Megan Keller has a definite goal in mind for the not-too-distant future in her budding hockey career.
The 19-year-old defenseman from Farmington Hills hopes to play for the U.S. women’s Olympic team at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
That’s a very real possibility, considering Keller’s years of experience in the sport and her rise to prominence on the national scene.
She was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship in April with a 7-5 victory over Canada.
“It was awesome,” Keller said. “We were coming in as the underdog to Canada and to be able to compete with them and beat such a great team was amazing.”
That was the second international competition for Keller, who completed her freshman season with Boston College shortly before joining the U.S. national team.
She also represented the U.S. at the IIHF under-18 world championships in late 2014. The Amercians were runners-up to Canada in that tournament.
Winning the gold medal this year ranks as a career highlight for Keller, at least in her short international career.
“At BC we made it to the Frozen Four and came up short against Harvard, but we had a great season,” she said. “It was the first time we had ever been ranked No. 1, and our team competed well all year long. I’m proud of that, too.”
Living the dream
Given her place in the U.S. program, Keller is living a lifelong dream and sometimes finds it hard to believe it’s a reality.
“It’s pretty surreal,” she said. “I grew up watching women’s hockey in the Olympics. That was the only time you got to watch it. All these girls were my idols. To be able to play with them now is pretty awesome.”
Her rise to an elite level has happened faster than she anticipated and puts her on a solid path to earning a spot on the Olympic team.
“It was a long journey,” Keller said. “To be part of the program right now, it’s a great experience to learn from a bunch of the older girls. I’m going to take that moving forward and, hopefully, one day play in the Olympics.
“I look up to a lot of the older girls on the team. I see all the things they do right and take a piece of their games and incorporate it into mine and just try not to be nervous out there.”
Not surprisingly, Keller’s favorite hockey players are former defensemen — Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist with Team USA, and perennial Red Wings all-star Niklas Lidstrom.
“She was a great leader on the ice,” Keller said. “She was very offensive minded and a big defenseman out there. I try to model my play after her and Nik Lidstrom.
“I was a huge Red Wings fan growing up, and he was always one of my favorites. He moved the puck quickly and found the open man. He was such a force out there, and people looked up to him.”
Another hockey player who had an impact on Keller was her older brother, Ryan, who played at Catholic Central High School and will be a senior forward on the Michigan State team in 2015-16.
“I got into hockey because of him,” Keller said. “He always let me tag along and let me play. He’d dress me up in goalie gear and shoot at me. He definitely made me tougher and a better hockey player.”
After helping the renowned Honeybaked program win a national championship in 2013 and earn a pair of runner-up finishes, Keller earned a full scholarship to Boston College.
The North Farmington High School graduate was instrumental in the Eagles going 34-3-2 and reaching the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Harvard, 2-1.
“It was unbelievable; Boston is an awesome place,” Keller said. “I got to go out there with three of my best friends from home, and I got to play with them every day.
“The coaches expected a lot from us. More than anything, they want us to become better people as well as hockey players.”
As much as she enjoys playing defense, Keller also likes to get involved in the offense just as Ruggiero and Lidstrom did.
She had four goals and 20 assists for BC and made the Hockey East all-rookie team. She had at least one point in 18 games.
“I love the defensive aspect of the game and the physicality,” Keller said. “But I’m also one of those ‘D’ that likes to jump into the play and rush the puck. I get to play the best of both worlds.”
Adapting to college
The 5-foot-10 Keller also likes to use her height to her advantage with poke-checking and putting the body on people while trying to avoid a penalty, she said.
Despite her vast experience, Keller had to adjust to the stepped-up pace of the college game.
“The girls are just stronger,” she said. “You have to move the puck quicker and know what you have to do with the puck before it comes to you. You have to think one step ahead.”
Being away at college was not a big adjustment for Keller. Three of her former Honeybaked teammates also play for BC — Andie Anastos, Tori Sullivan and Haley McLean.
“Yeah, it made it a ton easier,” Keller said. “It was kind of like a home away from home. Going in, I met a lot of the girls through Andie and Haley, and that made it a lot easier.”
Pursuing a bigger goal
Keller, who was a four-year standout and all-Observer selection in softball at North Farmington, is doing off-ice training and other pastimes such as beach volleyball and jet-skiing this summer. She’ll be back on the ice soon, however.
“It never really stops, but it’s worth it,” she said. “It’ll be worth it in the long run. There are definitely some sacrifices here and there that we have to make, but the end goal is what we’re focused on.”
That means winning a national championship for Boston College and a roster position on the U.S. Olympic team.
“You have to keep pushing to get there,” Keller said. “There are always girls coming up right behind you who want to take your spot and vice versa. You can never take anything too lightly.”