After four seasons with his hometown Edmonton Oil Kings, Liam Keeler was presented with a new challenge when he was dealt to the Red Deer Rebels in May of last year.
As it turned out, he took that challenge and ran with it.
Keeler was a nice addition to the team, adding offence, maturity and leadership. He played his final WHL game Wednesday as the Rebels fell to the Oil Kings in an Eastern Conference semifinal and leaves Red Deer with nothing but fond memories.
“I had a lot of really special years in Edmonton, but I think there’s going to be a really big part of my heart that Red Deer will hold,” he said Friday. “When I got traded I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what to expect. I knew I was coming into a new opportunity and every single day here has been great.
“I’ve enjoyed it so much and I’m going to miss it a lot for sure.”
As noted, Keeler took full advantage of the opportunity he was afforded as an overage veteran winger. He scored a career high 25 goals and collected 45 points — also a WHL career best — in 65 regular-season contests and then added four points (2g,2a) in 10 playoff outings.
“When I first got traded the first conversation I had with Brent (GM Sutter), he said he saw a lot of offensive potential in my game and could see that I could take some strides throughout the season,” said Keeler.
“When I came here I obviously saw a little more opportunity just with some of the players and being in a different stage in the organization. I saw a good opportunity to come in and play a more prominent offensive role.”
Keeler did just that, although his season was somewhat uneven.
“The first half of the year wasn’t quite my best, but my second half I just tried to lay it all on the line every single game,” he stated. “I think I had a great second half.”
Keeler’s leadership abilities were obvious right off the bat and he served as an alternate captain in his final WHL season. He also brought a winning attitude to the Rebels locker room after being part of an Oil Kings team that was top notch each of the previous two seasons.
“I wanted to come in and bring a bit of a different aspect,” he said. “First and foremost, when I look at myself as a hockey player I see myself as a good teammate. I’m someone who cares about my teammates and wants to see them have just as much success as myself.
“When a team has success individuals have success. That’s what I tried to do — just be a different voice in the room and be a good person first and foremost. This group of guys is tremendous and I was lucky to be a part of it this season.”
Keeler wore a Hockey Gives Blood hat Friday and said he’s always been one to support the community, both in Edmonton and Red Deer. He was the recipient of the Oil Kings humanitarian of the year award for the 2020-21 season.
“The backbone of any hockey team is the community and the people in the city. I’m not directly involved in this (Hockey Gives Blood non-profit organization) but I like to support my teammates who are,” he said. “It’s a tremendous cause that does a lot for people.”
Keeler said he would advise any player coming into the league to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge he can.
“In general, have fun while you’re young, learn everything you can from the people around you, and I think I was really good at doing that in junior,” he said.
“For these younger players the biggest thing is to enjoy it. When I was 16 my captain in Edmonton, Colton Kehler, told me the days go by slow and the years go by fast. I’ve obviously seen that. I’ve had a lot of success and a good long career.”
The six-foot-two, 185-pound forward is unsure of what the future holds, but he seems to be leaning towards playing at the university level next season.
“I’m lucky to have a few different options. I’ve been in talks with quite a few schools all over Canada,” he said. “I have to take some time to talk with my parents and the people I care about the most and make that final decision.”