It sounds like the culmination of a Nike ad: Jeff Keacher just did it.
‘It’ is a of all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces in which Keacher, 29 and an unlikely hockey nomad, played goalie in hockey games. It began at his former Fridley home; came on Tuesday when Keacher took to the Xcel Energy Center ice for an informal skate in his home state, courtesy of some Minnesota Wild club staff that don’t travel with the team.
Six months, more than 70 skating sessions, approximately 31,000 miles, more than 5,000 minutes of ice time and one speeding ticket. Those are the unofficial numbers according to Keacher’s blog in which he chronicled his expedition in entertaining detail.
The final tally? Priceless.
BIG COUNTRIES - SMALL WORLD
The inspiration for Keacher’s journey didn’t come from a slick marketing campaign. Rather, the genesis of Keacher’s Quixote-esque quest can be traced to a creative recipe that included a Gordie Howe memoir and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, among other hockey and travel-related books.
For Keacher, the resulting secret sauce spawned by the subconscious marination of those literary ingredients was pure exploratory delicacy.
“I’ve always been an explorer,” said Keacher, who recalled a fondness for traveling Europe with a backpack as an undergrad student. That adventure gave Keacher a taste for exploration that he said will always linger on his palette.
Perhaps it was fate that EXPLORE was mystifyingly still available—in a state known for explorers—as a personalized license plate. That plate was proudly worn by “Sam,” Keacher’s Subaru whose moniker also has Don Quixote ties. The license plate served as an unassuming beacon of Keacher’s mission to the countless unsuspecting people he passed on the roadways of North America. And sometimes as an ice-breaker to meet new friends.
“I met some other Minnesotans in Fairbanks, [AK],” said Keacher. “They had TRAVEL on their license plates.”
Turns out, the couple to whom the RV belonged were from Plymouth.
Another chance encounter happened at a teahouse in Canada’s Banff National Park, an establishment that’s only accessible via a more-than-two-mile hike up the mountain. There, he met a retired Minnesota high school hockey coach and his wife. What are the odds?
Keacher also encountered many people he met through social media and postings on his blog who supported his trip, receiving countless invites to play in games or spend a night on their couch.
“I got a really great reaction from people,” said Keacher. “People came out of the woodwork with offers. Other goalies even gave up their net so I could play. People were just so great. A lot of very nice gestures.”
INTEREST IN HOCKEY
Keacher spent almost a year and a half in planning to make his dream a reality and departed on his quest in June of this year after taking leave from working as a software consultant.
Despite his Minnesota pedigree, Keacher admits to finding a love for hockey a little late in the game.
“In high school the closest I got to the hockey rink was in pep band,” said Keacher. “I didn’t actually play it growing up. At age 22, I decided it was probably by birthright as a Minnesotan to play hockey so I signed up for a community program that taught adults how to play.”
Keacher quickly decided on playing goalie, a decision that would make his 2011 adventure a little easier. Goalies are always in high demand.
“I wouldn’t say I’m good, just prolific,” quipped Keacher, who also said he learned a lot from being on the ice with so many different people of varying skill levels.
“Sorry about the top of the circle slapshot to the chest,” said one commenter on Keacher’s blog after a game in Philadelphia, a shot Keacher brushed off thanks to his thick padding.
“Thanks so much for stopping by. As it turned out, we really needed you in goal tonight,” said another commenter after a game in Charleston, WV.
But again, the goal for Keacher was more about the adventure than seeing how many shots he could stop. Save percentages were not among the statistics Keacher kept during the trip. An improvement of skills would just be a bonus.
“I’d like to think I’m a better goalie because of it,” he said. “I’d like to think so. It’s hard to tell.”
GRIZZLY BEARS AND SPIDER MAN
Among some of Keacher’s highlights on his trip were finding a game in a rehabbed ice arena in Biloxi, MS, that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; hiking in Alaska's Denali National Park that included an encounter with three grizzly bears; exploring the mountains of Canada; and playing ice hockey in Hawaii.
“Finding a game in Hawaii was easy,” said Keacher. “There’s only one ice rink so I knew where to look to find a game.”
Mississippi proved to be one of the more difficult states to locate a hockey game in which to play, but thanks to social media and a stream of invites from people who stumbled across Keacher’s blog, that state, too, proved successful.
“There’s a nice little hockey community down there in Biloxi,” said Keacher.
In August, Keacher even became a kind of sideshow in Las Vegas when he donned his full goalie outfit and wandered the streets of Fremont Street in 100-degree heat. Keacher earned a thumbs up from Spider Man for that.
“One thing that surprised me was how similar the country is when I expected it to be just the opposite,” said Keacher. “I expected more regional distinction and people to be less generous. I found the opposite to be true. Mississippi would have been pretty difficult [to find a game] if not for the generosity of people. I feel better about the country now than I did going into it.”
END OF THE ROAD?
It’s not easy for Keacher to explain his personal reasons for undertaking a 31,000-mile hockey tour as a casual goalie. Yet while it may have struck a few people as odd, the overwhelming majority of the people he encountered connected with his quest in a variety of ways.
Keacher said the most frequent reaction was people expressing the desire to take a similar trip of their own.
Perhaps it was their own love for the game of hockey. Perhaps it was an opportunity to live vicariously through Keacher and his story that helped them momentarily escape the grind of every day life. Perhaps it was envy.
Without a doubt, it was inspirational to many Keacher met.
Keacher admitted he is fortunate enough to be able to afford both the time and money to pursue his passion for exploration. But he philosophized that everyone has the means available to pursue their dreams if they really choose. It’s just a matter of finding a way.
“It’s been fantastic. I wish that more people could experience a trip like this,” he said. “Too often people make excuses for themselves about a lack of time or a lack of funds or other obligations. All of those things are important. All it really takes to have some sort of adventure like this is just the willingness to make it happen. If it’s something that’s desired, it can be done.”
Keacher said he doesn’t know what will come next. He may need to go back to work for a while until another adventure bubbles up from within. Maybe it will be an international fishing odyssey in a quest to cast a line in every major body of water. Maybe it will be inspired by a walleye sandwich at the neighborhood cafe while reading Hemingway on Fishing. That, too, would seem to be a Minnesota birthright.
For now, “Sam the Subaru” will still subliminally advertise Keacher’s spirit via its license plate wherever he goes. The car will quietly ply the Twin Cities’ streets with countless stories and priceless memories of its own from the road, its driver filled with many more.
“It pretty much sums up my whole view on life,” said Keacher of the license plate. “There’s a whole world to be explored.”
Keacher’s advice? Just do it.
For more on Keacher’s trip, go to www.stoppingineverystate.com. Keacher has chronicled his trip with blog posts, pictures, maps and more.