A car, two planes, and a van sounds like a lot, but that’s what it takes for a nine-plus hour trip to get Keith Armstrong III from Palmer, Alaska, to Minnesota Hockey Camps. Palmer is a town of about 7,000 people, and like most towns that size anywhere in Alaska, everyone knows everyone. In Keith’s case this is even more so since he can trace his parents’ families back to being founding members of the town.
This is Keith’s first summer at MHC, but he has fully embraced the challenge, spending the first four weeks of the summer working on himself and his game. Keith is training at MHC after his coach, Steve MacSwain, sent him to the same place where he himself had been a camper – Minnesota Hockey Camps.
Along with the normal necessities everyone brings to camp, Keith had a special envelope to bring with him; an 8”x10” photo for MHC’s Wall of Fame in The Gym. “My coach gave me a picture of himself and said, ‘Give this to Chuck Grillo for me,’ so I put it into an envelope and put it in a safe place in my bag.”
The picture of Steve MacSwain is one the MHC family has wanted for a long time. Steve has played all over the world, including the University of Minnesota, Italy, the Swiss-A league, and the WCHL. He has also coached in some of those leagues, including for the WCHL’s team in Anchorage.
Keith started skating at the age of five, but his first time on the ice wasn’t the greatest. “I was crying the whole time I was out there.” When asked why, he said, “They were figure skates. The next time on the ice I had hockey skates.”
The MTA Events Center is home to the Palmer Ice Arena where Keith plays. Having an indoor ice rink in a small town (so small in fact, the biggest news for five days was that a KFC is opening next year) is a great luxury to have, especially when the drive to the next nearest rink in Anchorage would take an hour.
Keith’s dad grew up loving hockey and wishing he could play, but he didn’t have the opportunity. So given the chance to get his son involved early in life, he was glad to take it. Keith shared that when he was starting out, “My dad was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a long time thing.’”
It turned out to be a true statement, with Keith playing every year since that day in Palmer, except for one when his town had no U16 team. Now, Keith is 17 and getting ready to start his senior year at Palmer High School where he’ll play for his school’s team, the Palmer Moose.