May 1 , 2003
Postcard: Go West, Young Man

Life is good for Kelowna Rockets defenseman Duncan Keith.

Temperatures in Kelowna, British Columbia, are approaching 70 degrees. The Rockets host Red Deer Friday in the first game of a best-of-seven series to determine the Western Hockey League champion, with the winner advancing to the CHL Memorial Cup tournament in Quebec City later this month. Keith, who hails from nearby Penticton, has been a big part of the team’s success, scoring 11 goals and 35 assists in 37 regular season games and adding a goal and nine assists in 13 postseason contests.

Duncan Keith left Michigan State in December for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.

Quite a change for a guy who made the decision to jump to the major junior ranks from Michigan State a little more than four months ago a decision he regretted almost immediately. Hours after signing with Kelowna, Keith had a change of heart and sought a return to East Lansing, where he was midway through his sophomore season. Hindsight has offered Keith the proper perspective, however.

“Looking back, I definitely think it was the right decision for me,” he said. “I’m on a great team, the guys have been good to me and I’ve learned so much over the last four months. I’m really happy with the decision I made.”

Keith said he decided to leave MSU because of the limitations of a 36-game regular season schedule “The more games I play, the better I am,” he proclaimed and a style of play that didn’t cater to his strengths.

“I’m more of a puck-control defenseman,” he explained. “I find that I play better on teams that control the play rather than shooting it out of the zone as soon as you see trouble. I’d rather try to make a pass and break it out like that, then go on the rush.

“At MSU, I’d want to play too well and try to think too much and end up costing the team a goal. Here, I’m more worried about playing the game and letting it come to me.”

Though he’s thrilled with his experience in Kelowna, Keith is quick to point out that his time with Michigan State wasn’t a total loss.

“I learned a lot from Coach (Ron) Mason about fitting into a new system and playing with different types of players,” Keith said. “I keep in touch with my old roommate, Kevin Estrada, quite a bit. We talk on the phone once or twice a week. I’ll always remember my time at MSU and the guys I played with they are great guys.”

A second-round selection by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Keith expects to attend the organization’s prospects camp this summer. He’s unsure whether he’ll be invited to the team’s training camp next fall and expects to be back in Kelowna next season. Not a big deal, says the lanky blueliner, as the franchise hosts the 2004 Memorial Cup and gets the automatic bid that goes along with it. Keith’s focus, however, remains on the task at hand.

“I’ve never played this late in any season before,” he said. “The town is going crazy. Everyone is trying to enjoy the fun while it lasts.”

– Mike Eidelbes

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