Among the most dominant players in women’s collegiate hockey and a veteran of international play, defenseman Megan Keller optimized her opportunities while training in youth hockey in Metro Detroit.
Now, Keller prepares for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
A product of local peewee hockey and the HoneyBaked Hockey Club in her hometown, Farmington Hills, Keller led the nation in scoring by a defenseman each of the last two seasons at Boston College, with 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists) in 41 games in 2015-16 and 39 (10 goals, 29 assists) in 35 games last season.
After playing only three seasons for the Eagles, with her senior year deferred until 2018-19, Keller is the school career leader in scoring (115 points) and assists (89) among defensemen.
Her 26 goals are three short of the school record for defensemen.
She also became a three-time World Champion for USA Hockey before she turned 21 in May, winning the International Ice Hockey Federation title again in Plymouth, in March.
Keller is sitting out the collegiate season to train with the women’s national team in advance of the Winter Olympics. She assisted on three goals in the Four Nations Cup tournament, which the United States won, beating Canada 5-1 in the final, Sunday, in Florida.
“There’s still a few things that are left on my bucket list for my hockey career,” Keller said, during a break in training with the team. “One of them is a national championship, and the other is a gold medal.
“Right now, being down here training with the national team in Florida for an opportunity to accomplish that, and hopefully be over there when it happens.
“It’s special and it’s exciting. It’s definitely been a lifelong dream.”
Attending Our Lady of Sorrows and the Dunckel Middle School, Keller watched her idol, Nicklas Lidstrom, and still talks about the leadership and on-ice presence of the Red Wings defenseman.
Banging around in street hockey with her brother Ryan, who played at Michigan State, gave little sister an early grounding in toughness.
She played recreational hockey in Farmington with the boys through peewees, before switching to the girls’ program at HoneyBaked.
Keller and her team won the USA Hockey Tier I U16 girls’ national title, while she attended North Farmington High School, and then made it back to the national semifinals with the U19 team in 2013.
Keller is arguably among the best women’s players in the world.
“Nobody plays a perfect game. But what Megan does that is, to me, special is recovering immediately from mistakes — her’s, or somebody else’s,” said Robb Stauber, coach of the women’s national team for USA Hockey.
“She has terrific awareness. And Megan’s not really too often having much difficulty out there, she is so steady.
“But when stuff happens, what’s really impressive is she can make it go away, pretty quick.”
Playing in the Four Nations tournament and a full year with the women’s national team is sharpening both the personal and team performance, Keller said.
With big games approaching in South Korea in three months, beginning with a preliminary round game Feb. 11 against Finland, playing Canada Sunday in a NHL rink, Amalie Arena, in Tampa, is good preparation.
“It’s really exciting to play in a big arena like that, especially when we have all these games coming up,” she said. “And it shows how far the women’s teams have come.”
Women’s ice hockey remains largely a two-country competition at the international level, with Sweden and Finland only occasionally beating the United States and Canada. The North Americans decide the big games, and that is likely to include the Gold Medal game Feb. 22, in PyeongChang.
“The team is feeling good, you know?” Keller said. “We’re in good shape.
“We get a little more time, this year, than we have in past years, because it is an Olympic year.
“We get to train together each and every day, and that’s pretty important to us because we get to grow as a team and get better each and every day by playing against the best players in the world.
“To have that and playing Four Nations, and it’s pretty awesome. It builds up our confidence.”
After losing to Canada 5-1 in a preliminary round game played in Boston, in advance of the Four Nations Cups, with the strong goal tending of Maddie Rooney and three third period goals, the United States women put a 5-1 loss on the Canadians, Sunday.
“I think anytime you play Canada, it’s going to be a battle,” Keller said.
“They’re a great team. We beat them the previous game. But I think you always have to be prepared and ready to battle and never take a night off, because it’s a huge rivalry and they’re a great program and they want the same thing we do,” Keller said.
“We’re both going after the same goal, and we have to be prepared each night to take them on.”
For Keller, this season is about wanting to be two places at once. While she looks forward to finishing her collegiate career in Massachusetts next season, she would love to be playing for both teams, now.
“Yeah. I think they’re doing very well, actually,” she said, of the Eagles. “I got to watch a few of their games, and when we went up to Boston I got to see my teammates and some coaches.
“They’re going to be a great team, I hope they get it (the national championship) done this year. It’d be nice to see the program do that.”
Leaving Michigan to play intercollegiate hockey is necessary for women, with Oakland University only beginning to study the possibility of establishing the game.
But Keller says she enjoys Boston College. She is active on campus away from the ice, and New England and New York have been the hotbed of women’s collegiate hockey since before the adoption of the equal opportunity requirements of Title IX.
“It’s exciting because there are a lot of schools out on the East Coast,” Keller said. “One of my favorite tournaments to play in is the BeanPot because we get to compete against BU, Northeastern and Harvard. We’re all from the same area and your competing for the best in Boston.
“I’m really excited that’s out there, but I’m also grateful for the opportunity to grow up playing hockey in Michigan. There are a lot of good opportunities, and that’s what it takes to get to the next level.”