After several seasons on the visiting team, Ballard gets his chance. Minnesota Hockey Journal caught up with the defenseman to chat about joining the Minnesota Wild and getting back to his roots.
MHJ: Welcome back to the State of Hockey. When the phone call came this summer saying that the Wild wanted to sign you, how thrilled were you in that moment?
Keith Ballard: It’s pretty exciting. I have a lot of great memories playing here and just from the times even playing for the visiting team and playing at Xcel Energy Center, I know what great fans we have here. Minnesota is home for me, it always has been a special place and I couldn’t be more excited to join the team this season.
MHJ: You’re from Baudette, Minn., what was it like growing up and playing youth hockey there in the Lake of the Woods Youth Hockey Association?
KB: I was pretty spoiled with the river and lakes up there and being able to play hockey anytime. I started playing at 4 or 5. My uncle was a youth coach and would drag me along and really got me into it. Then all my friends started playing and I just had fun. It wasn’t anything overly serious where I was playing all the time. I never looked at it as going to the NHL or anything. I was just trying to play a game I loved. As I got older and everything started to evolve I thought maybe, but still it was just about fun for me during the long winter months.
MHJ: Hockey wasn’t the only sport you focused on. When you weren’t on the ice, what other sports were you playing in the offseason?
KB: In high school I played football in the fall, hockey in the winter and in the spring and summer it was baseball or golf. I loved the variety. That’s one thing I see now, there is so much specializing in just hockey at a young age. I think playing a variety of sports really helped me hone my hockey skills, too.
MHJ: And you’re having plenty of family fun now too with a recent addition in your son, born six weeks ago. When are you getting him his first stick?
KB: (Laughs) We’ll see, maybe get a golf club in his hands as soon as I can, too. No, whatever he wants to do, that’s what I want him to do. That’s something I’ve seen is parents who push things on their kids too much. If he’s going to play hockey, it’s a great spot to be (in Minnesota). There’s so much in the youth and high school programs and it’s really the best place to grow up playing hockey with such a great organization. I would love for him to have that opportunity – if it’s what he wants to do.