Former Barrie Colts captain Sheldon Keefe brings his fair share of baggage to Greyhounds coaching job
Former Barrie Colts star Sheldon Keefe speaks to the media in Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday after being hired as the new coach of the Soo Greyhounds. Keefe, 32, takes over as the OHL team’s bench boss after Mike Stapleton was fired on Monday. MICHAEL PURVIS QMI AGENCY
I’m all for second chances.
Most of us are, since we all have made our fair share of mistakes.
Now Sheldon Keefe is asking for his.
Upon the announcement Monday that he was the new head coach of the Soo Greyhounds, the former Barrie Colts captain reached out on Twitter.
“Those that base opinions solely on what they know from 8-17 years ago, your concerns are valid but give it a chance. U just might be surprised,” Keefe wrote on his Twitter page, Monday.
In some circles, especially in those involved in junior hockey for some time, the news of his hiring was met with shock and a large dose of “What the heck are the Greyhounds doing?”
After all, a checkered past filled by bad behaviour on and off the ice and his involvement with controversial former agent/advisor David Frost was enough to send up the red flags.
Keefe’s time here in Barrie — 1998 to 2000 — may have been successful in some ways, but the damage he, Frost and the other so-called ‘Frost Boys’ wreaked on the reputation of the Colts’ franchise and the Ontario Hockey League won’t soon be forgotten.
Keefe, along with Ryan Barnes, Mike Danton (who then went by the last name of Jefferson) and Shawn Cation came to Barrie in a blockbuster trade from the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors in 1998.
Bert Templeton, who was the Colts’ coach at the time, made the trade knowing full well the Majors were anxious to deal the talented group and rid themselves of anything or anyone that had to do with Frost.
The trade made an already powerful Colts team that much better.
The next season, Keefe would win an OHL scoring title with 48 goals and 121 points in 66 games and help lead the Colts to their first and only OHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup.
The Jefferson(Danton)-Keefe-Barnes line was easily among the best in the OHL.
But all that was overshadowed by constant questionable behaviour and questions surrounding the control Frost had over them.
It didn’t take that long for the Frost Boys to rock the boat. Unhappy that first season under Templeton they weren’t the top power-play unit, they let it be known.
Templeton, who wasn’t one to take any kind of grief from any player, would later tell me he actually, for a very brief time, kicked Danton off the ice and, for that matter, off the team.
When practice wrapped up one day, Templeton headed off the ice and into the Colts dressing room only to see Danton still at his dressing room stall.
In so many words, and none we can repeat here, he told Jefferson to get out of his room and informed him he was done with the team.
The player pleaded, but Templeton’s message was loud and clear. It’s my way or the highway and the issue was quickly resolved.
Things hit a boiling mark the next season under then-coach Bill Stewart. Too many incidents to note here, but Keefe was central to many of them.
It really hit the fan when Barnes decided he had enough of Frost and told him he no longer wanted to associate with the controversial figure. One night, with the Colts in Plymouth, Jefferson and Keefe decided they wanted no part of Barnes and completely ignored him on the ice.
Stewart reacted by telling both Keefe and Jefferson to hit the stands.
The two asked to be allowed back in the game and they would later lead the Colts to a come-from-behind win.
Unhappy, Stewart would break up Keefe and Jefferson over the next couple of practices, which led to arguing on the ice between the head coach and two players.
Soon after, a players-only meeting was called by then Colt veteran Michael Henrich where the rest of the Colts made it clear to Keefe and Jefferson they had enough of them and would tell Stewart they wanted them traded away.
There was another time I had talked to Jefferson after a playoff game where he had a strong performance.
Keefe would approach me after practice the next day and tell me in so many unpleasant words that I was never to talk to him again.
While Barnes would drop Frost and eventually earn the respect of his teammates, Keefe, Jefferson and Cation were anything but respected.
I’ll never forget the ride from the airport with three Barrie players to our hotel in Halifax at the 2000 Memorial Cup. They were talking about the Frost Boys and were laughing at how Keefe sported the ‘C’ on his jersey.
In front of a national TV audience, Keefe refused to shake CHL commissioner Dave Branch’s hand at the Memorial Cup.
It was not only an embarrassment to the Colts organization, but to the city of Barrie. The Colts were a powerhouse, but all the talk around them centred on these types of shenanigans.
Keefe would go on to play 125 games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but his continued involvement and support of Frost was heavily frowned upon.
Keefe, 32, maintains he has left that troubled past behind him.
He is a family man.
He bought the Pembroke Lumber Kings and named himself the general manager and head coach.
There, he built a powerhouse squad, leading them to five straight Central Canada Hockey League titles in six years and a national Junior ‘A’ championship at the RBC Cup in 2011.
His work behind the bench and with his players has been praised by both his players and their parents.
His coaching credentials impressed many including Hockey Canada who hired him twice, once as an assistant coach with Canada East for the 2012 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge and then as the head coach for the 2011 Canadian Junior ‘A’ Top Prospect Game.
Keefe maintains he is a changed man.
Now, he is asking that we give him the benefit of the doubt. That we give him a chance to prove that his current stint in the OHL will be nothing like his first.
He says Frost may have controlled him then, but not now.
“There’s no question we were (controlled) and I think the reason (that is no longer the case) is simply that I’m not 18,” Keefe told the Sault Star this week. “I’m a grownup. I’m a man. I’ve got a wife, children. You grow up and you start to be empowered, you make more decisions and you live your life the way you live it.”
Hounds general manager Kyle Dubas says he has done his due diligence on his new coach and is confident that “baggage” is behind Keefe.
But still some wonder.
The connection between Frost and Keefe was a strong one.
There was Danton’s conviction of the bizarre murder-for-hire scheme to try and kill Frost. Although Danton maintains to this day that his own father was the target, federal authorities say it was Frost all along.
Today, Frost, who was acquitted of four charges of sexual exploitation in 2008, is shunned around hockey rinks. And he should be for his penchant for manipulation.
Keefe maintains their relationship is done.
“There is no connection anymore, it’s not part of my life,” Keefe said, maintaining he has not seen Frost socially in the last five years. “I don’t associate (with Frost), none of my players or their families have ever been exposed to any of that.
“I’m pretty proud of that.”
Dubas is staking his job on it.
It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, issues arise for the Hounds and the hiring of Keefe. Will the organization have trouble recruiting players? Will parents voice their concerns about turning over their kids to a coach who was controlled in so many ways by Frost, a name that draws the disgust and ire of so many today?
So, you want us to give you the benefit of the doubt, Sheldon?
You want us to believe that all this is in the past?
There are many who still doubt you. And, yes, I’ve seen enough to remain very sceptical.
But here it is, Sheldon. Take your second chance. Run with it. Prove us all wrong.
And hopefully you’re right.
Hopefully I will be surprised.
Gene Pereira has covered the Ontario Hockey League and the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner since their inaugural season in 1995.