A Classy Parting Message to Leafs Nation by Former Lumber King Sheldon Keefe

Sheldon Keefe knew it was coming.  He said as much at his season ending media conference, two days after his Toronto Maple Leafs suffered another excruciating first round playoff loss in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But news that Keefe had been let go by the Leafs still had to hit hard for the former Pembroke Lumber Kings owner and coach who learned of his demise on the same week that marked 13 years since he brought the city of Pembroke its first National Junior A Hockey Championship. Not sure how superstitious Keefe is, but his reaction to the most devastating news of his coaching career, was nothing short of a public relations homerun.

2011 National Champion Pembroke Lumber Kings
A very young Sheldon Keefe coached the Pembroke Lumber Kings to their first national Junior A championship in the spring of 2011.

Standing in front of an unknown body of water and posting on his X account, formerly Twitter, for the first time since he tweeted about the tenth anniversary of that magical Lumber Kings season on May 8, 2021, Keefe delivered a heartfelt thank you to Toronto’s rabid hockey fans, the leadership team of the organization, the players and the media.

“I’m forever grateful for the chance to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a dream come true for a boy from Brampton,” said Keefe.  His message was released only a few hours after word broke that he had been released from his duties, despite being under contract for another year with the Maple Leafs.

Always an emotional coach, Keefe’s message was sincere and remorseful that he couldn’t deliver Toronto its first Stanley Cup since 1967.  The reality is his teams struggled in the post-season.  His playoff record was 1 and 5 during his almost five years at the helm and Keefe understood that he was on thin ice the moment David Pastrnak scored in overtime in game seven of the Leafs opening round series with the Boston Bruins.

“You deserved a Stanley Cup. I didn’t get it done in the playoffs.  I accept responsibility for that. No excuses.  That’s the job and I didn’t get it done. It’s the reality of the business, and I accept it.”


Two coaches, Jim Montgomery and Sheldon Keefe, shake hands.
Former Lumber King alumni Jim Montgomery, coach of the Boston Bruins and Sheldon Keefe, coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, shake hands at the conclusion of their seven game series won by the Bruins.

Keefe’s rise from coaching the Pembroke Lumber Kings to being named head coach of the most storied franchise in the National Hockey League is an incredible story. As it stands now, he ranks fifth in coaching wins for the Leafs in franchise history, recording a regular season record of 212-97-40. His name is in good company, trailing only Punch Imlach (370), Pat Quinn (300), Hap Day (259) and Dick Irvin (216), but in the playoffs his teams just couldn’t get over the hump.

In the NHL’s toughest media market and in a city that has been starving for a championship, playoff losses are dissected at every level and in the final analysis it’s the head coach who is almost always the first casualty as pressure builds to find a scapegoat.  That’s why Sheldon Keefe’s parting message to Leaf Nation is so perfect.  He understands.  You can hear it in his voice. He’s disappointed, grateful for the opportunity that he had and he’s optimistic about the future.

“It’s an incredible honour to coach the Maple Leafs. I don’t know what comes next, but I know I will be ready for it.”

No doubt he will be.  Sheldon Keefe didn’t make it to the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs without proving himself as a coach.  He is only in his early 40’s and has proven he can work in the NHL’s toughest coaching job. From here on in, it has to get easier.  Now, he can take a break and enjoy some time with his family and wait for the phone to ring.  It’s inevitable he’ll be back in the NHL.  He’s too good of a coach not to get another chance.