Minnesota Wild D Keith Ballard Announces His Retirement


Minnesota Wild Defensemen Keith Ballard made the sad announcement that the hockey world expected that he would retire after 10 NHL seasons.  His ending may be a story of the violent nature of hockey, but his journey in hockey is one that personifies the best parts of the game.    

I think I was as sad as anyone today to see that former Gopher great and current Minnesota Wild Defensemen Keith Ballard decided officially to hang up his skates. It was something that everyone knew was probably going to happen after hearing that Ballard had suffered the fifth concussion of his ten-year NHL career, but still most of us were hoping that he might be able to pull it back together and make it back.

For me the tragedy of Ballard’s exit from the game is still something that reminds us all that hockey is indeed a violent sport, so when something like this happens it’s best to celebrate the player’s achievements and not dwell on their demise.

A native of Baudette Minnesota, Ballard started his journey to NHL by leaving home for the ranks of junior hockey after his Sophomore year of High School.  Like many aspiring young players he decided to take a hard route playing away from home for the US National Development Team and then in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers.

With the Lancers during his one season he recorded 22 goals, 29 assists, for a total of 51 points. Even while playing for the Lancers, Ballard was able to graduate from Millard North High School in Omaha which set him up to start the next phase of his hockey career at the University of Minnesota.

In 2001 Keith Ballard started his three-year journey as a member of the Gophers.  So big was his impact in his first year that he drew comparisons to fellow Minnesotan Phil Housely and was drafted 11th overall in the 2002 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres.  When the dust settled on his playing time at Minnesota he would finish part of back-to-back NCAA National Championship teams, be a Hobey Baker Award finalist, and finish with 33 goals to rank him seventh all time among defensemen at the U.

In 2004 Ballard decided to forgo his Senior year at Minnesota and sign with the team that now had his rights the Phoenix Coyotes, thus beginning his NHL career.  In the years between 2005, when he actually played his first game, and 2010 Ballard would play strong hockey for two underachieving Coyotes and Panthers teams.  On both teams he had established himself as a top defenseman, but it can be argued that he never reached his full potential because of the team around him.

Then as luck would have in the offseason in 2010 Ballard would be traded to Vancouver and join a Canucks team that was prime to make it far in the playoffs.  In his first year the Canucks would win the President’s Trophy and go on to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Boston Bruins.  Ballard once again played solid for Vancouver, but began to see injuries take their toll.  By the time he left the team in 2013 he had been a solid part of the team, but saw his spot in the line-up taken during the 2013 playoffs.

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Finally, Ballard would find his way back to Minnesota signing with the Wild in the 2013 offseason.  His signing was to bring a veteran presence to a young team that needed it.  Not to mention the fans appreciated seeing the former Gopher great playing for the team.

The Minnesota years looked like a chance for a rebound for Keith after his disappointing exit from Vancouver.  Alas the infamous hit by Matt Martin would leave him with a concussion, three facial fractions, and convulsing on the ice in one of the most horrific scenes in recent NHL history.  It would be the last time anyone would see Keith Ballard on the ice.

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Ballard was never a superstar in the NHL, but he was a solid and dependable player.  He played hard for his ten years and paid the physical price in so many ways from hip surgeries, to knee injuries, to a broken foot, and of course the concussions that would be the reason for his exit from the game.  He’s the epitome of a heart and soul hockey player.  I’m really going to miss seeing him on the ice, but I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see him around an NHL arena.