Raising The Bar Megan Keller’s Olympian evolution into a force on both sides of the puck has more than raised the bar for what a defenseman can do in college hockey.

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n the last shot of a shootout during the 2018 Olympic final in PyeongChang, South Korea, United States women’s hockey goaltender Maddie Rooney turned away Canada’s Meghan Agosta to end a prolonged drought—in fact, one that dated back to 1988—and secured the American’s first gold medal in 30 years. Rooney threw up her stick and gloves and skated forward, Rooney threw up her stick and gloves and skated forward only to be mobbed by her teammates in a matter of moments. As the camera zoomed in, Megan Keller came sprinting in and leapt on top of the pile. Keller eventually scooped up two American flags, skating around the ice in pure jubilation before collecting her gold medal.

Fast forward seven months, and Keller was back on the ice, this time in Duluth, Minn., as a member of the Boston College women’s hockey team. After taking a gap year to win Olympic gold, she returned for her senior year, ready to put a capstone on one of the best careers in program history.

She did that, and more.

Keller rewrote the BC record books and her conference’s, finishing as the school’s all-time highest scoring defenseman while simultaneously setting the record for Hockey East career points, goals, and assists as well as single-season points, goals and assists records by a defenseman. She was one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award—coming up just short of becoming just the second defenseman to ever earn the honor—and was selected third overall in the NWHL Entry Draft.

That absolute dominance, both on the world stage and in smaller college hockey rinks throughout the country, more than earned Keller The Heights’ 2018-19 Female Athlete of the Year Award. Her impact on the program and the broader sport of women’s hockey is hard to quantify—just ask her college coach, Katie Crowley, an Olympic gold medal winner herself.

“I wish I could have 25 [players] just like her,” Crowley said. “She’s an incredible person and a great leader. Everybody kind of watches everything she does and follows her. I honestly can’t say enough good things about her.”

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t started, as many Olympians do, with getting hooked on the sport at an early age. Keller laced up her first skates when she was 3, then started playing hockey when she was 5. Growing up in Farmington Hills, Mich., alongside a future Michigan State hockey player in her brother Ryan, Keller was quick to learn.

“All of the kids in our neighborhood were playing hockey and that’s how my brother Ryan started,” Keller told The Oakland Press. “I liked to do everything he did growing up. Thankfully enough my parents started me in hockey and I went around to all the rinks my brother did, and I fell in love with the sport.”

Falling in love with the sport for Keller meant that she wasn’t going to stop until she got to the ultimate stage: The Olympics. She remembered watching with her dad in the basement as the women’s team played in the Olympics, and set her sights on reaching the pinnacle of her sport.

Keller went on to play with the boys teams through the peewee level prior to joining the HoneyBaked Hockey Club girls team. She helped lead them to a U-16 girl’s national championship and nearly came away with another at the U-19 level, exiting in the national semifinals.

HoneyBaked, at the time, was coached by Tom Anastos—a name that rings a bell with any BC fans. Anastos’ daughter, Andie, enjoyed a tremendously successful career on the Heights, and recently returned as an assistant coach with the women’s hockey program. Andie and Keller were friends since they met when they were 8, and once Andie committed, Keller soon followed suit with the BC program.

Crowley couldn’t have been more happy to see the talented defenseman join her team.

“We knew coming in, even before she came in, that she was going to be a great hockey player,” she said. “We knew she was going to be good.”

“We knew coming in, even before she came in, that she was going to be a great hockey player. We knew she was going to be good.” Head coach Katie Crowley

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s a freshman, Keller quickly established herself as a key piece on a 34-win team. She registered a +38 rating during the course of the season and nabbed All-Hockey East First Team honors—the first of a plethora of accolades that would pile up. She always had a nose for the goal, but continued to develop on the defensive side as well and grew into one of the nation’s most well-rounded players.

That showed in her encore campaign, as she earned a Patty Kazmaier finalist nod and All-American honors. Keller had big shoes to fill—the Eagles have an impressive history of talent—and she somehow elevated beyond them. As a part of the team that won 40 straight games before falling in the championship game, Keller broke future Olympic teammate Emily Pfalzer’s single-season defenseman points record by 10, led the nation in plus-minus and every defenseman scoring category. Her 40 assists? Not only were they the most by a BC defenseman in a single season, they were also the most of any sophomore in program history.

If you’re tired of hearing the numbers, you better believe that the rest of the Hockey East was too. Keller only improved as a junior, becoming the first-ever defenseman to earn the Cammi Granato Award as the Hockey East Player of the Year. Her ability to star on defense—using her tall 5-foot-11 frame to poke pucks out and frustrate opposing forwards—was a notable strength, but her ability to flip the ice and harass opposing goaltenders was equally impressive.

“She’s really gifted offensively,” Crowley said. “She knows when she can jump up in the play and she’s fast enough and strong enough to get back. It takes a special player to kind of pick and choose those right moments to jump up and create more—that’s one of the things that’s great about her.”

The offensive firepower was always there for Keller—she won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2015 IIHF World Championship on the strength of two goals and three assists, including a goal against Canada in the final. Her defensive prowess only improved as the years went on, though, and Crowley pointed out her work with assistant coach Courtney Kennedy, a former two-time All-American defenseman at Minnesota.

“I think Courtney did a tremendous job working with her on the defensive side of things,” Crowley said. “She has that natural knack for the offensive side, and I think Court did a really good job with her defensively. She just grew.”

That growth didn’t go unnoticed, as Keller quickly worked her way onto the national team and was soon flying out to South Korea with a group desperate to end a prolonged skid of Olympic setbacks.

