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Gold Medal Tips: Leadership, Transitions, Decision-Making and More

By Jamie MacDonald, 02/08/24, 1:00PM EST


Megan Keller on being a great teammate, leadership, and making a home in the City of Boston

Two-Time Olympian Megan Keller on Transitions, Leadership, Decision-Making and More

Credit: PWHL

Born in Farmington, Mich., in 1996, 27-year-old Megan Keller, thanks to playing her college hockey at Boston College and sticking around the area pretty much since, has now spent nearly a decade in and around the city.

When it came time to sign with a PWHL team this past summer, it wasn’t going to be all that hard for one of the world’s best players to make her own first choice of where she’d like to embark on the new venture. Boston. 

“To get out in the community and build a home here, to be able to play for such a special city, is something that I've always dreamed of doing,” says Keller, a three-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist and two-time Olympian with more than 100 Team USA games to her credit. “Calling Boston home for the past eight or so years now, I couldn't have picked a better spot. The city itself, the people, the city of champions. It's a huge sports town. People who live here love cheering for their teams. We definitely feel that. It's awesome to be a part of the city and a culture like that.”

How did Boston, more than 700 miles away from suburban Detroit, wind up on Keller’s radar in the first place?

“When I was going through the recruiting process and looking at schools, Boston College checked all the boxes,” she says. “I met the coaching staff, Kinger [New Hampshire native Katie King-Crowley] and Court [Woburn, Mass., native Courtney Kennedy], and the team. And I went to visit the campus, so close to the city, and that was a huge selling point. I'm fortunate enough now to call Boston home and continue to play hockey for an amazing city. It was a reason I was never able to leave after school – I just enjoyed being out here so much.”

To meld a favorite city with her favorite sport, now in a career that was unheard of when she started playing boys’ youth hockey in Michigan, is the stuff of dreams.

“The first time I knew of women's hockey at the highest level was when I saw it on TV at the Olympics every four years,” says Keller, who along with some of her PWHL teammates and rivals were part of the NHL’s recent All-Star festivities in Toronto. “I didn't really know what was out there for women's hockey. I thought I was going to the NHL, like my brother thought. It's pretty cool to now be on the flip side – and that any young girl who is watching would actually have an opportunity to make a living playing the sport.”

Credit: USA Hockey

As much as the sport has evolved around the players’ ambitions, the players’ skill has been in large part behind its growth. The speed and skill in the women’s game at the highest level is unmistakably different than it was when Keller was growing up. Or even when she was playing college hockey not all that long ago, which is a change that can appeal to all kinds of hockey fans. 

“Definitely,” Keller says. “You can tell, even now, with some of the kids coming out of college, with the skill level people have, the overall speed and pace of the sport. And then you have young boys and young girls in the crowd. I've seen young boys getting excited over Hilary Knight playing or Kendall Coyne skating. It's pretty cool to see that hockey is hockey and that we can be role models for any young hockey player. It doesn't matter who you are. Any young hockey player can look up to us playing at the highest level and hopefully they are inspired by us.”

In recent years, even Keller, at the top of her game, gifted with skill and, at 5-foot-11, size, has made changes to stay ahead of the curve.

“One thing that's important, being a bigger person, is still being mobile and being a good skater out there,” says Keller. “So, I'm still working on that. In today's game, there's not really any positions anymore. I'm a ‘D,’ that's my first job, my first priority, but if I can help contribute to the team some way offensively and play more as a unit of five, I just try to do that.”

Yes, as a longtime defenseman, even if Job 1 is being that defenseman, the fluidity of the game can turn just as quickly with a defenseman’s pushing the play in the other direction. Transition is the name of that game.

“In today's game, you see a lot of ‘D’ getting activated in the O-zone,” Keller says. “We're a huge part of shutting plays down early in the neutral zone and creating that transition for our forwards, then joining the rush. Teams are too good to try and beat people one-on-one or three-on-three down low. You need everybody activated together in order to beat these teams now.”

These calculations, of course, take place in split seconds, too.

