Phoenix to honor Keith Tkachuk tonight

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December has been a pretty good month for Keith Tkachuk.

Two weeks ago, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Tonight, he’ll enter the Phoenix Coyotes Ring of Honor prior to the start of the Coyotes-Blues game.

“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” Tkachuk told NHL.com. “It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Arizona, and the memories just come flooding back. Great teams. Great teammates and friends. Great fans. It was a great time in my life.”

Tkachuk played a key role of putting the Coyotes on the map in Arizona — he still scoffs at the notion that Phoenix isn’t a hockey town — though the rest of his “Massachusetts Mafia” cohorts played a part. In their first season in Phoenix, Boston natives Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Bob Corkum and Craig Janney had a great time on the ice (Tkachuk and Roenick combined for 81 goals) and an even better time off it:

[It was a ] pack of young Coyotes who enjoyed playing horrible golf, smoking fine cigars and partaking in nearby Scottsdale’s vibrant nightlife.

They also enjoyed taking their act on the road and wouldn’t let a silly thing like coach Jim Schoenfeld’s curfew get in the way. Roenick remembered one December road trip to Florida in 1997 where a tired crew needed their captain to bail them out.

“We had a game the next night but that didn’t stop Keith, Bobby Corkum, C.J. and I from sneaking out to hit South Beach.” he said. “We finally crawled in about 4 a.m. and we were all in pretty rough shape. I felt like I was skating in the sand. I couldn’t move, and the rest of our gang was a mess too.

“But Walt (Tkachuk) was everywhere. He had a hat trick and we won 3-2. He won the game himself.”

After the game, Tkachuk sauntered onto the team bus, went past Schoenfeld with a big smile, and after walking down the aisle singing his trademark song after a road win, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, he announced. “OK boys, I did my part. The rest of the road trip is up to you.”

If that anecdote doesn’t highlight Tkachuk’s intestinal fortitude, this piece from the Globe and Mail does. Entitled “A sport with teeth”, it talks about what Tkachuk calls “by far the worst injury” he’s ever had — a puck to the face that shattered his upper jaw.

The puck hit Keith Tkachuk just below his nose, shattering his upper jaw and crushing the bone so badly, four teeth simply dropped out of his mouth.

Tkachuk’s surgery this week involved a transplant of bone from his hip to restore his upper jaw. If that process is successful, false teeth will be implanted when the area is healed.

“You just don’t realize,” Tkachuk said. “It’s by far the worst injury I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

He sat out only three games, returning to the ice after 10 days with six front teeth missing.

Tough dude. No wonder the Coyotes are putting him in the Ring of Honor.