looking for the opportunity to advance."
Keefe could, in theory, follow Gill's route to the next level. Gill will continue to own the Brockville Braves while coaching Kingston. But his tremendous success comes with a cloud: Keefe is a David Frost disciple and no one's sure if anyone will take a chance on him.
"Maybe he'll be judged on his own merits, not his past," said another observer. That's a the big question.
"I haven't been with (David Frost) on a social level in more than five years," Keefe said. "Part of my desire to step into coaching was to get more control of my own life and create an identity for myself ... I'm not naive, I know there is baggage, but I also know I have lots of things to offer. I'm not a 16-year-old or 20-year-old kid anymore."
Keefe better be telling the truth because he cannot afford to be caught in a lie. The controversial Frost claimed in 2006 he's no longer involved in the team's operations, but there are plenty of (unproven) accusations that he's still an influence. The Lumber Kings are full of acolytes. Keefe is one, as are minority owner Larry Barron and assistant GM/assistant coach Shawn Cation. (Barron runs a hockey program in Laguna Niguel, California, the same city where Frost was discovered this season. There is a graduate of this program on the Pembroke roster.)
There was at least one occasion during his pro career that Keefe was told he was good enough to play, but keeping Frost as an agent wasn't worth it to the organization. He refused to cut the cord. Tuesday, I suggested that the best thing Keefe could do to show he's changed is step away from this group.
"I don't like the term 'group.' These are long-time friends of mine, the greatest people I have ever met," Keefe said. "They have the same goals as I have ... separated all ties (to Frost)...They've been nothing but great to me.
"I understand I have a lot of work to do, but I'm a lot more proud of the last five years of my life than the previous ones," he adds. He should be. He's happy, he's successful, he's a husband and father, he's got some good people who vouch for the job he's doing.
Keefe jokes he's got life backwards because he spends the winters in Pembroke and summers in Scottsdale, where his wife is from. I asked him if, when he goes Arizona, he ever reaches out to a guy like Dave Tippett. Great coach, nice man, good person to learn from. Keefe hesitates, before saying no. You can tell: he's uncertain. He doesn't know what people think of him. (Also, Phoenix GM Don Maloney made it very clear Frost was persona non grata when Sheldon's brother Adam was a minor-leaguer in the organization.)
Sheldon Keefe wants a chance. No CHL, AHL or NHL team has ever contacted him. He's nervous about them, and they're nervous about him. Keefe must take the first step before he can make the jump. They know you can coach. Convince them about the rest.
1) The San Jose Sharks do not discuss front office moves, but hearing Doug Wilson signed a five-year contract extension at some point this season.
2) Known Uptown Hockey agents Don & Todd Reynolds for a long time. Never seen the slightest evidence of anything sinister. Very nice, mild people. I was as astonished as anyone that Todd tweeted Monday: "Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same-gender 'marriage'. Legal or not, it will always be wrong." It's damaging. Others will use this to poach. "I'm willing to accept that," Todd said Monday night. "I have to stand up for what I believe in." It's a passionate debate with a lack of intelligent reaction on both sides. Will players leave Uptown to avoid aggravation?
3) Could Reynolds represent a player who took Avery's stand? "If this was their personal opinion, yes," Todd said. "But if something was being done in a public position to promote or lobby legislation to change laws ... we would have to sit down and discuss if we should sever our relationship."
4) Interesting: Word is The Raine Group, which is handling the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers for Atlanta Spirit LLC, is telling prospective buyers the team can be moved because having those dates available for other events (ie. concerts) is a better financial option than hockey. Neither a phone call nor a follow-up email were returned by 10 p.m. ET Monday.
5) Speaking of moves, wanted to follow up on my Shane Doan note of a two weeks ago. I stated that if the Phoenix Coyotes moved to Winnipeg, it is believed something would be worked out for Doan to go elsewhere. It is not an anti-Manitoba thing. It is an understanding that his family is strongly tied to the U.S. southwest. Of course, it doesn't look like an issue now.
6) If I was Paul Holmgren, I'd ask Mike Richards if he wanted to drop the "C" for an "A" because the interaction between Richards and the Philly media is painful to watch. Richards takes the questions very personally and everyone might be better off if he did it less often and simply concentrated on playing. This move happened years ago with Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau and it can happen again with Richards and Chris Pronger.
7) After Philly's elimination, asked Richards if he was bothered by an injury. He said no. Now comes news about a wrist problem that prevented him from taking faceoffs, although he took more than any Flyer except Claude Giroux. The idea that he's overrated is outrageous. Key component on a Memorial Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist.
8) Richards can use Ryan Kesler as proof that you don't need the "C" to be a difference maker and leader.
