Dakota Keene sense of giving at UMass Boston born of humble roots

By Tim Costello

For senior Dakota Keene from UMass Boston, the spirit of giving and helping others is spawned from a blue-collar upbringing and strong desire to stay very busy in creative and productive ways.

Apart from his academics and leadership role on the Beacon hockey team, Keene has simultaneously managed internships with Harvard University as part of the hockey operations function working on video analysis, a video scouting project for the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL, an internship with the women’s professional hockey league and draft-day focused analytics for the St. Louis Blues, all around some significant philanthropic works with Team Impact and Hope Happens Here (HHH), which is focused on mental health and awareness.

“I grew up in Maine and my parents were always key influencers in my life,” said Keene. “My dad would always say to me that a busy mind is a healthy mind. I have always felt like focusing on doing a lot of things at the same time and doing them well keeps me very focused and my mind in a very good place. I always feel like I can be doing something more if there is a lapse in keeping me busy, and I think it is important to find ways to help others, especially if you are given a platform that can enable doing that in a meaningful way.”

The involvement with HHH was an organic transition for Keene, who personally encountered challenges working through the process of moving out of junior hockey and searching for the right college opportunity. That personal rite of passage eventually found its way into his direct and very personal involvement in raising awareness for mental health initiatives at UMB and well beyond the scope of just the men’s ice hockey program.

“You grow up and work through a plan that doesn’t always go as you envision,” Keene said. “I aged out in juniors while looking for my chance to play college hockey and go to school. I found myself alone as friends growing up and teammates moved on to college and other opportunities. That can be very unsettling and really stressful on young adults. It was a challenging period for me that I always felt like I wanted to do something about having gone through it myself. When I came to Massachusetts-Boston, I encountered Liam Cavanaugh (Now with the Robert Morris University women’s program) and his foundation and podcast around mental health initiatives and awareness and started getting involved with trying to erase the stigma associated with mental health challenges on college campuses.

“As hockey season ended my junior year, I leveraged my position as the leader of the Student Athletic Committee in promoting the idea of launching the program at games across all of the spring sports to see how it would go. We shared information and had shirts made up to be available at games across baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and other games to kick things off before focusing over the course of the following entire season.

“For hockey, I designed a unique jersey for the team and we auctioned off the game-worn jerseys to raise money for HHH. It was a great event, and the parents of the players, school and our team and coaching staff could not have been more supportive. We raised $2,500 just for the hockey game with the auctioned jerseys, and while we still have this spring season to complete, I think we are well over $5,000 raised for HHH. It has been great to see the response across all of the athletic programs here at UMass-Boston.”

While most charitable endeavors take a village to support and execute, Keene is pretty modest about his significant fingerprint he has firmly put on all of the activities.

“He came to me with this idea for the game,” said head coach Peter Belisle. “I very quickly was supportive and asked Dakota what could I do – what did he need from the staff and administration? He very quickly laid out the complete plan, the designed shirts and quotes for purchasing them with the planned auction to raise money. He had the whole event completely organized and it went great.

“That’s Dakota. He is incredibly focused and organized and very detailed-oriented. That translated onto the ice as well. He wasn’t a top-six forward but showed great leadership and has run our penalty kill unit here for the past three seasons. He has an amazing work ethic and has only taken one minor penalty in his career. He has taught me a lot of things during his time here with the program, especially around selflessness and leadership at a grass-roots level. He sees a need and gets buy-in 100% from his teammates to support it.

“He did that with team events to support a major food pantry in the Pine Street Inn, Special Olympic activities on Sundays as well as brought on our Team Impact player that has been a great experience for 5-year-old Malambo Mazoka-Tyler and his family. We hadn’t been very engaged with Team Impact since 2012, and it was Dakota that spurred the renewed energy with signing Malambo. He created everything from the properly sized team jersey, to a custom stall in our locker room and commitment letter for a signing event. It started a special season for Malambo, who came to the U.S. for a liver transplant and has been an active part of our team and events this season.”

The very busy mind of Keene isn’t going to stop these giving activities as a result of his graduation this spring. The Sports Management major has maintained a GPA over 3.0 and is targeting the successful transition of the HHH platform to a new Beacon leadership group to continue the work next year based on the strong foundation built by Keene. He sees a bright future in management in the National Hockey League and looks forward to leveraging the much larger professional platform for additional philanthropic works.

“I have done some operational and scouting work now for the Coyotes and Blues,” said Keene. “I have had some conversations with some other teams as well and really want to pursue a career with the NHL and with that leverage many of the league’s broader charitable initiatives as well as local opportunities sponsored by the individual teams. It would be wonderful to work with bigger platforms and continue some of the efforts already started – I think I am always going to keep that busy mind and enjoy the opportunity to do something I love like the game of hockey and helping others.”