Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/23/11
Nicknames are a part of the very fabric of the National Hockey League. When I think back to the early days of the Coyote franchise, some of the nicknames of players from that team still roll off the tongue near perfect in their description. --Nicolai Khabibulin was the Bulin Wall. --Teppo Numminen was Repo Man. --Dave Manson was Charlie. --Jeremy Roenick? Styles. Others were more mundane, but appropriateKris King, was Kinger, Jim McKenzie was Mac, Rick Tochett was Tock, and Shane Doan was and remains Doaner. And then there was Keith Tkachuk. His nickname was Walt. For those of you who were a fan of the NHL of the 60s and 70s you knew why. This was old school. Its a simple twist of the last name of a former New York Ranger forward, Walt Tkaczuk. No relation, of course. Not even spelled the same. But thats the beauty of it. Walt. That was his nickname. But his job description? That had another name all together Power Forward. Frankly, Keith Tkachuk will go down in history as one of the greatest power forwards in hockey history. The numbers tell the story you just saw a taste of them on the video board. But for Keith Tkachuk, its about more than just a roll call of accomplishments. If you were around here back then you saw it every night. Keith had a low center of gravity and a complete and utter lack of fear. He would place himself, literally, in the most important yet the most difficult area of the ice. Keiths office was smack dab in front of the net. How he got there did not matter. Who he took with him, or down or underneath him, didnt either. The game has changed. Power forwards, to the definition of them in Keiths era, hardly exist these days. He was one of the last of his kind. And he was perfectly suited for the job. He was a warrior. Ask Derian Hatcher. The payback that Keith inflicted on him for that jaw crushing hit on Jeremy Roenick was unlike anything I have ever seen. Keith didnt win that fight, but it wasnt about winning it was about a message. Keith did what every Coyote fan had hoped he and ONLY HE could do. He did it because he had to. It was his job. He was the Captain. But there was something else to Keiths hockey DNA. It was about a will to win, to compete, to pay the price, literally, every shift. We all saw that fury ON the ice. But off the ice, where I get to do my job, I can say this without any question whatsoever: In 24 years of broadcasting, I have never seen any player who took a loss more personally than Keith Tkachuk. Isnt that the real measure of an athlete? Was he a great quote? Without a doubt he was. Sometimes he was TOO good a quote! And you havent lived life until you have heard Keith carve, or say, the general manager of his own hockey team, his head coach, or his pal Dallas Drake, or those of us in the media, ANYONE at ANYTIME, all in that South Boston accent. He chirped because he knew he could, but also because he knew he had to. It cut the tension and the grief of the weary road traveled in this sport. He chirped because he couldnt resist. He was world class. He said what most of us were thinking. BUT he said these things with a twinkle in his eye. He was a big kid playing a game that he loved for a living, and he was lucky, and he knew it. But theres more to Keith than tales of guts and glory and a swashbuckling attitude. I think of an old man named Red who lives in Red Deer, Alberta. Red is a hockey lifer in that part of the world. You count on him being around when you come into town. Red was taken in by a former Captain of the Winnipeg Jets and he has been passed on if you will to generations of leaders of this team to this very day. Red needs help. Red needs a shave and a haircut and hot meal and warm clothes. He needs a little extra dose of humanity. And Red needs some walking around money. Red loves hockey, and I have seen hockey love Red. Keith didnt have to get Red a hotel room or a seat on the charter flight from Calgary to Edmonton or bus fare back to Red Deer. But he did. But there was something about how I saw Keith talk to Red that I have never forgotten. He talked TO him. Not down to him. Red loves Keith Tkachuk and hell never admit it, but I think Keith loves Red. Money doesnt mean anything to Red. People do. Despite his many contract issues, I have always suspected the same for Keith. You know, Keith played here on a team full of grown men, and they were for a time the talk of the town because of their skill, talent and personality. Some on those teams demanded the puck, the attention and the bright lights And trust me, thats OK. This is, after all, entertainment. There was nothing better than an intermission interview with Jeremy Roenick after a highlight-reel goal. He wanted the spotlight, and it found him, and he delivered. And hes next to go up there in the Coyotes Ring of Honor, and I cant wait for that night, either. But I always thought that the perfect compliment to JR was Keith Tkachuk because the only light that mattered to Keith, was the red light. The goal light. Still, like JR, Keith obliged us on FOX Sports Arizona countless times. He had a running bit that he did at what felt like the end of every single interview that we ever did. t was short and sweet and diametrically opposite to that crusty personality, which is why it always cracked me up. It went something like this ending the interview and throwing to a commercial break: Thanks for joining us, Captain. Good luck in the third period And inevitably he would pause and say in his proudest straight and arrow school boy voice Always a pleasure, Walshy. There was an Alfred E. Newman Cheshire Cat grin to him. It was as if his parents had JUST taught him how to be polite and how to respect their elders. Keith, theres something that I have always wanted to say in return, but never had the time nor the place to say it. I do now. And I speak on behalf of every single Coyote fan in the building tonight, watching at home or listening on the radio or via the internet: The pleasure was OURS. I thank you. WE thank you. Let me now introduce the next inductee to the Coyotes Ring of Honor, Keith Tkachuk.
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