Feb. 17, 2011
It didn't take long for Griffins fans to have the chance to welcome Adam Keefe back. Just 9:27 into the first period of the Jan. 5 contest against Hamilton, Keefe dropped the gloves with Bulldogs' winger Jimmy Bonneau in a lengthy bout that brought Van Andel Arena to its feet. Keefe didn't stop there though, assisting on the game-winning goal that gave the Griffins a 3-2 victory.
It was a welcome return for a player who had worked his way back from a serious shoulder injury, suffered last year in an exhibition game while on a tryout with the Florida Panthers.
“I love my time here in Grand Rapids,” said Keefe. “It's good to come back to a familiar city with familiar faces in the dressing room. I just wanted to get out there and show them why they brought me here the first time.”
Keefe is in his second stint with the Griffins. He previously suited up in 48 games with the team from 2006-08. He recorded one goal and three assists along with 221 penalty minutes. After leaving the team, he played the next year and a half with the San Antonio Rampage, before grabbing an NHL tryout with Florida prior to the 2009-10 season.
“The second exhibition game, I dislocated my shoulder at the end of a fight when a referee fell on top of me,” Keefe explained. “I had surgery then, and it took me from about October until mid-February to recover. I was out for about six months.”
Keefe worked to rehab his shoulder at home during that time. He found is pretty difficult to get much ice time on his own, so Keefe signed with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL to start practicing regularly, although he was unable to suit up in a game for another month.
“Once I was able enough to actually work out and start getting my strength back, that helped my morale a little bit,” said Keefe, who started his professional career in 2005-06 with Toledo when they were known as the Storm.
He started the 2010-11 campaign with Toledo, putting up six points in 31 games before joining the Griffins. While the move may have looked like a short-term one to add some depth when injuries struck both the Griffins and the Detroit Red Wings, Keefe had long-term plans in mind.
“I was actually told I was going to be here for a couple of days or just a couple of games, so I packed light,” said Keefe. “Any time you get the call, you've got to make the best of it. Being familiar with this league, I wasn't coming in looking to fill in and do a good job just for those couple games.”
Griffins' head coach Curt Fraser wasn't familiar with Keefe, but trusted the recommendations of players and staff who had been around him during his first stint with the team.
“We were really looking for someone who could add some grit, work hard, battle, and not be afraid to drop the gloves,” said Fraser. “I'd never seen him play, but we brought him up, and he has played way above our expectations.”
Through 18 games, Keefe has made a contribution at every level, standing up for his teammates when needed, and factoring in on the offense with three goals and two assists.
Although those numbers tie his career bests in the AHL, Keefe doesn't believe he's made many changes to his game from his first time with Grand Rapids, but he does think the production comes from doing his job well.
“I've always been a guy who goes out there, works hard, and creates energy because of that,” Keefe explained. “I finish every check in sight, and I'm going to make sure the guys on my time feel comfortable out there.”
“Since I've been here, I've been able to chip in a little bit offensively, and that feels great. If the fourth line can chip in every now and then, it helps tremendously.”
Fraser echoed the importance of getting timely contribution from the fourth line.
“We get a big bonus here with Adam, who every once in a while chips in offensively, and they've scored some huge goals for us,” said Fraser. “He continues to do really good things for our hockey team, and we're glad to have him.”
Despite his contributions though, Keefe knows he must maintain his energetic and relentless style.
“If you play hard and play aggressive, you're going to get room on the ice,” he said. “Guys know that you're coming and mistakes will happen because of that. I know my role, and it's not to go out and score a bunch of goals, but any time that happens, it's a plus.”
Keefe's role also includes bringing some leadership to the team, as he was serving as the captain in Toledo before joining Grand Rapids. However, he knows joining a team in the middle of the season means being respectful of the leadership already in place.
“There's not a better leader in the dressing room and on the ice than Jamie Tardif,” said Keefe. “I'm supportive of him and the guys that have been leading this team, but I speak up when something needs to be said, or step up on the ice when something needs to be done.”
“Toledo misses him a lot,” said Fraser. “He was the leader of their team, the captain, he did everything for them. He's fearless when he goes out and plays, he looks out for his teammates, and he does a good job at both ends of the ice.”
Although he's still on a tryout contract, Keefe knows his chances of sticking around can only improve if he continues to do the things that landed him in Grand Rapids in the first place.
“I wanted to make an impression quick and make it last, play every game like it's my last, and that's what I've done since I got here,” Keefe stated. “I need to continue to do that throughout the time that I'm here.”
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