After the Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday afternoon, all eyes turned to the man who took his spot — Sheldon Keefe.
The new Leafs bench boss makes his NHL debut on Thursday night in Arizona — with the lofty expectations of ending the team’s six-game skid. However, Keefe will not only have the comfort of more than a handful of players on the roster that he has coached in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, but he’ll also have general manager Kyle Dubas firmly in his corner.
Dubas and Keefe go way back, to the days of junior hockey.
April 15, 2011
Kyle Dubas, 25, is hired as the general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds — the second-youngest GM in the history of the OHL.
Dec. 3, 2012
Sheldon Keefe is hired as the head coach of the Greyhounds mid-season when Dubas fires Mike Stapleton.
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Keefe leads the Greyhounds back to the playoffs with a 36-26-3-3 record; the team did not qualify the previous two seasons. They would go on to lose in the first round to the Owen Sound Attack in six games. The Attack was backstopped by netminder Jordan Binnington, now of the St. Louis Blues.
In his first full season at the helm, Keefe leads the Soo to a division title with a record of 44-17-2-5. The squad, with now-Penguins netminder Matt Murray between the pipes, exact revenge in the first round of the OHL playoffs by defeating Owen Sound 4-1. They would go on to lose four straight games to a stacked Erie Otters squad in the second round.
July 22, 2014
Dubas is hired as an assistant GM with the Toronto Maple Leafs. During his tenure at the Soo, 14 players were drafted to the NHL — the second-most among OHL teams during that span.
Then-GM Dave Nonis noted, “He is an innovative thinker that will bring enthusiasm and impressive abilities to our club. His work ethic, character and demonstrated leadership in Sault Ste. Marie, make for a valuable combination that will certainly have a positive impact on our organization in many ways.”
With Dubas now in Toronto, Keefe undertakes his second full season in Sault Ste. Marie — and it was a benchmark year for the coach. The Greyhounds won the Hamilton Spectator Trophy with the best record in the OHL (54-12-0-2, 110 points) for the first time since 1985; it was also a then-franchise record.
MORE: Twitter reacts to Babcock firing | What’s next for Babcock?
June 8, 2015
Keefe gets tapped to steer the Maple Leafs’ AHL league team, the Toronto Marlies — which Dubas oversees as the Leafs assistant GM. Keefe left the Greyhounds after compiling a 98-29-2-7 record in his two full seasons behind the bench while earning the 2015 OHL and CHL Coach of the Year trophy.
With Keefe at the helm, the Marlies ran away with the regular season — finishing first in the North Division (54-16-5-1) and winning the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for the team that finishes with the most points in the AHL. The trophy was a first in the franchise’s history as it had the third-best record in AHL history; however, the Marlies lost in the conference finals .
Keefe coached several current Maple Leafs that season, including forwards William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Gauthier and netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo.
While they started off the season 6-1-1, the Marlies fell slightly short of the previous season’s record-breaking numbers. The squad did finish 42-29-4-1 for second in the North Division but was unable to get past the second round of the playoffs, losing to Syracuse in a Game 7 heartbreaker.
Current Leafs Kapanen, Gauthier, Kaskisuo, Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore, Dmytro Timashov, Travis Dermott and Justin Holl studied under the tutelage of Keefe that season.
The season that started all the hype. Once again the Marlies saw themselves atop the AHL standings, capturing another Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy with a 54-18-2-2 record. Feeding off a monster year from Garret Sparks — who won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s best goaltender — and Johnsson, the playoff MVP, the Marlies won the Calder Cup.
They needed seven games, but the Marlies won the first men’s hockey championship in Toronto since the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967; the Toronto Furies won the CWHL title in 2014. At 37, Keefe became the second-youngest coach to win the Calder Cup.
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May 11, 2018
During the Marlies’ run to the Calder Cup, Dubas is named the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 and third in the North Division but cannot repeat as they fall in the Eastern Conference finals in six games.
Nov. 20, 2019
The Maple Leafs dismiss Mike Babcock, clearing the way for Dubas to finally get his guy as Keefe takes the reins as a rookie NHL head coach. The team commits to Keefe in a big way, reportedly signing him to a three-year deal the following day.