ORONO, Maine — While Maine residents were complaining about the late December-early January cold spell, University of Maine freshman defenseman Brady Keeper was taking things in stride.
Below-zero temperatures were a way of life growing up for Keeper, who is from Cross Lake, Manitoba, located 333 miles north of Winnipeg.
“It’s cold here. It is way colder back home. There were days you didn’t go outside,” said Keeper.
Whereas Bangor’s average January temperature is 17, the average reading in Cross Lake is 0.
Keeper is enjoying the warmer weather and the Black Bears are happy they have him along the blue line.
The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder has been productive and has notched five goals and six assists in 19 games going into an important Hockey East series at 10th-ranked Northeastern on Friday night.
Keeper is second among Black Bear defenseman to Patrick Holway’s 15 points (5 & 10) and his plus-nine rating is second best on the team behind Alexis Binner (plus-12).
Keeper has two goals and two assists on the power play and two game-winning goals and two assists on game-winners.
Senior defenseman Mark Hamilton has spent a healthy portion of the season as his defense partner.
“He obviously has some offensive tendencies but but one thing that goes unnoticed is how (well) he plays in the defensive zone, too,” said Hamilton. “He’s a hard-nosed player.”
“He’s a very good two-way defenseman,” said UMaine head coach Red Gendron. “He has a great shot.”
The soft-spoken Keeper said he has been pleased with his performance to date and that getting a lot of ice time, including power-play minutes, has been beneficial.
“It has made it easier to adjust to the game, the speed and all the positioning on the ice,” said Keeper, who is happy the coaches have enough confidence in him to play him in all situations.
Keeper has been a defenseman ever since he first put on a uniform when he was 5. He has never had the desire to be a forward or a goalie.
“I’m happy where I’m playing,” said Keeper, who braved frigid temperatures playing on the outdoor rink at his house built by his father.
“That was really nice,” he said.
One of his reasons for attending UMaine was that he knew assistant coach and former UMaine and NHL goalie Alfie Michaud was there. Like Keeper, Michaud hails from Manitoba (Selkirk) and is a Native North American who was raised on a reservation.
He had attended hockey camps in Manitoba where Michaud was an instructor.
Keeper is from Cree tribe while Michaud is Ojibwe.
Keeper is proud of his heritage and added that knowing Maine has a strong Native American community, including the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island, was a plus.
“I’ve already checked out Indian Island a couple of times,” said Keeper, who added that the Cree community has been supportive.
“It’s like a whole family,” he added.
“We have had very similar upbringings. We’re both from big families and we both moved away to play Junior hockey,” said Michaud. “I can relate to him. We have a special bond in that sense.”
The 21-year-old Keeper was chosen the Most Valuable Player and Best Defenseman last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He racked up 23 goals and 25 assists in 48 games for the OCN Blizzard. He also posted four goals and 12 assists in 15 playoff games.
“He has been a key to our success,” said Michaud, who credited former assistant Jay Leach for his role in landing Keeper.
“There’s no question there’s a lot he still needs to learn. But he is a cerebral player. He gets things quickly,” he added.
Keeper’s parents and grandparents have traveled to Orono to see him play and said they “really liked it here. They were surprised by (support of) the fans.”
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