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CHICAGO -- It is foolish, of course, to read too much into a training camp scrimmage, let alone the first day.
But darn it if Duncan Keith didn't look like the Duncan Keith of old out there Saturday before a sold-out crowd at United Center as the Chicago Blackhawks opened camp.
Good omen? The Blackhawks certainly hope so. For if there's an overriding factor in Chicago's return to glory, it's a bounce-back season from the 2009-10 Norris Trophy winner.
Let's make one thing clear -- Keith did not have a bad campaign last season. We can name 30 NHL head coaches who would take 45 points (7-38) in 82 games from a workhorse who once again led the team in ice time.
The thing is, Keith set the bar so high the previous season that he fell victim to his own lofty standards. Unless your name is Nicklas Lidstrom, it can be a little daunting having to follow up a career-high 69 points (14-55), a Norris Trophy and standout performances at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (Canada won the gold medal) and Stanley Cup playoffs (Chicago won it all). He was the world's best defenseman in 2009-10. He wasn't last season.
Perhaps the poster boy for the Hawks' Cup hangover season, Keith showed glimpses of his greatness in 2010-11 but ultimately was inconsistent, much like most of his teammates. No better statistic tells the tale than his minus-1 rating, down from a plus-21 in 2009-10 and plus-33 in 2008-09.
Keith still refuses to use any cop outs, but the fact is, he was tired both mentally and physically last season, not to mention he played through a variety of minor injuries while still appearing in all 82 games.
"There are no excuses," Keith said Saturday. "Everyone who has won a Cup has gone through that. Right now, I'm just focused on the present and knowing what I have to do to help this team win this year. Last year is over with, as well as the year before when we won. Everything's in the past now."
It's a fresh start, Keith said, and his body feels it.
|Duncan Keith had seven goals and 38 assists in 82 games last season for the Blackhawks.|
Already stretched by his Olympic participation in February 2010, he had only two weeks of down time between winning the Cup in June 2010 and re-starting his summer workouts a year ago. Unreal. This past offseason? Try six weeks of R and R before he got things going again in the gym. The battery finally got recharged. He can feel the difference.
"I do, it's amazing," Keith said. "You feel like you're going into a season feeling good last year and you try to tell yourself you feel good. And you get going and the body checks are coming and you realize you definitely don't feel as good as you have in years past. Now I feel strong, my weight's up and I'm really excited to start going again."
It was a great offseason in more ways than one for Keith -- he tied the knot this summer.
"Every dog has their day, right?," Keith said with a smile, and with all his teeth in place. "It was fun [being single], but now I'm excited about being married."
Nuptials aside, it was a quiet summer otherwise. Keith relaxed at his lake house near Penticton, British Columbia, a place he said has very little boat traffic. It's quiet. At peace in a beautiful setting, he turned the page on last season and got his frame of mind ready for this year.
"It's so quiet there that there's no cars, there's no honking, so you definitely get your good night's sleep in," said Keith. "Where I live back home, it's just been real nice for getting refocused and getting that energy back and training, eating healthy and not staying up late having fun and partying or anything like that. I've been real focused and ready to go."
He looked a little more buff in the upper body, too, Saturday, which he confirmed came from his summer workouts.
"I feel better. Now it's just a matter of going out there on the ice and making it work," said Keith. "I think we all had a long break, a lot of rest, a lot of time to enjoy ourselves and it's time to get back to work now."
Get those Norris Trophy ballots ready. Duncan Keith's name is going back on them this season.