Being a hockey fan in the South, it can be difficult to find someone to talk to about the game. You can try, but you might as well be speaking a different language, as all you're met with are blank stares, references to The Mighty Ducks, and overused Canadian jokes.
While many names were brought up, the one we kept coming back to was Duncan Keith.
I don't get to say this often, but oh how right we were.
Keith finished that season with 12 goals, 20 assists, and a incredibly impressive +30, which was good for 2nd in the league among Defencemen (5th among all skaters), trailing only the immortal Nicklas Lidstrom who went on to win his 6th Norris Trophy.
Keith's Plus/Minus that year is down right awe inspiring when you consider that the Blackhawks didn't make the playoffs.
Chicago became a team to be reckoned with last season, finishing with 104 points and giving Detroit all they could handle in the Western Conference Finals. Keith ended up with 8 goals, 36 assists, and a +33.
Keith took another step forward this year, and the Blackhawks are reaping the benefits as they battle the San Jose Sharks and the Washington Capitals for the President's Trophy, and are considered a Cup Contender by nearly every analyst in the game.
Not to belittle Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and all that they bring to the game, but if you're looking for the engine that drives the Chicago winning machine, one needs to look no further than #2 on the blue-line.
(Sidenote, what an amazing number for Dmen. Doug Harvery, Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch.)
Keith has already set career marks for both goals (13) and assists (47) this season, and there are still many games to be played. He averages 26:40 of ice time per game, which easily leads the team and puts him 2nd in the league (Joni Pitkanen is the leader).
If you were to just study the numbers, Keith would still look good. But he is so much more than just his stats.
In his own zone, he is sound positionally and a tremendous one-on-one defender. On the offensive side of the puck, he can lead the rush, has excellent vision and passing, and is one of the smoothest skaters in the league. He can kill a penalty, or quarterback the power play.
And he's doing it against the opposition's best, night in and night out.
If Keith's meteroric rise in the NHL has gone unnoticed to you, than you've been living under a rock.
If Keith's performance at the olympics went unnoticed to you, than you've been living under Mt. Everest.
Under hockey's biggest spotlight, Keith was teamed up with the youngster Drew Doughty (who was nothing short of sensational), and oh how they shined.
The two became the top pairing for Canada's gold medal club, drawing the opponents top line. And aside from the cannon masquerading as Shea Weber's slapshot, Keith and Doughty were the greatest offensive threat from the blueline.
Barring temporary insanity on behalf of the decision makers, Keith will be a finalist for the Norris trophy this season.
The nomination promises to be the first of many in what looks likely to be an illustrious career.
And I look forward to every effortless stride, every beautiful play, and every breathtaking moment that promises to follow.