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Sheldon Keefe returns to OHL fold as Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coach

Sheldon Keefe is new Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coach (Mike Carroccetto photo)With Sheldon Keefe, no amount of winning erases the first association with his name — but hey, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds need a shake-up.

Were it not for his tie to David Frost, Keefe, who will be introduced today as the new Greyhounds coach, would have moved from presiding over a Junior A juggernaut to the Ontario Hockey League long, long ago. The lingering memory of it though is why Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas firing Mike Stapleton and hiring Keefe away from the Central Canada Hockey League's Pembroke Lumber Kings amounts to a gutsy move to shake up a seventh-place team. It's inevitably going to be controversial and in no way one would wonder about doing it on the day when the media focus will be on the 12:30 p.m. ET announcement of Canada's national junior team selection camp roster. Of course not.

Keefe has paid his dues and put enough distance between him and his past to earn a chance to return to the OHL fold. He has worked for Hockey Canada — he was on staff for the Canada East team at last month's World Junior A Challenge tournament — and the Lumber Kings have been dominant. More importantly, he's showed contrition about his role in the saga of the Brampton Boys.

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Though skeptics will question his honesty, Keefe is, as Dubas pointed out, forthright about his past. And, yes, Dubas asked him "point-blank" about all of it.

"I'm glad they did," Keefe said on Sportsnet's HockeyCentral at Noon, adding that he was a poor teammate and captain when he played. "Obviously the perception that's out there still lingers and it is something, frankly, to question. It really has sort of been a mission of mine to let my accomplishments and my character shine through. The last seven years in this role, I think I've been able to do that.


"Absolutely it was fair (being under the microscope for that behaviour). It was uncommon and looking back on it, it's not an area or a period of my life I'm proud of. (But) I believe a big part my success is that I went through that. I'm able to recognize the negative things very quickly and address them, and use my experience to try to get the best out of players. I'm quite confident I'm going to be able to bring my story, my history, and use it as a positive towards the players.

"I'm very grateful for an opportunity, for somewhat of a second chance, an opportunity to get it right this time around." (Toronto Sun)

The Lumber Kings won five CCHL titles in a row before that streak was snapped last year and also won the RBC Cup in 2011, the first for a team from that league in 34 seasons.

"Sheldon's Pembroke teams are renowned for being well prepared and well structured while playing a high-pressure, disciplined, puck possession style. Given that body of work, I felt Sheldon was the best coach to have our team reach it's full potential," concluded the Hounds GM. (Soo Greyhounds press release)

Bill Stewart, who was Keefe's coach with the infamous 2000 Barrie Colts team, returned to the OHL last season by becoming an assistant coach with the Guelph Storm. You would recall OHL commissioner David Branch had to give Stewart's hiring his blessing. Keefe was a teen, not an adult, when he was in the OHL, so requiring permission.

It's been long enough in the minds of the people whose views matter, apparently. Keefe also told Elliotte Friedman in 2011 that he had severed social contact with Frost. One would think the Greyhounds did their due diligence. After all, at a time when they have three players facing sexual assault charges, they are hiring a coach who once lived with David Frost.

Keefe, 32, should not have to spend his life answering for what happened in his teens and 20s, as awful as it was. It just reflects the unfortunate first point of reference to those who have only followed his progress in Pembroke from afar. Really, this move is also more about Stapleton not getting results. The Hounds (13-14-2-0) are below .500 and are allowing more than four goals per game, giving them the OHL's second-worst defensive record.

Everyone is entitled to equality of opportunity. Keefe certainly earned it in Junior A. Coaches with a background at that level — the Niagara IceDogs' Marty Williamson, Barrie Colts' Dale Hawerchuk and Kingston Frontenacs' Todd Gill — seem to have fared well in the OHL recently. That's how it's looked at in hockey and it's best to convey that reality.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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