Keeney thrives under heavy workload
February 9, 2012
The 3rd-year USHL goalie, who has appeared in 15 of the Jacks' last 18 games, has risen to a prominent role less than four months after arriving via trade
by Matt Gajtka
MUSKEGON, Mich. – Conventional hockey wisdom holds that it’s easier for a goaltender to stay sharp when getting a healthy dose of shots fired his way.
Count Muskegon Lumberjacks netminder John Keeney as a disciple of that theory.
After arriving in West Michigan via trade with the Omaha Lancers in late October, the California-born Keeney has played in 20 of 30 games. More remarkably, he has appeared in 15 of the Lumberjacks’ last 18 matches, including a recent stretch of eight starts in a row.
“This is the first time in my USHL career that I’ve gotten this many starts and played in this many games,” said Keeney, a third-year veteran of this league. “It’s nice to get into a rhythm and know going into a weekend that you’re going to play in at least one of the games. I’m really enjoying it.”
After excelling in limited action as a 16-year-old two seasons ago in Omaha (8-1-1, 1.98 GAA, .916 SV%), the 6-foot-1 Keeney split time with Todd Mathews last year, playing in 30 games and posting a 15-9-3 record with a .918 save percentage. He started twice for the Lancers this season before being traded for defenseman Kevin Schulze.
Following a brief adjustment period, Keeney has thrived wearing Muskegon black and gold. Although the Lumberjacks have improved in the shots allowed category since new Head Coach Jim McKenzie took over in January, Keeney has shown that he doesn’t mind seeing a large volume of vulcanized rubber.
“I honestly think it’s easier when you face more shots,” said Keeney, who has gone up against 40-plus shots eight times this season, including a 44-save shutout of Youngstown Dec. 2. He lists that performance as his finest of the year to date.
Keeney also shut out Tri-City Nov. 18, making 37 saves on home ice. The familiar surroundings of L.C. Walker Arena have been particularly comfortable for Muskegon’s No. 29, who has a .911 save percentage, four of his six wins and both shutouts at home.
“It’s weird because in Omaha it was the opposite,” said Keeney. “I was usually better on the road until this season. I don’t know what it is but I’ve had some good results at home.”
There may not be an explanation for Keeney’s success on home ice, but there’s no doubt he’s found a home in Muskegon, especially with the help of Goalie Coach Jukka Kontsas.
“We always go over the fundamentals until it becomes second nature in the games,” said Keeney, who lists his strengths as size and rebound control. “I really feel like I’ve improved a lot since working with Jukka.”
Kontsas acknowledged that Keeney has made great leaps in the consistency of his technique, with video sessions being instrumental in illustrating areas of concern. However, there is one innate quality that Kontsas hasn’t had to tinker with.
“John’s competitiveness is very good,” said Kontsas, an experienced goaltending instructor from Finland. “He is mentally strong and is willing to stop the puck by any means.”
Keeney has also found a way to make a good impression on McKenzie in less than a month.
“As a player, I loved it when my goalie competed hard,” said the 15-year NHL veteran and 2003 Stanley Cup winner. “We have a couple of guys who do just that, and Keeney is leading the way by example in that area.”
Even though he’s undertaken a new level of responsibility this year, he is not above giving assistance to recent arrival Hayden Stewart, who earned his first USHL win in his second start Feb. 4 against Chicago.
“I know I had a tough first year playing away from home for the first time,” said the native of Lake Arrowhead, a town in the mountains of Southern California. “[Jeff] Teglia was a mentor to me my first year and [Todd] Mathews and I pushed each other last season, so I know how much it can help to have someone to work with.”
Maybe the only thing missing from Keeney’s productive season is a college commitment. While he still has more USHL eligibility left, he hopes to lock into a school sooner rather than later.
“I’ve been talking to a few colleges and I’ve visited a campus,” Keeney said. “I’m looking for a place where I’m going to play. It needs to be a good fit for me on and off the ice.”
The only thing about Keeney that hasn’t fit in Muskegon is his bright orange equipment, still decked out in the colors of the Omaha Lancers. But that minor hue issue hasn’t prevented him from assimilating with his Lumberjacks teammates, who enjoy playing in front of a goalie who can steal games from the opposition.
Combine Keeney’s five 40-save efforts, competitive passion and calm demeanor, and you get an experienced backstop who has been an anchor for this year’s Lumberjacks. Even if his pads need a new paint job.
Matt Gajtka is the Communications Director and Broadcaster for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.