Murph On Ice: Firstly, the off-season always means change to rosters, especially in the EIHL! Tell us about some of the Giants new additions thus far, Chris Higgins, Matt Nickerson, Jonathan Boxill, James Desmerais and Mike Forney really have Belfast fans excited for next season. Are you happy to have Nickerson on your team?!
Adam Keefe: Like the fans, I am excited as well about all the new signings and the ones still to come. Higgy was a big reason for our success on our run to the Elite League Title in 2014! His hands are “Magic” like the magic man Pavel Datsyuk himself. Just ask the guys at AVFTB. Great to have the “Belfast Datsyuk” back in town.
Boxill is a guy that has impressed me with his compete level the last couple of years. He has a bright future ahead of him in this league. He will be loved by the Belfast faithful when he pulls on the Giants sweater.
Forney’s numbers are impressive. He’s a dangerous player all over the ice and I think we lacked that last season. He will be a welcome addition to the team.
Nickerson obviously isn’t a very fun man to play against, and I thought we also lacked that D-man who made it difficult to get to the front of our net. He will punish players who try to get to the crease. He’s also a solid two way D-man and can contribute on the ice as well as with his fists. Obviously I am thrilled to no longer have to play against that monster of a man, and look forward to doing some damage this season with him.
Desmarais is a guy unfamiliar to our league, but has put up some big numbers in the Swiss league, and is another guy who will be a threat all over the ice. Nick Kuiper couldn’t say enough good things about him as a player and a person, and Nick is a guy that gets what it means to play in Belfast.
MOI: It has also been a neat time for your family this off-season. Your brother Sheldon Keefe has been named as the new Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. A fantastic opportunity for him, tell us a bit about how hard he has worked the past few years on the coaching craft. Also, do you guys discuss your on-ice play and does he have guidance for you throughout a season?
AK: My brother Sheldon has always been a hard worker. Both as a player and now as a coach. I think it was something instilled in us from a young age from our father who works very hard himself. Sheldon has transformed and rebuilt a career in the hockey world through his character and dedication to the game. I don’t think I know a man who has worked as hard as he has to get back to hockey’s mainstream. He deserves all the credit he’s gotten this summer. I’ve obviously followed his coaching career very closely since he took over as a Coach in Pembroke Junior A, once his playing career came to an end. Since then he has won five straight titles and one national title, before moving on to the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL, and turning around a struggling team and returning them to the playoffs. His recent promotion to the Toronto Marlies I believe is but a stepping stone on his march back to the NHL. We don’t really discuss my play very much, I don’t think I’m the kind of player he’d want on his team. (Laughs). My corsi isn’t great. However, I do like to pick his brain from time to time and try to learn as much as I can from him.
MOI: The EIHL and the quality of imports keeps getting better every year. Have you noticed big changes in your time in the EIHL? Any that really stick out for you?
AK: I believe the EIHL as a whole has continued to grow from year to year. A lot of it has to do with the depth of every hockey team improving. The biggest thing I’ve noticed from my first season is, there are no more “easy games” anymore. Every game is competitive, and anyone can win on any given night. I can only speak of the Belfast Giants professionalism on and off the ice. It was a great organisation to play for when I arrived here four years ago, and it only continues to get better and better each year that passes.
MOI: A few years back the Giants won the League with almost two months still to go. Last year with several off ice, and roster changes, it’s safe to say it was a tougher year. What can Giants and EIHL fans expect this upcoming campaign from the men in teal?
AK: Last season was definitely a disappointing year for fans and players alike. I can make one thing clear – we don’t like losing anymore then our loyal fans who come to support us every night. Win or lose they support us. The fire is still burning from last season’s let down, and we cannot wait to get back on the ice at the end of August and get back to our winning ways that we have become so accustomed to.
MOI: I mentioned Nickerson earlier, and Kevin Westgarth was with you last year, there’s some big tough guys in the EIHL – but fighting certainly was down last season. You’ve always been an honest tough player, willing to drop the gloves, but can you tell us a bit about the change in the EIHL in that regard?
AK: I think the lack of fighting may be a result of the league becoming much more competitive. In a league where the League Title is the top prize, every game is so important, and nobody wants to help the other team gain momentum and get back into a game when the other team may be trailing. That being said, I think the league has again gained some more characters from team to team, and I think we are in for a war to win a title this season. Should be fun!
MOI: How’s the training going back in Canada? Are you doing anything different this off-season to prepare?
AK: I’m not really doing much different than I have before. Over the years I have learned how to get my body ready to play, to keep myself healthy over the long gruelling season. I have a specific program that consists of gym workouts, swimming, boxing, hot yoga, and I try to stay as active as possible on the ice.
MOI: Competitions like the Champions Hockey League and the Continental Cup have been popular with fans over the past few seasons. As a player, and team that has been to the Continental Cup – give us a players and team perspective on things like the CHL, and Conti Cup that happen in an already busy season.
AK: There is no question it definitely hinders your chances of winning titles in the Elite League as it adds games to your already long and tough fixtures list, which can lead to key injuries or fatigue. But with that being said, we enjoy the challenge of competing on the European stage, and representing the EIHL well. I’m not a big believer in excuses, and I think it is possible to be successful in the Continental Cup, or Champions League as well as at home in the UK Elite League.
MOI: What are your goals both personally and team-wise for 2015/16?
AK: These days I only have one goal going into each season, and it’s to win Trophies. Anything less than that isn’t a successful season.
MOI: Your cousin Jordan Knox played in the EIHL last season with Hull, any chance you’d like to have him in Belfast with you at some point in the future? Also, sad to hear about the Stingrays?
AK: Yeah not great for the league when stuff like that happens, sorry for the Hull fans, you never like to see that. With my cousin – I was real excited to have the opportunity to play against him in the Continental Cup second leg in France, and it was even better when I heard he was coming to the Elite League. He is a good player with a strong work ethic, and a great head of hair. (Laughs). Obviously I would love the opportunity to play with Jordan. I am sure the situation would have to be right for both Jordan and the Giants organisation. He is the Captain of his own fishing boat back in Skinners Pond, PEI, working alongside his brother and father fishing lobster. I’ll be visiting him and the rest of my family in a few weeks’ time.
MOI: Your brother has made a successful career out of coaching after his playing days as we mentioned earlier, as a captain and a leader currently, is coaching or management within the game something you’d be interested in pursuing after your playing days?
AK: I’m starting to realise that there will be a life after playing hockey. I think as players we lose sight of that when we are in the thick of it all. We feel invincible. But in reality it will come to an end at some point. I have started to think about life after my playing career, and coaching/management is definitely something I am interested in, and have started to take some necessary steps to help prepare me for when the time comes. I’m hoping it’s in my blood.
MOI: Well Keefer, thanks for taking some time to chat – always a pleasure – and we’ll see you back on this side of the pond soon.
AK: Cheers Murph, thanks for having me on, see you in a few months.