There are some oversized skates to fill as the women’s college hockey season gets underway this week. Patty Kazmaier Award winner Kendall Coyne has graduated from Northeastern, and 2015 Kazmaier winner and 2016 national scoring leader Alex Carpenter from Boston College.
That’s a lot of firepower. BC, whose extraordinary undefeated season ended in a loss to Minnesota in the national championship game in March, surely will feel the absence of Carpenter, as well as fellow US national team players Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno.
Who’s ready to step in and take on a starring role? Each of the Boston teams has players with international experience to bring to the collegiate game, but BC junior defenseman Megan Keller is likely to set the standard. She could be the linchpin for a BC team ranked third in the nation in the USCHO.com preseason poll.
Grins come easily for Keller, and it sure looks as if the 20-year-old has the world on a string. She was the nation’s leading scorer last season among defensemen, picking up 52 points in 41 games, which more than doubled her point total from her freshman year; she was the youngest player to earn ACHA first-team All-America honors; she was named Hockey East Best Defender; and her USA Hockey résumé is growing with every season, including a pair of world championship gold medals.
It’s not a stretch to say she is moving into conversations about best in the nation, best in the world.
“I think Megan is an unbelievable player,’’ said BC coach Katie Crowley. “She’s just going to continue to get better as she gets older and more mature within the game. And the more situations she’s put in, she’s going to continue to get better. Her upside is still huge.’’
And she’s having the time of her life. She even sounds a bit like a tour guide for BC.
“Oh, unbelievable, I don’t even know where to begin,’’ she said, pulling back her long black hair and, yes, grinning. “Ever since I stepped on campus, I’ve cherished every moment. I know it’s corny to say, but I’ve loved every moment I’ve had here.”
Keller said she appreciates the BC community, and the education, in part because unlike her male counterparts, she has no lucrative professional career tempting her to leave school. The women’s pro league is still in its infancy.
“I’m happy I’m on this side and I don’t have to make that decision to leave early,’’ said Keller, who adds a leadership role this season as an assistant captain. “I can stay here for four years and be grateful for the time I have here.’’
Growing up in Farmington Hills, Mich., Keller most admired Niklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner who could do everything on the ice. He is an appropriate role model for the 5-foot-11-inch Keller, who takes advantage of her reach to hold off opposing forwards but is never shy about jumping up into the attack.
“[Assistant coach Courtney Kennedy] and [Crowley], that’s one thing they’ve stressed to me, to be more offensive and shoot the puck,’’ said Keller.
A missed opportunity from the slot late in the Frozen Four loss to Minnesota still haunts her.
“Those losses are always in the back of my mind,’’ she said. “I don’t dwell on it as much as use it for motivation. It’s definitely a driving force behind our team.’’
There are still plenty of ingredients for success at BC, including Lynn’s Katie Burt, one of the best goaltenders in the country, also a junior. Still only 19, she begins the third year of her collegiate career having never lost a game in Hockey East regular-season play (36-0-1) while posting 16 shutouts in two seasons.
Veterans forwards Makenna Newkirk and Kenzie Kent will be joined by some hotshot recruits, including Caitrin Lonergan of Roslindale. Lonergan already has a hockey bag jammed with US team credits, most recently the Under-22 squad for the annual US-Canada Series in August.
Down the street at Boston University (ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll), two more players with international pedigrees anchor the offense. Junior forwards Rebecca Leslie and Victoria Bach were 1-2 in scoring for last year’s 23-14-2 BU team and both played for the Canadian U-22 team this summer. Leslie had 15 goals and 34 assists and was ninth in NCAA scoring. Bach collected 26 goals and 22 assists.
“Their skill sets are very similar and make them very dynamic,’’ said BU coach Brian Durocher.
“They’re huge factors for us,’’ said BU assistant coach Katie Lachapelle. “Obviously on the ice, they’re great players, but off the ice, they’re good leaders. They have a nice calm to them, a kind of never-give-up attitude about them, and on the ice we’ll look to them in big situations, whether it’s power play, penalty kill, and with point production as well.”
BU has an intriguing forward addition in Milton’s Mary Parker, a graduate student who played three years at Harvard before losing most of her senior season to injury. Parker led the Crimson in scoring in 2015, notching 39 points on 17 goals and 22 assists as Harvard reached the national title game. She opened her BU career with the first goal of the game in a 5-2 victory over Providence Sunday.
At Northeastern, Coyne has graduated — and it won’t be easy replacing her 50 goals in the lineup. The Huskies, 28-9-1 and an NCAA quarterfinalist last season, have 19 returning letter-winners and five freshmen in the mix, but it will be a challenge to find the scoring spark.
Junior Denisa Krizova from the Czech Republic, who played alongside Coyne, led all NCAA sophomores last year with 59 points on 20 goals and 39 assists.
In net, the ninth-ranked Huskies are secure with sophomore Brittany Bugalski, who spent her summer vacation with the US U-22 team playing a three-game series against Canada in Calgary. Northeastern has two players with experience on the US Under-18 team (Bugalski and freshman forward Matti Hartman) and two more who have played with the Canadian U-18 squad (freshman defenseman Codie Cross and junior defenseman Ainsley MacMillan).
The ECAC typically starts play later than Hockey East, and Harvard won’t begin until an Oct. 23 contest against Dartmouth. That gives coach Katey Stone, in her 22d year in Cambridge, time to get her team, ranked fifth in the ECAC preseason poll, sorted out.
Harvard is coming off a 17-12-3 season, with a 12-7-3 mark in conference play. The Crimson will be relying on captain Sydney Daniels, a forward who played on the US U-22 team this summer against Canada, where she faced Crimson teammate Kaitlin Tse, a sophomore defenseman.
Daniels scored a team-best 21 goals last season and added 10 assists. Goalie Emerance Maschmayer and defenseman Michelle Picard are significant losses.
“We’ve just got to stay healthy and keep working on team chemistry,’’ said Stone.