by Joe Tasca on 12/06/12 at 08:00 AM ET
Once a model franchise in the Ontario Hockey League, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have fallen on hard times recently. The club has missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and will once again struggle to qualify for the post-season this year. On top of that, the organization suffered great embarrassment over the summer after three Greyhound players were accused of sexual assault.
Now, as if the Greyhounds needed any more controversy, Sheldon Keefe has been named the team's new head coach. Jeff Mackie offers some perspective:
Yes, that Sheldon Keefe. The same Sheldon Keefe who was among a handful of young men once controlled by the notorious David Frost. Keefe at one time lived with Frost, his former agent, along with Mike Danton - who was convicted in 2004 of hiring a hit man to kill Frost. Keefe's named has long been associated with a dark period in the OHL, a time during which Frost built a wall between his young charges and their teammates, and the organizations in which they played. It was a source of embarrassment for the entire league as parents questioned the merits of sending their sons to play in a league that was powerless to stop Frost.
After retiring as a player in 2005, Keefe became one of the most successful Tier 2 hockey coaches in Canada, leading the Pembroke Lumber Kings to five consecutive championships. His winning resume caught the attention of many hockey scouts and executives, some of whom recommended Keefe to Sault Ste. Marie general manager Kyle Dubas, who was looking to replace former NHLer Mike Stapleton behind the Greyhounds bench.
Not surprisingly, the Keefe hiring has generated some controversy in the Soo. Considered somewhat of a misfit during his OHL playing days, Keefe is notorious for refusing to shake the hand of league commissioner David Branch during the 2000 Memorial Cup tournament. His close relationship with David Frost at that time has led many people to question whether Keefe knew anything about, or was involved in, illegal sexual activity involving Frost, who was accused of multiple sex crimes in 2006.
For his part, Keefe says he no longer associates with Frost, who now lives under an alias in California:
“You can't have success with a connection like that,” he said Tuesday. “I stripped myself of that pretty quickly. It's not a part of my life and hasn't been for a number of years. It won't be part of the situation here. I come here looking for success. It's all about doing the right things and going about things the right way.”
“I've very much changed. One of my motivations here is to learn and apply the lessons that I've taken away from the experiences I've been through, in terms of doing the wrong things a lot of times.”
Considering the turmoil the Greyhounds have experienced in recent years, it's surprising to see the organization bring in a coach who carries any kind of negative stigma. Sheldon Keefe absolutely deserves a second chance in life, but with that said, he's going to be hard-pressed to find success in Sault Ste. Marie. The Greyhounds are an organization in disarray, and Keefe's presence doesn't necessarily improve matters. He's another distraction the club simply doesn't need at this point.
Coaching is never easy, especially in a hockey hotbed like the Soo. But, for Sheldon Keefe, the pressure is magnified because of his checkered past. The fact that Keefe admits he no longer speaks to David Frost is a clear sign that he knows something about his former mentor that most of us don't know.
Until he addresses the issue head-on, Keefe will constantly have to face the gauntlet of questions about his prior relationship with Frost. At some point, he's going to have to dispel the rumors that so badly tainted his playing career.
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About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.