Photo by Hickling Images
When Des Moines Buccaneers forward David Keefer saw his team’s 2016-17 schedule, he probably had last weekend circled on his calendar.
Des Moines traveled to Plymouth, MI for a series against Team USA, and being a Howell, MI native, Keefer was expecting to have family in the crowd. The Michigan State University commit treated those in attendance to the best weekend of his USHL career.
Keefer scored twice and added two assists in a 6-3 victory on Friday, and added a power play goal in a 3-0 win on Saturday. Keefer explained despite having all those familiar faces in the crowd, all he tried to do is play the way he always does.
“A lot of my family was there and I know Michigan State was there, but I always want to play my game,” Keefer said. “It doesn’t really matter who is in the stands, but it was nice to have a big weekend in front of them. It was pretty exciting.”
Des Moines head coach and general manager Dave Allison echoed those same sentiments. The third year bench boss said Keefer has been a very consistent player since returning for his second season, not just last weekend.
“I think David Keefer has played well ever since he got back to Des Moines,” Allison said. “I think the puck just went in for him. They were very opportunistic goals. He’s a guy that is really taking advantage of the opportunities he’s earned. We trust him in every situation.”
Keefer spent his first USHL season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks before joining the Buccaneers for the 2015-16 season, a year in which he had 12 goals and 33 points in 58 games. Keefer is excited to be back for his second year in Des Moines under Allison, and he described how he feels much more comfortable in year two.
“I definitely feel more comfortable being there. Coming in my first year, he had a different coaching style than what I was used to in Muskegon. Coming back my second year, I knew what he wanted me to do in my role. I definitely had more confidence coming in this year.”
Allison also talked about how Keefer coming back for his third season is a great step for his development. Being in Des Moines for his second season allows him to become a leader, gain confidence and more well-rounded player, and Allison said that will help Keefer both this season as well as later on in his hockey career.
“I think a lot of times, guys are in a hurry to get to places that are unknown. I think that David Keefer has come back here and he’s put himself in a really good position moving forward to step in, play college hockey right away, and further his career after that. He’s gained confidence just because he’s worked at this and deserves everything that he has. Like I said, we trust him in every situation and he’s got a great support system in his mother, father, grandma and grandpa. He plays hard for the right reasons.”
Despite his five-point weekend, Keefer was quick to point out that he isn’t the only one who is responsible for his early season success. He talked about his linemates Julian Napravnik and Eric Otto, and how their chemistry has allowed him to enjoy the benefits offensively.
“Julian Napravnik and I have been playing really well together. We have similar playing styles. I think that’s why we’ve had some success at the beginning of the year. My other linemate, (Eric) Otto, he compliments our line really well. He’s a power forward, he gets the puck, gets us the puck, and we can make plays with it. Our line is working really well together.”
Allison is sure happy he decided to put those three players together on a line, but he wasn’t ready to give himself too much credit for having Keefer, Napravnik and Otto play together.
“Luck,” Allison explained when asked what made him put those three forwards on the same line. “I think they’re all humble guys. They’re all grateful guys. They share the puck. They’re interchangeable. Their body of work is all three of them.”
The Buccaneers are off to a fast start. They are currently one point out of first place with a 5-1-0-1 record, while Keefer and Napravnik are two of four players with eight points to lead the team. But the stats aren’t what Keefer cares about. The team goal Allison has emphasized is what shines through.
“Obviously, I want to win a Clark Cup and the Anderson Cup. Hopefully we can make that happen.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 15th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2016-17. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in four consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.