December 22nd, 2003, 06:56 AM
A tribute to Keith Magnuson
Writer: Chris Lomon
Editor: Wendy McCreary
To have him in your lineup was a dream, to face-off against him was a nightmare. It's what made Keith Magnuson a special player.
He was hardly the strongest or tallest man on the ice during his NHL career, but Magnuson, who recently passed away at the age of 56, loomed large every time he took a shift, a rough-and-tumble rearguard who would literally do just about anything to keep the opposition off the scoresheet.
With little regard for his own well-being, Magnuson, a proud native of Saskatchewan, had no hesitation when it came to blocking shots or dishing them out, always at the ready to take on a much bigger opponent in a spirited one-on-one tussle.
While there was definitely no halo under his helmet, Magnuson, who played his junior hockey with the Saskatoon Blades, always did what he felt best served his team, even if the odds were stacked against him.
Though he developed a reputation as a fiery, feisty type in the NHL, Magnuson brought a much different approach to the rink during his junior and collegiate years, including his all-star campaigns with the University of Denver.
Comparatively small in stature to teammates and rivals, Magnuson shed his supposed 'soft' ways after signing as a free agent with the Blackhawks in 1969-70. From that season on, Magnuson, who took boxing lessons to enhance the physical aspect of his game, was a menace to anyone in a different coloured uniform.
During his early years in the NHL, Magnuson would deliver or accept invitations from other team's tough guys, often coming out on the losing end, but winning kudos from his teammates for his fearless manner.
It didn't take long for the blueliner to assume a leadership role, an honour Magnuson treated with the utmost respect and duty. Stopping goals, rather than scoring them was his forte, Magnuson once remarking he would stop puck with his teeth if it meant keeping Chicago's opponents off the scoresheet.
And as his gap-toothed grin on a cover of Sports Illustrated suggested, Magnuson was a man of his word.
Although he dropped the gloves with less frequency as his career moved on, Magnuson still played with the same passion and intensity as he did in his rookie season. He was the prototypical stay-at-home defenceman, dedicated to patrolling his own end of the rink, a job he did with great zeal.
In a sport where individual points are often deemed the barometer of success, Magnusson managed to carve out a solid NHL tenure as a competitor who did the things that often went unnoticed by those in the stands, but not those who he played alongside with.
During a game near the beginning of 1979-80, reputed enforcer Stan Jonathan of the Boston Bruins jostled with Magnuson, asking the 'Hawks defenceman if he wanted to shed the gloves.
Besieged by injuries, the battle-weary Magnuson admitted he had to momentarily consider the offer before engaging in the scrap. After the game, Magnuson went to the GM's office and called it a career.
The reason behind his decision spoke volumes of Magnuson's character. If he ever had to consider an invitation to fight, even for a second, he knew it was time to move on.
Courtesy of chicagoblackhawks.com
His list of accomplishments, both on and off the ice, is enviable. As a player, Magnuson was a WCHA First All-Star Team (1967, 1968 and 1969), WCHA Player of the Year (1968), NCAA West First All-American Team (1968, 1969), NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team (1968, 1969) and NCAA Championship Tournament MVP (1969). He also played in two NHL All-Star Games, in 1971 and 1972.
As a Past Chair of the NHL Alumni, Magnuson worked tirelessly with former players, old teammates and rivals alike, to create a solid foundation in their lives after hockey, a position he took tremendous pride in and one he was greatly respected for.
"Keith loved the game and fraternity of hockey," said Brian Conacher, President of the NHL Alumni. "He used his hockey qualities in his life after hockey and he generously shared his good fortune with those of the hockey community less successful. He'll be missed, but his spirit will live on."
There were many players who scored more points and received greater recognition for their efforts on the ice, but few could match the intensity and grit of Keith Arlen Magnuson, a player and person who always fought for what he believed in.