Ballard four wins from gloryKeith Ballard started skating at age 4. By the end of that winter, he was playing on a hockey team. The sport came natural to the Baudette, Minn., native, who went on to star at Lake of the Woods High School and the University of Minnesota. Now, Ballard is four games away from bringing hockey’s biggest prize back to Baudette.
By: By Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Keith Ballard started skating at age 4.
By the end of that winter, he was playing on a hockey team.
The sport came natural to the Baudette, Minn., native, who went on to star at Lake of the Woods High School and the University of Minnesota.
Now, Ballard is four games away from bringing hockey’s biggest prize back to Baudette.
Ballard and his Vancouver Canucks will be the favorites in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins — a best-of-seven series that will begin at 7 tonight in Vancouver.
“Absolutely, it’s exciting,” his mother, Joann, said. “A lot of people up here have been watching the series.
“It’s exciting that they’ve had such a good season. With the Canucks being No. 1 most of the year in every category, they have the target on their back.”
The playoffs are unfamiliar territory for Ballard. Prior to this season, the last playoff game he competed in was the 2004 Midwest Regional championship against the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Ballard’s Gophers lost 3-1.
In his first year as a pro, Ballard played for the Utah Grizzlies in the American Hockey League. They went 23-50-7.
Ballard then played three years with the Phoenix Coyotes and two years with the Florida Panthers. None of those teams made the playoffs, either.
In the offseason, Ballard was traded from Florida to Vancouver along with Victor Oreskovich in exchange for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and a first-round pick.
“He was excited (about the trade),” Joann said. “Vancouver has a pretty stellar reputation as a hockey city and everyone knew they were going for the Stanley Cup this year.”
The Canucks won the President’s Trophy as the best team during the regular season, then dispatched the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks to reach the finals.
Ballard’s sister, Jessie, will be making the trip to Vancouver for Game 1. It is unclear if Ballard will play. He has been in-and-out of the lineup during the playoffs.
He played 65 games during the regular season, though, which guarantees that he will get his name on the Stanley Cup if the Canucks win it. He also will get a day with hockey’s grandest trophy.
“I’m sure he’d bring it to Baudette so all of the kids could have a chance to see it,” Joann said. “We might take it out on a charter boat. That would probably be pretty fitting.”
Schloassman is sports writer at the Grand Forks Herald