Younger Seabrook creates own career path on and off the ice

Keith Seabrook is working toward joining his brother in the NHL. Courtesy Todd Reicher, Rockford IceHogs

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Brent Seabrook and Mark Bernard talked about a lot of different things on the morning of March 4.

Seabrook, a Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, and Bernard, the Blackhawks’ minor league affiliations general manager, touched on hockey, their families, the upcoming playoffs and more during their 30-minute conversation. What Bernard couldn’t mention was he was working to acquire Seabrook’s younger brother Keith Seabrook for the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, that same day.

Instead, it was Keith who surprised his older brother with that news later that afternoon.

“[Bernard] asked about my brother, talked about the playoffs, their trade deadline, all that stuff and never mentioned anything about it,” Brent said before a recent Blackhawks’ playoff game. “I talked to Keith on the way home and he was playing that night, so he was going down for a nap. I got a call an hour later from him, and I thought he must have misdialed me or something like that. I answered it and he just said he was traded to Rockford. It was a pretty exciting moment for him and for me as well."

Keith, 26, and Brent, 30, were all of a sudden as close geographically as they have been in their professional hockey careers. Eighty-eight miles separate the Blackhawks’ United Center and the IceHogs’ BMO Harris Bank Center. On top of that, they were both defensemen amidst a playoff push for their own respective teams within the same organization.

Over the last few months, the Seabrook brothers have taken advantage of their proximity. They’ve watched each other play in person and been able to get together for family functions.

“It’s been pretty special,” Keith said after a recent IceHogs’ game. “I’ve been able to go and see Brent, his wife and their little boy on a day off and stuff off like that.”

The family bonding has been something Brent and Keith have enjoyed, but so has been the hockey bonding. It wasn’t that long ago just one Seabrook brother was playing the game they both grew up playing in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. Keith decided two years ago to stop playing hockey.

As Brent began to establish himself in the NHL, Keith was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the round in 2006. Keith’s transition from juniors to professional hockey didn’t go as smooth as his brother’s, and he bounced around in the AHL and ECHL from 2009-2012. He went to Italy to play during the NHL lockout and just didn’t feel the same passion for the game any longer.

Keith turned to Brent for advice as he began weighing whether to step away from hockey. Keith’s plan was to join a friend in opening a jewelry business. Brent was supportive, but just wanted to make sure Keith was definite in the decision.

“I think it was tough,” Brent said. “I think it was a difficult process for him. I think in Italy he thought about it a little bit. He had an opportunity to start something new, and he decided to jump at that opportunity. I think it was tough. We talked a little bit, just about making the right decision, not doing anything quick and rash, just thinking through it. He had no regrets. He left with no regrets. Obviously he learned a lot about himself and about business and wanting to give it a crack.”

Keith never faced such a difficult choice.

“That was the hardest decision of my life,” Keith said. “It was definitely for me; it was the best. I probably could have got a lot of points that year and stayed over in Europe and played maybe eventually came back over here. But that really wasn’t a road I wanted to go at that time.

“My heart wasn’t in it on that team. I made a conscious decision for myself to just to go back and regroup and I spent most of my off time building a business with a friend. So, I was completely away from the hockey side of the things, which was good for me.”

Keith didn’t have any experience in jewelry, but he devoted himself to it just as he did his hockey career. He spent a few months in New York taking lab classes to learn about gem stones. His business partner Dane Stevens and Stevens’ family had some background in jewelry and also helped guide him. They opened Cavalier: The Fine Jewelry Shoppe in the Gastown neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia in July of 2013.

Keith found his competitiveness in hockey benefited him as a business owner. He was driven to make the business work even if not everyone believed it would.

“My partner he played in the NLL for lacrosse,” Keith said. “We were both very competitive people and that was kind of a way for us to still be competitive, obviously on a different level. But you know, we were told every day how stupid we were for doing it, opening a store in Vancouver, a really competitive market. We just went ahead and did it anyways and kind of created a little niche market for us and did it completely different. That was a real cool process.”

Brent helped however he could, too. He brought the Stanley Cup to the store in 2013 and has purchased jewelry from there.

Keith was engulfed in his new career and didn’t think too much about hockey, at first. He sat out the latter part of the 2012-13 season and completely missed the 2013-14 season. Midway through that second year, sometime in early 2014, he found himself beginning to miss hockey.

“I had been going to hockey games in Vancouver and just watching games and had been to Chicago a couple times to watch Brent,” Keith said. “I just kind of got the itch again."

Keith began working out again in early 2014, but he didn’t let Brent or his family know. Once Keith was confident he wanted to come back, that’s when he shared the news.

“I always knew,” said Keith, who is still a co-owner of Cavalier. “We’re a hockey family. We grew up in it. Obviously Brent’s had a lot of success in it. My parents have driven us everywhere since we were little kids. And my dad’s coached us all growing. We’re a hockey family. I always knew in the back of my mind I would be getting back into it.”

Keith signed with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers prior to this season and was assigned to the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder. He had seven goals and 20 assists in 51 games for the Thunder when Bernard came calling as he was seeking an experience defenseman to add to the IceHogs’ playoff push.

“I was looking on reserve lists from the ECHL, and his name popped off the page,” Bernard said recently. “I liked him when he was playing [for the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat], liked his game. The fact he’s Brent’s brother is great. It’s a nice story, but that’s not the reason I went out and traded for him. We needed a defenseman with experience, and I liked his game. He’s been a real good piece for us.”

Keith had one goal and four assists in 15 regular-season games and played a part in the IceHogs solidifying a playoff spot. He’s had one assist while appearing in all five playoff games for the IceHogs, who are currently down 2-0 to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

“He plays like his brother,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said after a recent playoff victory. “He can shoot the puck. He’s smart. He’s not as big as his brother. He’s fit in well and he’s a great kid.”

Keith has been compared to his brother throughout his career. That shadow seemed large at times, but it’s something Keith has learned to accept over the years. It just doesn’t bother him any longer.

“We were compared a lot to each other with all the success he was having and it was coming a little bit slower for me,” Keith said. “I don’t really focus on that anymore. I used to try and follow in his footsteps. Obviously I see how quick it came for him. It didn’t come easy, but I saw how quick it came for him. Obviously that’s what I wanted, too. Obviously, going back to mental things, it was tough for me to kind of keep up. But, yeah, I don’t focus on anything like that. I play my own game. Obviously, I do model my game after him to a certain extent. But he’s Brent Seabrook and I’m Keith Seabrook, so I just try and play like Keith Seabrook.”

There is one footstep Keith would like to take that his brother has already taken. The dream of playing in the NHL is still alive for Keith.

“I think that’s been one thing people have second-guessed is if he’s coming back to stay or what’s he doing,” Keith said. “But I’m definitely coming back to stay. Obviously my goal is to play in the National Hockey League. I’m 26. I’m not that old. I’d really like to obviously have a good push for this year and play great in the playoffs and contribute wherever I can and let the cards fall wherever they may come June.”