Keith McCreary underwent a lengthy apprenticeship as a junior and minor-leaguer before his natural sense of leadership and strong defensive play would earn him a permanent birth at the NHL level.
He started out with the Peterborough Petes of the OHA in 1956-57. But after one season he dropped down to Junior B for a year in his native Sundridge. He then bubbled to the top again with the Hull-Ottawa Jr. Canadiens for a short time before turning pro in 1960 with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the EPHL.
As property of the Montreal Canadiens, McCreary spent a total of seven years of ups and downs in the system, not unlike a bucket in a well. As he added more layers of seasoning to his game, he put in stints with the Montreal Canadiens, the Hershey Bears, and the Cleveland Barons.
It was not until NHL expansion in 1967, however, that his services were deemed worthy of the NHL on a nightly basis. He joined the newly-formed Pittsburgh Penguins and made an immediate impact as a hard-working team leader and captain. During his five seasons with the club, he established himself as one of the better defensive left wingers in the league. And, as the Pens struggled in the early years, McCreary and his mates had their hands full just trying to keep pucks out of their own net.
In 1972, he was claimed by the expansion Atlanta Flames as their designated team captain. As in Pittsburgh, the veteran winger provided essential leadership and steady play that served to stabilize the new unit. In all, he lasted three seasons in Georgia before overtures came from the Calgary Cowboys of the WHA.
In 1975, McCreary headed West to attend the Cowboys training camp. But before the regular season had started, he decided that the club was insufficiently organized. Rather than risk a season of chaos, he elected to retire for good.
McCreary joined the NHL Alumni Association following his playing career and was was the Association's Chairman when he eventually lost his battle to cancer on December 9, 2003. Keith McCreary was 63.