“I think D is in my blood so I'm always analyzing first,” says Keller. “Do I have a third forward high? Or do I have support on the back end? I'm not just going to dive down in hopes of scoring a goal. You have to take into account all the factors. But once the game gets faster, you have to make decisions quicker. You're going to have a breakdown sometimes or get caught when you shouldn't, but hopefully your teammates are there to support you or bail you out.”

At the highest levels of the game, these sorts of layered decisions, overlapping positions and teammates, are vital. So is getting to the right decisions quickly. That’s where having hockey as a career comes in handy.  

“I think [decision-making] continues to develop when you're around such great players day to day,” Keller says. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to skate with some of the best players in the world. People say iron sharpens iron. When you're skating and competing in practice at such a high level, it's just going to make you that much better. There's no off drills in practice. You're forced to make decisions super quick in practice all the time. It makes developing easy when you are surrounded by teammates like that.”

Credit: Boston College

Ah, Keller’s teammates. Over the past decade, Keller has played with and against the best players in the world. She’s learned a lot in that time about leadership, dating back to her college days and more than 100 games with Team USA.

“Kinger is one of the best coaches and people I've been lucky enough to be around and learn from,” says Keller of her former coach at BC, who was selected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this past December. “She has taught me so much. Even after graduating, she still makes it feel like home. I still get to go back and skate with her and [associate head coach] Courtney Kennedy. They're just such great people and great role models to have when you're growing up. Those are people you want to play for and win for. I'm just lucky to have a standing relationship with them to this day. It's a special one. They feed off of each other and they're great friends as well. It just makes it such a family atmosphere at BC.”

For Keller, being part of a team is a significant part in being a good leader.

“I think the biggest one for me is being a great teammate,” she says. “All of the great leaders that I've been teammates with, whether it's Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne, Lee Stecklein, Kacey Bellamy, I can name a bunch, but they are some of the best teammates that I've ever had. They make you feel welcome right away. It's a team sport, obviously, and you need everyone in the room to win something special at the end of the year. They brought everyone along just by being themselves. And they're going to work hard every single day. There's never a question about that. Everybody is putting in the work at the highest level. If you can bring others along with you, that's the important piece. I think being a great teammate in person is what drives that.”

That goes for a room full of players, too, when, obviously, not all are wearing a ‘C.’

“Every team I've been a part of, the letters don't really matter that much,” says Keller. “There's so much leadership in the locker room. You don't need a letter in order to do that. If you continue to put your head down and work hard, you don't always have to speak up. Everybody's always watching. And they can feel that. It drives everybody else in the room. When you see the person next to you working as hard as they can for the team, it's going to help bring everyone along. Every team I've been a part of, it has been a room full of leaders. That's what has made us successful. Everyone steps up.”

Not only can leaders wear or not wear a ‘C,’ but they can also come with all kinds of profiles, too.

“Being yourself, that's most important,” Keller says. “I don't know if that's always easy, but everybody brings something different to the table. That's what good teams are comprised of. There are so many different personalities and traits that come into play. You don't want to be something that you're not. So, if you can stay true to yourself and bring your best every day, that's going to make the team better.”

As a Detroit Lions fan from her youth, this past NFL playoff season gave Keller someone to watch as another leader from a different sport: Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

“[Until this season] we haven't seen them win in my lifetime in the playoffs, so he has created something special,” says Keller. “It's cool to see the culture he has created, not only for the team, but the whole city. That's pretty special. Those are a few things I've taken from him.”

Megan Keller (Left) and Hilary Knight (Right) prepare for the opening faceoff against PWHL Minnesota. Credit: PWHL

Back in her adopted home, Keller is more than happy to be playing in front of fans in New England, and for the new league that has given so many of the world’s best players a hockey home. Keller is part of that evolution.

“Obviously, we have a ways to go,” she says. “We need to keep building and keep making women's professional ice hockey better. At the same time, I think we should be happy with all the progress we have made. We're not practicing at 9 o'clock at night or 6 o'clock in the morning twice a week. This is what we do, day to day. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. we're at the rink, we're able to have strength and conditioning staff, medical staff, equipment staff. This is our job. I think we should be proud of how far we've come. But there's always more to go.”

Looking ahead is also a leader’s view.

“Hopefully,” says Keller, “we can continue to build on that and leave this league better than how it started. Then the next generation can take over.”