Keith Tkachuk: In His Own Words
"Big Walt" is one of five American-born players to score 500 goals, and is the sixth American player to score 1,000 points. He is considered to be one of the greatest U.S.-born players in NHL history.
Keith Tkachuk is considered to be one of the greatest US-born players in the history of the NHL. An elite power forward from his era, Tkachuk was well known for his very tough style of play while still putting up points, making him a leading scorer on every team he played for.
Tkachuk hails from East Boston and played his high school hockey in Malden, Massachusetts. He was well sought out by NHL clubs and was selected 19th overall by the Winnipeg Jets at the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Tkachuk spent one year playing college hockey with Boston University and was a member of the US World Junior team in 1991 and 1992. He also competed for Team USA at the 1992 Winter Olympics.
From there, it was onto the NHL for the prolific goal scorer who was quickly making a name for himself in the hockey world.
“I grew up in East Boston but was born at the Melrose hospital. Boston’s a little bit different, and I mean that in a great way,” Tkachuk said. “Growing up in East Boston, I was a city kid. The Boston Bruins were my team growing up, and they were that smash-mouth, in-your-face tough hockey, and I think that helped mould me into the power forward type of player that I was in the NHL. When I grew up, I watched Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, who I really tried to model my game after. It was hard nose hockey, and that’s what Boston Bruins hockey was. I wanted to be a pro so bad as a kid, and unfortunately, I never got to be a Bruin, but I did play against them, and that itself was a dream come true. Playing in the NHL after dreaming about it all my childhood.”
Tkachuk talks about joining the Winnipeg Jets and making his NHL debut following the 1992 Olympics: “It was a blessing in disguise. I played on the Olympic team all the way to the 1992 Albertville Olympics, and then after, I had decided to sign a contract with Winnipeg. Being able to jump in right after the Olympics into an NHL lineup certainly really just helped me transition pretty quickly as opposed to waiting all summer and then going to training camp not knowing anything or anybody. I thought it would be a lot more difficult to adjust that way, but luckily, I got some games under my belt and played some games in the playoffs, and I got to see how fast the game really was. I always thought it was a lot more difficult transition going from high school hockey to college than it was going from college to the NHL. Playing college hockey really helped you out as a player.”
He goes on to talk about starting his career in Manitoba: “It was incredible being in Winnipeg. Obviously, it was a smaller city, but the passion the fans have for hockey is amazing. The crowd was just outstanding in that old arena. I had a blast and got to play with some great players. I was far away from home, so I had to grow up pretty quickly. In high school, I was just across the street from home, and college was only fifteen minutes from my house, so now playing in Manitoba from Boston was quite the adventure. I was on my own. But I learned a great deal about the game and really enjoyed playing for that crowd.”
Tkachuk spent the first five seasons of his NHL career in Winnipeg and was the team captain for two of those years. In his last year in Winnipeg, he posted his first 50 goal season and was now known as one of the league’s premier snipers. Sadly for Winnipeggers, the franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona, at the conclusion of the 1995-96 season. Keith joined the Coyotes in the desert and continued his scoring ways, posting another 50+ goal season during the Yotes inaugural season.
“Anytime a city loses a team, it’s difficult, and you feel terrible for the fans because there was a lot of passionate hockey fans who were devastated, and it wasn’t their fault. At that time, it was a small market, and times were changing, salaries were changing big time,” Tkachuk said. “On the flip side, to go promote hockey in a new market with obvious weather improvements was pretty good. We had to do a lot of on and off the ice stuff to sell the game. We played downtown at America West Arena, which was really good. The fan base was great, and we had some really good teams there. A guy like Jeremy Roenick did a lot for that community, selling and selling!”
From Phoenix, it was on to St. Louis, where Tkachuk once again shined and was the leader of the franchise. He spent the final nine seasons of his career in St. Louis before retiring at the end of the 2009-10 season.
“Well, St. Louis is the place where we still call home, and it’s the place where my kids grew up. It was a time in my career where I needed a change from being in one organization for a long time. I got traded to St. Louis to a team that had guys like Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon, Dallas Drake, and Scott Young. This was a team that wanted to win and was under great ownership, and that first year I was there, we got to the conference finals where we lost, unfortunately to Colorado, who would go on to win the Cup. It was a great transition for me. We loved it as a family; it was a great place to play with great fans and just a great sports town in general. That’s why we stayed there.”
In addition to his play in the NHL, Tkachuk was also a very important member of the US National Team whenever he represented his country in international play. He played in four Olympics, two World Cups, and two World Juniors. Keith’s international highlights include winning a gold medal at the 1996 World Cup, a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics, and a bronze medal at the 1992 World Juniors.
Tkachuk talks about what it meant to him to represent his country on a regular basis: “From your childhood, you remember the 1980 Olympics and Mike Eruzione scoring that winning goal. Every kid in the States wanted to be the next Mike Eruzione after that. I got the chance to represent my country at the Olympics four times, once as an amateur and three times as a pro, and got a chance to win a silver medal, which is something I’ll never forget. It was unbelievable just being in the village with all the other athletes and seeing how everything works. It was definitely a nice change of pace from the NHL. I got to play in a couple of World Cups as well, and in the 1996 edition, we beat Canada in a best two out of three series, so that was a huge thrill not only for myself but as a steppingstone for USA hockey; getting that next phase of future NHL greats into the mix.”
Tkachuk retired with 1065 career points in 1201 games. He broke the 500-goal plateau and finished with 538 when it was all said and done. Tkachuk led the NHL in goals once during his career in the 1996-97 season, where he netted 52 goals, making him the first American-born player ever to lead the league in goals. That season should also be noted for Keith as he became only the fourth player in NHL history to score 50 goals and record 200 penalty minutes in the same campaign.
Since retiring from hockey, Tkachuk has been busy with his kids, who also play the game at the highest level. His sons Matthew and Brady play in the NHL and star for the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators, respectively. He also has a daughter that is a talented soccer player at the college level.
Tkachuk’s name comes up as a player on the bubble of getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. He knows he’s on the fence, but Keith doesn’t even think about it.
“Whatever happens, happens. I try not to think about it,” Tkachuk said. “If I was fortunate enough to get in one day, it would be an incredible thing without a doubt, and it’d be such an honour to be in that category. But I’m not thinking about it; I just go out and enjoy life and give back to the game of hockey as much as I can by coaching and helping out and getting a chance to watch my own children play. That’s what I love to do.”
Looking back on everything that happened in his excellent hockey career, Tkachuk’s best moment playing hockey wasn’t winning an Olympic medal or leading the NHL in goals. Instead, it was the friendships he made along the way.
“It’s one of those things that I don’t look at the numbers. I look at the time with team trainers and considering people from Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia good friends of mine. That’s the game of hockey for you, and that’s what I’m going to cherish the most about it, those friendships that I’ve made and that have lasted all these years.”
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