Throughout the month of August, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment covers Bobcats second-year veteran defenseman Jeremy O’Keefe.
Name: Jeremy O’Keefe
Hometown: Grand Forks, ND
2011-12 Team: Bismarck Bobcats
2011-12 Stats: 2 G, 9 A, 11 PTS, +11, 29 PIM
Favorite Singer: Eric Church
Childhood NHL Idol: Scott Stevens
Highlight of 2011-12: “Celebrating when Tyler Richter scored the empty-netter in Game Four of the Division Finals, just knowing that we were going to Nationals.”
For a player to find his way onto a team’s 30-man protected list in the North American Hockey League, he must either be a returning veteran, be drafted or sign a tender agreement. In this sense, Jeremy O’Keefe is a bit of a statistical oddity: he has made the Bobcats’ protected list by being drafted, tendered and as a returner.
Drafted by Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie in 2010 after a strong junior year for the Grand Forks Central High School Knights, O’Keefe did not make the final cut for Sedevie’s first year behind the Bobcat bench.
“We had our eye on Jeremy for quite a while, because his talent was noticeable even when he was 16 and 17 years old,” noted Sedevie, who selected the blueliner with his 9th round selection in the 2010 Entry Draft. “And even though he didn’t make it his first time around, he showed us a lot playing for Central as a senior and we knew we still wanted him in black and gold.”
Sedevie was so impressed with that senior campaign, which saw O’Keefe improve his production to 25 points in 27 games with the Knights, he signed the then-19 year old defender to a tender agreement for the 2011-12 season.
“I was eager to sign with the Bobcats because everyone who plays high school hockey in North Dakota knows about their winning tradition and what a great organization they have,” expressed O’Keefe. “And the fact that Layne thought highly enough of me to draft me after my junior year gave me a good comfort level with the team.”
Now, fresh off a 50-game rookie campaign that featured a +11 rating and a steady presence on the team’s penalty kill unit, O’Keefe has completed the protected list trifecta as a veteran on the 2012 list.
Though his path to being a Bobcat explored nearly every avenue leading up to the 2012-13 season, the destination was never in doubt for O’Keefe.
“I knew all along that I wanted to be a Bobcat,” he confirmed.
Stay Right There
In an era where many young defensemen have grown up idolizing NHL defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer and Drew Doughty—known for their offensive prowess—O’Keefe is a bit of a throwback as a stay-at-home defenseman whose primary focus is his own end.
To wit, O’Keefe eschewed all offensive defensemen when it came to the NHL’er he emulates on the ice, instead referencing one of the most menacing defensive players of modern NHL history, Scott Stevens.
“When I’m on the ice, I don’t think too much about scoring or starting the rush,” explained O’Keefe. “I like going out there and being a pest and frustrating guys with defense.
“I’m always looking for a good challenge. My favorite games [in 2011-12] were against Aberdeen when I went up against Cory Ward. He was the best player in the division, maybe in the league, and it was always my goal to frustrate him and keep him off the board.”
Playing for a franchise whose recent history boasts heavy offensive artillery on the blueline in the form of players such as Sam Rendle, Ben Danford, Donald Olivieri and Danny Ray, one might think there would be temptation to try and step up and stuff the box score as a defenseman. O’Keefe sees it differently.
“That’s not how I think when I’m out there, to be honest,” replied O’Keefe. “Playing with guys like Olivieri and ‘D-Ray’ last year, they were the ones jumping into the play so I knew I had to stay back and be ready to defend.
“If you have every defenseman joining the rush, who’s going to stay back and help the goalie out?”
As a former collegiate and professional goaltender, Sedevie appreciates O’Keefe’s defensive mentality for more reasons than one.
“Of course, I always loved having guys in front of me who wanted to block shots and play ‘D’ first,” related Sedevie, “and as a coach I still love guys like that. But after a few years behind the bench I’ve come to appreciate guys like Jeremy because they provide balance for some of our more aggressive ‘D’ to make plays.”
No school in North Dakota can claim the sort of on-ice success that Grand Forks Central boasts: the Knights have won 18 state hockey titles in the Peace Garden State, more than any other school. Central’s most recent championship run came in 2010, O’Keefe’s junior year.
The program’s strong history was not insignificant to Sedevie while scouting and recruiting the state, thanks to his mentor, former Bobcat head coach Byron Pool.
“Byron always told me it was a good idea to recruit players from winning programs,” remarked Sedevie, who spent a year as Pool’s assistant coach with the Bobcats before taking the reins in 2010, “because you want guys who know how to win. Well, in North Dakota, nobody wins more than Grand Forks Central.”
O’Keefe, naturally, agreed with that line of thinking.
“When you become accustomed to winning, whether it’s with the Knights or the Bobcats, it can give you a mental edge over your opponents,” he judged. “That’s not to say that you get cocky or overlook the guys on the other side of the ice, it’s more that you have a better idea of what it takes to win and what you have to do to come out on top.”
It is no surprise, then, that the Bobcats have seen numerous Knights come through the program under Sedevie, including O’Keefe, Ray, Dalton Spicer, Jordy Aamot and Bryce Anderson (who later transferred to rival Red River).
“It’s a great relationship that the Bobcats and Central have,” pointed out O’Keefe. “You could almost say it’s becoming a tradition for the best players at Central to become Bobcats.”
Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2012-13 season. Next week we will feature Mike Dockry, Rory Vesel, Ryan Callahan, Terry Hennen and Kevin Becker.