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Soo Greyhounds’ Sheldon Keefe, by the numbers, building early coach of the year case

The Soo has a .727 point percentage since Keefe was hired (Mike Carroccetto photo)Chances are, you're probably not spending your post-Super Bowl Monday wondering who is front-runner to be the Ontario Hockey League coach of the year. Some of us are doomed to dwell on those topics, though, so it as a good a time as any to wonder if the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Sheldon Keefe might go from being on the outside looking in thanks to his past to being acclaimed by his peers in a few short months.

Last season, the OHL's coach of the year honour went to the Saginaw Spirit's Greg Gilbert, who took over a sputtering team in December and steered it to a 20-10-1-5 finish to the regular season and the second round of the playoffs. Keefe, whose chance to take over an OHL team's bench might have come sooner if not for his past with you-know-who, also took over a struggling team in December when 'Hounds GM Kyle Dubas hired him on Dec. 3. At the time, the Greyhounds had a .483 point percentage; since then, they have posted a .727 mark, with 15 wins in 22 games. The 32-year-old Keefe is also keeping his team's feet to the fire, obviously being well-aware that the Greyhounds' docket includes more 6-4 and 7-3 wins than a team with realistic designs on winning a playoff round or two wants.

There is still one-quarter of the regular season ahead, plus the playoffs. There is a case for coaching honours, especially since it always looks more impressive when a team improves on someone's watch rather as opposed to maintaining its prior standard, like the London Knights have under Dale Hunter. By the numbers, Sault Ste. Marie has produced as well as any OHL team since Keefe took the reins. That's probably not all him, but it has a lot to do with him.

CHL's best since Dec. 3
by SRS by RPI
Kelowna Rockets 2.0 Portland Winterhawks 0.590
Portland Winterhawks 1.8 Rimouski Océanic 0.583
Edmonton Oil Kings 1.7 Edmonton Oil Kings 0.572
Halifax Mooseheads 1.7 Kelowna Rockets 0.572
Rimouski Océanic 1.4 Halifax Mooseheads 0.571
Baie-Comeau Drakkar 1.0 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 0.564
London Knights 1.0 London Knights 0.558
Belleville Bulls 0.9 Belleville Bulls 0.539
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 0.8 Baie-Comeau Drakkar 0.537
Moncton Wildcats 0.8 Tri-City Americans 0.537

Suppose Sault Ste. Marie continues this push, or at least retains enough of their supposed momentum to win the West Division, the second-strongest grouping in the OHL (ahead of both Eastern Conference divisions). Keefe would have a good case to cop the coaching honours.

The award is voted on by the league's coaches and general managers, so it would be intriguing to see if the rest of the league will vote for a newcomer other teams were loath to hire before Keefe was snapped up by Dubas, who is relatively new to the GMs' club since he's the youngest one in the league. Gilbert had a greater recognition factor last season since he had an earlier successful OHL tenure with the then-Mississauga IceDogs, whereas Keefe's previous good works occurred off the beaten path with the Junior A Pembroke Lumber Kings. The familiarity or lack thereof might factor in more greatly than the David Frost baggage, in all brutal honesty.

Through all that time, as the wins and championships piled up Pembroke like fresh-cut wood, people said he should be coaching in the O. The early, early returns indicate as much.

(Statistics by Rob Pettapiece.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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