December 28, 2002
Postcard: It ain't easy being Green

The hockey gods, on the whole, are pretty nice guys. They gave us frozen ponds, hat tricks, and bubble hockey, among other delights, so they’re certainly not all bad.

Just don’t tempt them by asking: What more can go wrong?

They’ve focused their vengeance, it seems, on Michigan State this fall and early winter. So after learning yesterday of two (not one, two!) Spartan defensemen defecting to the major junior ranks, it’s hard not to ask that question – but by now, the consequences are clear. Everything can get worse.

To review, Michigan State lost the winningest coach in the game’s history in the off-season, followed by the best college goalie since Dryden. Its grittiest forward, Brian Maloney, was recovering from a lacerated kidney.

The season started with a 5-0 loss to Denver, considered a low point for all of one week, until the televised 10-4 debacle at Northern Michigan. Another week brought a blown lead at home – but a win – against Lake Superior State. Then losses to Niagara and Bowling Green, the latter part of a four-game winless streak.

Freshman Evan Shaw and sophomore Duncan Keith provided the latest blows, as college hockey lost two more players to its version of free agency, the major junior ranks. The college game inevitably winds up in the role of the small market team in this equation.

Shaw was the team’s seventh defenseman, but Keith could be a major blow. He was the club’s third blueliner, behind sensational seniors John-Michael Liles and Brad Fast. A sort of Liles-in-waiting, Keith was a home-run hitter: he could make an amazing play, or, most often in his own zone, swing and miss badly.

From the sounds of it, even as he made his debut with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets Friday night, he knew that he had struck out. Keith’s father, David, told Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal that Keith wanted to return to MSU.

"I think he felt the pressure by the Rockets, our family adviser and myself,'' David Keith said. "He signed the contract with the Rockets and it seemed to be a good situation. But then six hours later, he was devastated.

"He said he really wanted to go back to MSU because he really liked it there. I said, 'Why didn't you say something when I was going on and on,' and he just said. 'Dad, you weren't listening.' I feel very badly about all of this.''

Keith’s temporary change of heart gave Michigan State some hope Friday that they could appeal to the NCAA to have his eligibility reinstated (Keith had already signed a contract with Kelowna, making him ineligible, but until he played a WHL game there was some hope that he could return). Now that he’s skated for the Rockets, that appears impossible.

Are the hockey gods finally sated for whatever slights they felt coming their way from East Lansing? Who knows – maybe this weekend’s Great Lakes Invitational will answer that question.

Just don’t ask if it can get any worse.

– Nate Ewell

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