Anthony Keeper initially kept it to himself when his son, Brady, told him Monday that he’d would be in the lineup for the Florida Panthers against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup Qualifier series.
But as word of Keeper making his NHL postseason debut spread through Cross Lake, the Pimicikamak Cree community of 8,000 about eight hours north of Winnipeg the game quickly became must-see TV.
“The chief went on the radio to let the people know what the plan was — some of the offices closed before 11 a.m. this morning to watch the game and reopen after lunch,” Anthony Keeper said. “It’s a special day, I guess, for everybody around here.”
The Islanders defeated the Panthers 4-2 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference, but that didn’t diminish the excitement of the moment for the first member of the Cross Lake community to sign an NHL contract.
“Personally, it’s unbelievable to see it,” said Keeper, who had more than a dozen family and friends at his home watching the game. “I can’t even rate it. I’m just trying to control my nerves. I can’t even sit down here and watch the game. I’m pacing back and forth, going inside and outside.”
Keeper, who signed as a free agent with Panthers on March 18. 2019 and made his NHL debut 10 days later, played 13:13 and was a minus-1. Panthers coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw of the young defenseman Tuesday.
“I thought he had a good game today,” Quenneville said. “I thought he had an excellent (exhibition) game against (the Tampa Bay Lightning), and he had a real good training camp. I think that was why he earned his spot.”
The Panthers, the No. 10 seed in the East, trail the No. 7 Islanders 2-0 in the best-of-5 series. Game 3 is Wednesday (12 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, FS-F, MSG+).
Alfie Michaud, a University of Maine hockey coach who mentored Keeper when he played there from 2017-19, said he spent lots of time on Facebook Tuesday reading and receiving messages from proud Cross Lake residents.
“It opens a lot of eyes to a lot of people that a kid from up in those areas can find a way,” said Michaud, who is Ojibwe and a former goalie who played two games for the Vancouver Canucks in 1999-00. “He’s competing for the Stanley Cup, that’s a pretty cool thing. He’s actually competing for the Stanley Cup, playing in the playoffs. There are a lot of little kids watching that game right now, staring at him and his number, and they’re all going to dream about being Brady one day.”
Donovan Miswaggon, who grew up playing with and against Keeper, watched the game with seven members of his family and remembered that Keeper long dreamed of being in the NHL.
“No words to explain how I feel right now, said Miswaggon, whose sister, Kennesha Miswaggon, played for the University of British Columbia last season. “Just happy for him. It’s what he always wanted to do and he’s doing it.”