"It takes a special player to kind of pick and choose those right moments to jump up and create more—that’s one of the things that’s great about her.” Head coach Katie Crowley

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remember watching Angela Ruggiero in the Olympics and she was always one of my idols,” Keller said back in 2015 when talking to USA Today. “[It’s] probably then that I started to think about it and dream about getting there one day. As I got more serious about it, when I started to make these national camp teams, I realized I can do this.”

Keller didn’t just slip onto the team, though—she quickly became one of the team’s anchors on defense. She played all 12 games of the pre-Olympic schedule, helped the U.S. to gold in the Four Nations Cup, and was officially named a member of the national team on Jan. 1, 2018. A month-plus later, Keller was polishing off an Olympics campaign, in which she led all U.S. players in shifts (152) and was just shy of leading the team in time on the ice (108:40).

“She’s one of the best players in the world, one of the best (defensemen) in the world,” team captain Meghan Duggan told the Detroit Free Press at the time. “She’s the future of this program, I think. She is so smart and poised. She has a killer slap shot.

“She plays like an Olympic veteran, acts like an Olympic veteran; she’s a great kid to have on a team. She has it all going for her. She is on the path to greatness. She has proven it day in and day out. A bright future.”

She was all over the place in the final against Canada, logging the most time on the ice at the end of regulation—she’d played 31 shifts and piled up 22 minutes. A stat was thrown out at one point of the game—Keller had surpassed four miles of distance covered, easily the most on either team. She wasn’t on the ice during the shootout, though, instead finding herself in the penalty box at the end of overtime and was stuck there watching as the players traded shots.

“It was pretty stressful to be in there,” Keller told reporters postgame, per the Free Press. “But I didn’t have any doubt in our goalie. She had an amazing game, all game.”

Sure enough, Rooney held on, and Keller was soon rejoicing on the ice. An inevitable question came up to many in college hockey: How do you come back to BC and get better than that? Keller, somehow, was able to.

"She plays like an Olympic veteran, acts like an Olympic veteran; she’s a great kid to have on a team. She has it all going for her. She is on the path to greatness.” U.S. Hockey player Meghan Duggan

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t wasn’t a perfect transition for the homecoming hero, Crowley said. Alongside Olympic teammates Kali Flanagan and Cayla Barnes, Keller was in for an adjustment.

“They took a whole year off of school and I think it was a little bit of an adjustment period having to come back,” Crowley said. “Megan, I think it’s hard when you come back after being gone for a year—you essentially don’t know two classes. There’s the freshmen that are coming in and the sophomores that were freshmen when you were gone.”

Crowley knew Keller would be just fine, though, describing the defenseman as a player that was “at a different level.” It didn’t take too long for that to show. Crowley pointed to a couple weeks in as the point where Keller really started to take over, and she singled out the second semester as when she was cruising.

In the first two games of the year, consecutive losses to Minnesota-Duluth, it was clear Keller was working her way back into the flow of the NCAA game. She finished -1 in the two games, registering an assist as the Eagles fell by a combined 6-3 margin. Two games later, she was held pointless against St. Lawrence. After that game, though, Keller took off—she rattled off a 10-game point streak, punctuated by multi-point efforts against Merrimack, Maine, Holy Cross, and rival Boston University.

She missed a game in November to help the U.S. win the Four Nations Cup, but that was merely a blip on the radar—Keller didn’t skip a beat. She scored twice and added an assist in a dramatic 7-5 win over rival Northeastern, then chipped in two assists on consecutive nights in a series with a tough conference foe in Providence. The accolades started to roll in—she was January’s Hockey East Player of the Month, and she also picked up three weekly awards. Keller was recognized as the NCAA’s No. 2 Star of the Month as well, continuing to build her case as one of the nation’s best players.

The Hockey East, surely sick of the talented defenseman at this point, bore the brunt of it—Keller became a repeat conference MVP, earned her fourth All-First Team honor, and was the Best Defenseman yet again. Her stats in conference play in 2018-19 were simply dominant, as she finished third among all players in points, fifth in goals, third in assists, second in power-play points, first in power-play goals, second in game-winning goals (5), and was easily the highest-scoring defenseman. That doesn’t even take into account her lockdown play on the other side of the ice, either, and that set her up for a significant shot at the Patty Kazmaier Award.

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s a finalist for the sport’s most prestigious award, Keller had a chance to join Ruggiero, her hero, as the only defenseman to earn the honor. She was unable to—falling to Clarkson’s Loren Gabel—but her impact on the sport was nonetheless impressive.

“I played with Angela,” Crowley said. “She won the award and I think Courtney [Kennedy] was in the top three way back. I think Megan is right up there with those two in terms of talent level.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find another defenseman who is going to be as dominant and as good as her. I think that she had a really good chance to win it and it’s tough to see her not win it, but she’s definitely special.”

All things considered, Keller finished her time on the Heights as one of—if not the—best players in program history. Her entry on the player profile section of the BC athletics website is extensive, reaching nearly 3,000 words. She holds countless records, has her name on almost every award list she was eligible for, and while Keller was unable to attain the glory of a NCAA championship with the Eagles, she leaves the program in good hands.

Crowley, when asked if she had anything else to add about Keller, had one wish—and she speaks for any fan of the BC program in saying so.

“Can she come back for four more years?” said the head coach, laughing. “As much as we talk about her as a hockey player, she’s just a really good person. She’s just somebody you want around your program and she’s that kind of kid that we would really love to get to our program every year.”

Images by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

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About Bradley Smart

Bradley is the associate sports editor for The Heights. He believes that America does truly run on Dunkin, March is the best month, baseball teams should always wear stirrups, and being down 3-1, in anything, is never cause for concern. You can follow him on Twitter @bradleysmart15.