Fire Still Burns in Spartans OKeefe

Feb. 23, 1998

By Nate Ewell
MSU Sports Information

Kevin OKeefe remembers when he and his former teammates heard about the University of Illinois-Chicagos decision to drop its ice hockey program.

It was a real shock, incredibly sad a 24-hour natural disaster, starting with a newspaper article and ending with an ugly confrontational meeting between team members and the administration.

The rug had been pulled out from under OKeefe and the rest of the Flames. But not only did he land on his feet, he landed in perhaps the best situation of his hockey career.

While he had gone to Illinois-Chicago confident that he could help turn the struggling program around, by his sophomore season, I had pretty much resolved myself to the fact that I would never play in Joe Louis Arena.

Now, wrapping up his second year at his second school, OKeefe is shooting for championships a CCHA regular season title, a playoff championship and an NCAA crown. And he has become an important part of a senior class despite his late arrival.

This is completely different, OKeefe says. I think I can appreciate my two years here because of where I had come from. If I had come here right away I think I might have taken it for granted.

OKeefe recognized the difference between Michigan State and UIC in his first game as a Spartan.

I remember coming into the locker room before the third period in my first game here, OKeefe says. We were tied with Western Ontario, but the guys were all confident. They knew we were going to come back and win it, and that was a feeling we never had at UIC. Right then I noticed the difference in what a great place this was to play.

That winning tradition was something OKeefe looked for as he explored other options following UICs decision to drop its program.

That was a huge part, he says. I was sick of losing, and always having to explain to people why we were struggling. Playing at Michigan State, it gives you an instant sense of pride and people have respect for the program.

OKeefe found success in his first year with the Spartans including winning a playoff game for the first time. But he admits that he was in a daze for much of his first year as a Spartan, not only on the ice, but in general, as he continued to struggle with the fate of the UIC program.

After scoring just 11 points on three goals and eight assists last season, OKeefe has been a critical member of this years Spartan team, currently tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists). He has spent much of the year as the right wing on senior center Sean Berens line, with whom OKeefe went to high school and played youth hockey.

Kevin is the kind of player whose work ethic and style of play will make him fit in with any team, Berens says. Hes got a great scoring touch and an excellent shot. Hes also got a unique sense of humor and he gets along well with the guys. He fits in well not only on the ice, but off, and he has been an important part of our senior class.

OKeefes sense of humor appears when he discusses his own style of play.

I dont do anything special, he says. I just go to the net and try to make things happen. Im not going to be fancy and do spin-o-ramas like Berens or (Mike) York. I just get the puck and get it to the net somehow. Good things have happened. Good things indeed.

The player who had accepted the fact that he would never reach Joe Louis Arena has won eight (out of 10) games there in the past two years. He has a shot at returning for the CCHA Championships and playing beyond that in the NCAA tournament.

Those were hopes that had seemingly flickered out for this former Flame.

Kevin OKeefe, #12
Sr., RW, Barrington, Ill.
Year            Goals   Assists Points  Pen/Min
1994-95 (UIC)   12      9       21      4/8
1995-96 (UIC)   6       3       9       11/22
1996-97         3       8       11      3/6
1997-98         10      16      26      9/18
Totals          31      36      67      27/54