When Keith Magnuson launched his junior career with the Saskatoon Blades of the SJHL in 1964-65, his on-ice performance bore little relationship to the wild-man tendencies he would later display at the NHL level. To the contrary, he left the Blades after one season to attend college at the Univeristy of Denver where he performed as an NCAA all-star during his final two campaigns on campus.
To shake his erudite reputation, he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70. From that moment on, Magnuson, with his red head of hair, erupted onto the NHL scene like an angry carrot. He was not a particularly big man by big-league policemen standards. To compensate, he took boxing lessons to enhance his fist work and would work himself into a pique before the start of each game. In the early years, he took on all comers and often came out on the losing end. Nonetheless, he became a team leader on the strength of his commitment to compete at the outer extreme of his endurance. He adopted coach Billy Reay’s defensive mantra of “None Against.” That meant that Magnuson would strive at all costs to keep the puck out his own net. He once noted that in support of the mantra, he’d stop the puck with his teeth if necessary.
As his career moved from the early to late 1970s, the fiery defender began to mellow with age and mileage. His penalty minutes fell into decline as he left more of the punch-ups for the younger guys. He concentrated on stay-at-home defense until injuries began to slow him down.
During a game at the start of the 1979-80 season, Bruin slugger Stan Jonathan scrummed with Magnuson along the boards asking if the Hawk defender wanted to drop the gloves. By then, a battered Magnuson was sporting braces on his back and his knee and, by his own admission, had to think about it for a few seconds before he obliged. At the end of the game, the veteran blueliner marched right up to Bob Pulford’s office and announced his retirement. He felt that if he ever had to think about whether he would or wouldn’t fight, even for a second, then it was time to quit.
Magnuson left the ice to serve as the club’s assistant coach until he replaced head coach Eddie Johnston the following year. The move bore little fruit, however. Magnuson’s lack of experience and familiarity with the players hindered his ability to lead with authority. The team languished and he was dismissed by 1982.
On December 15, 2003 after attending the funeral of former NHLer Keith McCreary, Magnuson was involved in a serious car accident with another former NHLer Rob Ramage. Ramage escaped the accident with a broken leg, however, Magnuson would not be as fortunate. At the time of his death Keith Magnuson was 56 years old
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