9) Not sure the Flyers need to go out and get another goalie. Sergei Bobrovsky had a pretty good year for a guy who had zero North American experience and didn't know the language. Would've been better if Philly stuck with him like the Washington Capitals did with Michal Neuvirth. Anyway, better Bobrovsky than wasting money on Ilya Bryzgalov.
10) Think Patrick Marleau is a far better player than he gets credit for. But if he can't go to another level after being called "gutless" by Jeremy Roenick, does he prove Roenick's point?
11) Mathieu Darche told a great story about Kevin Dineen, who coached him in 2008-09. Darche said Dineen told his players: "You will not dive here. I don't care if you get a penalty or not. If you do it, I won't play you." Wish more coaches had the same philosophy.
12) If I were the Vancouver Canucks, I would be worried about this - Chris Kelly may have deserved a penalty, but because Roman Hamrlik was diving so often, there was no call. Big goal to give up in a Game 7.
13) Can we please stop saying "minor concussion?" No such thing.
14) Knew a guy who played Atlantic University hockey. Against UPEI, his coach said: "I don't care about anybody else. We've got to stop Joel Ward." Wonder if Alain Vigneault made the same speech for Game 6.
15) When I see the Nashville Predators, I see what Washington's missing - a hunger, a sense of urgency. If you could combine the Capitals roster with the Predators' ferocity, you'd have a hell of a team.
16) Washington's needs: speed on the defence and among the bottom six forwards; a major core player removed to shake up the group; and the addition of an aggressive, tenacious Top 6 forward (really don't like to say they need a North American up front, so let's just say a player with a "North American" attitude).
17) Alex Semin or Mike Green? One or the other, not both. Shake up your too comfortable core.
18) If you're a Capitals fan and have access to NHL.com's archive, go to the last 30 seconds of Game 3 (for those who can't see it, Ovechkin causes an
offside by making an extra move while his teammates are skating hard towards the offensive zone). In the words of one long-time NHLer, "Alexander Ovechkin won't be a winner until he learns to use his teammates properly there." And this is someone who considers himself a fan.
19) Rick Nash told reporters covering the Worlds he'd "be out of a job if I didn't finish those hits" after crushing Sweden's Mikael Backlund. Yeah, not so much. I can think of a few teams who might still be interested even if he passed up that one.
20) Flyers defenceman Danny Syvret played the second round with an eyelid that wouldn't close. Shingles led to a form of Bell's Palsy on the right side of his face, which paralyzed it. He showed me how he had to manually close the eye or irrigate it with drops. Minor grossness.
21) The Boston Bruins kept Tyler Seguin out of the lineup because "he isn't ready for this yet," one member of the organization said last week. With Patrice Bergeron out, Seguin gets his chance. Boston still believes he will be a terrific player, but something to look out for his how much he carries the puck.
There is a feeling he gets rid of it too quickly because he's not yet comfortable.
22) An example of what the Bruins do so well? Look at Nathan Horton's Game 5 winner versus Montreal. Because so many teams want defenders "fronting" and blocking shots, Boston's forwards sneak behind to get rebounds and pucks that get through. Hamrlik of the Canadiens could do a better job on the battle, but giving up position is the risk you take when you play that style.
23) No deadline-ish acquisition made a more seamless adjustment than Eric Brewer in Tampa. Brewer said that rookie head coach Guy Boucher rarely talked to him the first 10 days, aside from an arrival welcome and general "How are you?" inquiries. All of the system stuff was left to assistant Daniel Lacroix because they did not want to overload him. Interesting approach.
24) Tampa beat San Jose to Brewer.
25) Tim Thomas continues to fiddle with the bars on his mask. He moved the two covering his nose even closer during the season and will try to make them thinner in the summer. Looks like a stick could get through to the eyes, but he says no, it's been tested.
26) Brad Marchand's nickname is "Squirrel." How'd he get that? "We were playing an AHL game in Hershey," he said last week. "The building was quiet during the anthem and one guy yelled out I was like a squirrel." Teammate Dan Lacouture heard it and it stuck.
27) Marchand's father, Kevin, played for the late Donnie Matheson as a junior in Moncton. He thinks that's a major reason Matheson, who worked for both organizations, convinced the Wildcats and the Bruins to draft Brad.
28) When in Carolina, Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy played a huge role in developing Dennis Seidenberg into an underrated but really good NHL defenceman. Last week, McCarthy probably regretted it.
29) Love that Shane O'Brien is on Twitter and Claude Giroux is using a new website to raise money for a hospital in his hometown of Hearst, Ont. Only question: Is the timing good? Should these be launched during the playoffs?
30) Read Matt Kalman's 100 Things Bruins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die during the first round. Good read, unless you cheer for the Canadiens.
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