Photo Credit: Thomas Skrlj

Sheldon Keefe Brings a Different Perspective – Both On and Off the Ice

I try to make a habit of never delivering hit pieces, as a general principle.

When I was in college, I damn near turned alcoholic consumption into an Olympic sport. I once got grounded — as a senior in high school — for forgetting to tell my parents I was spending the night at a friend’s house and then slunk home the next morning toting a hefty parking ticket earned for illegally leaving my car in front of her house.

My first post-grad boyfriend broke up with me because I was, per him, “just too mean to deal with every day”. Stones and glasshouses, and all that.

So it was entirely in jest that I offered up a ‘holier-than-thou hit piece’ on Sheldon Keefe and the relationship he had back in the day with disgraced player agent and coach, David Frost. But given that I promised I’d deliver the piece the day Babcock got canned ~*on the day that Babcock got canned*~, it’s hard not to deliver the goods — as best I possibly can.

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So. Sheldon Keefe, eh?

Keefe has, by all accounts, been a phenomenal, forward-thinking coach as he’s quickly risen up the ranks of the hockey sphere. He’s gone from the CJHL to the OHL to the AHL, and now he’ll become one of the youngest-tenured head coaches in the National Hockey League at age 39.

It’s been a meteoric rise; impressive enough in any market, and particularly so in a market full of microscopic criticisms, scorching takes, and ravenous ladder-climbers.

Keefe deserves plenty of credit for his rise; just about every major hockey player has at some point dreamed of being involved with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s managed to snag one of the most coveted positions in professional hockey before even hitting 40.

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He also deserves plenty of credit, for what it’s worth, for having distanced himself from Frost years before ever hitting the Leafs organization. At this point, he’s far more closely aligned with Kyle Dubas and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds than he is with the arrogance and checkered behaviour of the coach he once so closely associated himself with. And even though he’s been the subject of hit pieces from the media in the past, dredging back up the problematic teen years he lived, he’s managed to stay stoically quiet about the whole ordeal.

Now, though, he’s in the spotlight more than ever before. And at some point, one of his players might do something that the team will need to address with grace and awareness. Hockey is a violent sport, the NHL is largely male-dominated, and we’re very much still living in the “Me Too” era; at some point, a Maple Leaf player or coach may do something and Keefe is going to have to handle some uncomfortable media attention.

And this, really, will be how we gauge just how much he learned from his years spent breaking free of Frost.

Sheldon Keefe will get extra criticism if his players ever misstep off the ice, even if he won’t deserve it. After all, this is a market where scribes fabricate stories about magic hot dog stands and where a player very recently faced the music for a serious lapse in judgement at home over the summer. No matter how he handles his first player mishap, the mob will be waiting in some way — and someone will bring up his past. It’s inevitable.

Sheldon Keefe does not in any way deserve to carry the stigma of his relationship with David Frost for the rest of his life. Teenagers get in with bad crowds, and David Frost was — by just about every account out there — fantastic at convincing players that his little ‘club’ was the place to be if you wanted to succeed. He was the most effective kind of emotional abuser, as is all-too-evident by the heartbreaking story of Mike Danton and the allegations of sexual exploitation that have followed the coach/agent through his turbulent fall from grace. The players he groomed to be his favourites should be given every opportunity to find a new path in hockey, and that’s exactly what Keefe has done.

He deserves praise, not continued shame.

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If his players make their missteps, though, Keefe will have a unique perspective from which to address their transgressions and help them atone and move forward. That’s not a blessing; being embroiled in a relationship with someone like David Frost isn’t something that holds any kind of net benefit over not knowing him at all. But it is a reality. And maybe, if that misstep ever happens, their coach will have an additional perspective, advice, and insight on how to move forward with accountability, and not just how to brush things under the rug.

Is that melodramatic? Sure. All hit pieces are. And I promised one, so I’m here to deliver — even as a murky, fiery mess that’s not really much of a hit piece after all.