Matt Keith understands the importance of giving back.
Having played professionally in his fair share of cities — Abbotsford was his eighth city in eight years, spanning three hockey leagues and three countries — giving back and being part of the community is natural.
“It is important, especially in the American Hockey League, to do that, to get involved, going to schools and hospitals, and doing that sort of thing,” Keith said. “It is important as players we understand the role that we can play and that we do have the ability to help.”
Keith, who turned 28 on Monday (April 11) was the Abbotsford Heat’s nominee for the AHL Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, given to a player for their involvement in the community.
While he did not win the award — the Binghamton Senators’ Cody Bass was the winner — Keith was flattered just to be honoured.
“It was very special (to be selected),” he admitted, saying this was the first time he received an honour such as this.
“For me to get that (nomination), it was special.
“It didn’t feel like I was doing anything out of the ordinary; it felt normal, it felt natural. It just comes with the territory.”
There was also the added bonus of giving back to his de-facto home town.
He was raised in Aldergrove and Langley is his off-season home.
“I don’t think you can find anybody who is prouder than me to be from the Fraser Valley,” he said.
“I love being here, at home.
“The Fraser Valley did so much for me growing up, it just felt natural, normal, to give back.”
Keith’s selection as the Heat nominee was a pretty easy one.
“I don’t know if it is any one thing,” said Dave Sheldon, the team’s director of communications and broadcast.
“(But) from the first day we had him, he made it clear that he wanted to be a part of the community.”
Keith was always willing to volunteer his off-time to go read at local schools or make community appearances on behalf of the team.
“I really enjoyed reading to the kids, I find that fun,” he explained, adding that he always figured teaching may have been his career path had he not chased his pro hockey dream.
He also had the chance to help out at practices for the Aldergrove Minor Hockey Association.
“That is where I got started, where I got to play,” he said about being back in the Aldergrove Arena. “It was a neat feeling. I remember how many hours I practised there, so to be able to go back there, it brought back a lot of memories.”
Keith also spoke to some of the AMHA players, following the tragic passing of one of their teammates, Coleton Nelson, who died after being injured in a car accident in February.
That was a very hard day, and a much different mood from when Keith usually spoke to young hockey fans.
“It really puts things into perspective,” he said.
“To be a part of that, it was different, but very touching.”
Doing what he has this past season is nothing out of the ordinary for Keith.
“I think you could have given it to anybody on our team and I think that is the case with a lot of the players in this league,” he said.
As pro hockey players, Keith said they understand the importance of being a community presence.
“As guys in the American League, you look up to the guys in the NHL, and you see there is still somewhere else to move on to,” he said.
“So sometimes you don’t realize what sort of impact you can have on somebody.
“It is obviously a privilege to play in the American Hockey League. You just don’t realize, because you are chasing a dream, what sort of impact you can have on kids.”
Keith, who becomes a free agent on July 1, would love to be back for another season with the Heat.
He led the team in goals (20) and points (35) as well as shots on goal (216).
A former second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, he has two goals and five assists in 27 career NHL games with the Hawks and the New York Islanders.
But ultimately, he knows there are a lot of factors that will determine whether he can stay close to home as he pursues his NHL ambitions, or whether he will be off to another destination next season.