by A.J. Atchue || for NHL.com
Keith Seabrook has enjoyed a solid rookie season as a defenseman with the Abbotsford Heat as he looks to eventually embark on a career in the National Hockey League.
For now, though, being the younger brother of an NHL mainstay has its perks, especially when that brother also plays in the Olympic gold-medal game.
Keith is the younger brother of Chicago Blackhawks rearguard Brent Seabrook, a former first-round draft pick who began his pro career with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals before moving to full-time duty on the Blackhawks’ blue line in 2005-06.
Brent, who is three years older than Keith, earned a spot on Canada’s Olympic squad in Vancouver and prepared to take on the United States in the Feb. 28 gold-medal match.
Less than 24 hours before that puck drop, Keith and the Heat were wrapping up an East Coast road trip in Worcester, Mass. Keith quickly drove down to New York City and caught a red-eye flight out west, and he made it to the arena in time to see his brother and the rest of the Canadians win gold.
“It was unbelievable, definitely something I’ll never forget and my brother will never forget,” he said. “To be able to experience that and hang out with him afterwards, it was just unbelievable.”
The Seabrook brothers grew up near Delta, B.C., and their father had them on skates by the time they were three or four years old. When the time came to begin playing organized hockey, Keith – and Brent, to a lesser extent – started out at the forward position.
But as a result of a lineup scramble in a pee-wee tournament, Keith’s career as a defenseman was soon born.
“We were in a tournament, and my team didn’t have enough defensemen, so I played defense for the tournament,” he said. “I was pretty good at it, so ever since then, since I was about seven or eight, I’ve been playing defense.”
So far, the switch seems to be working out rather nicely for Seabrook, who was drafted in the second round (No. 52) by the Washington Capitals in 2006 and acquired by the Calgary Flames in a trade last summer.
During the AHL regular season, which concluded on Sunday, Seabrook led all Heat defensemen with 10 goals and shared first place with 28 points. He appeared in 78 of the team’s 80 games, only missing a February contest due to the flu before being given the regular-season finale off.
The first-year Heat finished third in the AHL’s North Division at 39-29-5-7 for 90 points and will open the Calder Cup Playoffs against the Rochester Americans on Thursday night.
“(I’m strong at) making the first pass, my shot, I have a good shot from the point, and just vision for the ice,” Seabrook said. “All those things kind of add up together, and I think they make me the player that I am.”
Seabrook’s vision and shooting ability turned him into a key element of Abbotsford’s power play this season. The 21-year-old registered 17 of his 28 total points – seven goals and 10 assists – on the man advantage, earning him a share of the team lead in power-play points.
“He’s got a great first pass, and he sees the ice really well,” said Abbotsford head coach Jim Playfair, a former assistant and head coach with the Flames who also led Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Saint John, N.B., to the Calder Cup title in 2001.
“He’s learning how to move along the blue line much better and create different shooting lanes and different options,” Playfair said. “He doesn’t need a whole lot off room to get his shot off and get it through. He’s got a very deceptive, hard, quick shot, and he does a good job of getting shots through from the point.”
Seabrook has taken full advantage of his heavy workload on the power play as the season progressed.
“I’ve always been an offensive guy and a power play guy, but I didn’t expect to be playing this much power-play time early on (in my career),” he said. “But I’ve been lucky and been thrown out there, and have had a lot of trust put in me to go to the points on power plays, so it’s been nice.”
He seems to be pretty settled now, but Seabrook took a somewhat circuitous route to the professional ranks prior to this year, at least compared to many other young players.
After a couple years playing Junior “A” hockey in British Columbia, he took his game to the University of Denver in 2006-07 but posted only 13 points in 37 games for the Pioneers.
Seabrook decided to leave school at the end of that one year and play major junior instead, and he spent the next two seasons with Calgary of the WHL, erupting for 55 points in 64 games during the 2008-09 campaign.
“I really liked Denver, liked going to school, liked the team, and I had a lot of fun there,” Seabrook said. “But coming off the year before and then going to a 35-game season (at Denver), it was a little different and a little tougher for me. I think making the jump back to that pro-like schedule of hockey really helped me out.”
Having experienced both the college and junior games, Seabrook knew that to make a successful jump to the American Hockey League, building up his strength was of the utmost importance.
“Everyone’s a little bit bigger and stronger,” he said. “I worked on my strength and my speed over the summer, and I think I got a good head start on this league. I think I’ve adapted pretty well so far.”
Adjusting to the pro style of play has been an ongoing process for Seabrook this year, and Playfair is impressed with the defenseman’s commitment to improving his skills in practice and then translating that into game situations.
“He’s calm under pressure for a young player, and he’s in a situation where he has three or four other young players around him,” Playfair said. “I think his confidence and his ability to play a lot of minutes have improved. He’s developed a mindset where he has to prepare to improve each and every day. And his practices have improved, games have improved, and his overall physical play has improved.”
“When he’s not physical, he’s an average player. When he’s real physical, he can be an effective player.”
Naturally, Seabrook doesn’t have to look too far if he needs any extra drive to continue improving and eventually make it up to the NHL.
Though they often have significantly different schedules, he and his brother usually talk once a week during the season and try to give tips to each other as they go along. While Brent is established as a full-fledged NHL defenseman, Keith is still finding his way there.
“It’s definitely motivation for me and something that that I strive to get to,” Keith said.
“Over time, his quickness and length of his strides are issues that he needs to pay attention to, and also his overall conditioning,” Playfair said. “Once he gets those two things up to speed, I think there’s no reason why he can’t be a very effective National Hockey League player.”