Prior to his arrival in Penticton, Jackson Keane was no stranger to junior hockey. With two years in Manitoba with the Winnipeg Blues and two years in the United States with the Sioux City Musketeers, Keane had already played more games than most Junior ‘A’ players do. After discussions with his family and school, the consensus was Keane should finish his junior eligibility before heading to the NCAA, and Keane knew exactly where he wanted to go.
“Penticton was definitely number one,” Keane said. “About 90 per cent of the players and staff from Sioux City were moving on. I loved every second of my time there, but Penticton was somewhere I always wanted to go.”
While with the Blues in his hometown of Winnipeg, Keane was an offensive force scoring 61 points in just 50 games during the 2014-15 season. That lead to an invite to the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, where he would be teammates with the likes of Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro and Gabe Bast.
“They had nothing but good things to say, on ice and off ice,” Keane said. “I decided not to go (to Penticton) when I was 18 and 19 but there was always a part of me that wanted to be there. There was a lot of guys there that I’m still friends with that I only got spend a week with before coming there. Sometimes you look back on the decisions you made and think ‘maybe I should have done this or that’ but I’m happy I decided to do what I did.”
A seed that may have been planted years before had finally sprouted when Keane was acquired in a three-team deal in early August. While he brought with him over 200 combined games of Junior ‘A’ experience, he also brought versatility in being able to play anywhere in the lineup.
In two years with Winnipeg Keane racked up 98 points in 102 games and helped the Blues win the MJHL title, the Turnbull Cup, in 2014. While in Sioux City, Keane’s role changed to a defensive-minded forward who scored 11 goals in two seasons, but was an integral piece on a team that fell just short of another championship. The Musketeers came within one goal of the Clark Cup, losing game five in the best-of-five USHL final 2-1 in overtime against the Chicago Steel in 2017.
Even before he arrived in Penticton, Keane said it was clear the Vees were a first-class organization.
“My billets were texting me before I even got there with the set up,” Keane said. “As soon as I stepped off the plane they were there to pick me up from the airport, (Vees equipment manager) Brendon Kerr was there to set me up in the locker room and with workouts. It makes it so much easier when you’re going home to people that really care about you. You’re pretty much at the around the guys for six or seven hours day. I think the biggest thing is how good the kids are in Penticton. I don’t think there’s ever really a bad guy that comes here. Not everyone gets a chance to play in front of three or four thousand fans and I’m pretty lucky to say I was able to do it.”
With his previous experience as both a scorer and a depth forward, Keane was able to seamlessly integrate himself into the Vees lineup, no matter where he may have been slotted on any given night.
“I kind of got the chance to play every single role,” Keane said. “For development, that’s what people need. Some guys are gifted offensive players through and through, but not every guy can be a scorer for their entire career. I was lucky that I was able to play with just about every single guy throughout the year, on the power play and penalty kill.”
Finishing the season with eight goals and 16 assists in 49 games, Keane tacked on four more goals and six points in 11 playoff games. He was visibly emotional following the game seven loss to the Smoke Eaters, and considering how long his junior career had been it’s not hard to imagine why.
“Losing anywhere is no fun, whether it’s if you don’t make the playoffs or if you lose game seven of the final,” Keane said. “I think it was a little tougher in Penticton because of how much tradition the team has. If you ask anyone in the locker room why they came to Penticton, it’s because they wanted to win. Hats off to Trail, but it stung a little more because we had a really close team. It was my last year of junior, it felt like I had been playing junior for 20 years. It’s something you take for granted when you’re younger, and for it to all be done was tough.”
All told, Keane suited up for 284 Junior ‘A’ games throughout his five-year career. He found the back of the net 68 times and assisted on 103 others. He played in two league finals, represented Canada twice at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and World Junior ‘A’ Challenge and also played in the 2014 Western Canada Cup.
Though he had vastly different end results to each season, Keane says all three places he played were special in their own ways.
“There’s different aspects of hockey and outside of the rink,” Keane explained. “But there are also similarities with how you’re treated at the rink, whether it’s to do with your equipment or your billets. I’m pretty lucky that I had two sets of awesome billets in Sioux City, and it was the same in Penticton. I’m really happy I got to meet a lot of great people. Right from Fred all the way down it was first class. They treated me really well and I’m forever grateful.”
The sad reality of sports is year over year, there are teammates you may never see again once the season has concluded. That’s not the case for Keane and a number of Vees as he’ll be alongside them at the University of North Dakota in the fall. Jonny Tychonick and Adam Scheel will join him this season with Luke Reid slated to attend in the future.
“There’s a reason UND wants their players to go to Penticton,” Keane said. “They do things right. The players are always hard working and talented. It shows how people look at that organization when one of the top schools wants their players there.”
Back home in Winnipeg, Keane has been taking in Winnipeg Jets games as he transitions into his summer training to prepare for the adjustment to college hockey. After being a Blue, Musketeer and Vee over the past five years, Keane won’t have to change his colours for the next four years as he’ll proudly call himself a Fighting Hawk.