The right environments, especially a winning one, has transformed Emma Keenan into an excellent hockey player.
The journey began with the Okanagan Hockey Academy and reached new heights with the Clarkson University Golden Knights in Potsdam, N.Y.
Born in Mission Viejo, Calif., and raised in Calgary, Alta., Keenan says being at OHA was a vital part of her development as a person and hockey player.
“Playing at that next level, like it is a step up, you are surrounded by some of the best girls, you have good coaching,” says Keenan, after a day of classes. “Good staff. Living away from home. It all helps you prepare for making the transition to college.”
An emphasis in on-ice skill development was big in shaping her as a player.
“I practiced there way more than I would have had I stayed in my midget league back in Alberta,” she says. “Even in the weight room, I found that made a huge difference in my game. Once you start doing all the off-ice conditioning, in the gym with some weights, that made a huge difference.”
Keenan is in her fourth and final season with the Golden Knights, where she has won back-to-back National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 championships. A third is a very realistic possibility. Along with the Golden Knights having a strong season ranked in the top-10 nationally, Keenan is playing very well. Taking the initiative for an important role, that has resulted in her enjoying a career offensive year with two goals and 17 points in 32 games. A stay-at-home defenceman, the offensive acumen she displayed with OHA is back. Since joining the Golden Knights, solid defence has been at the forefront. She was +36 entering this season. She is +32 already. It’s been fun for the Calgary product to show offensive spark, jump in the play and be more involved.
However, focus never shifts away from playing strong defence - a gritty style that includes penalty kill duties and blocking shots. Keenan always strives to keep improving. It helps that she plays with and against talented athletes. Players on her team have been on national squads.
“Just playing with those girls and practicing with them everyday is pushing me and become better. I continue to develop,” says Keenan, who lists her national championships and playing rival St. Lawrence University on banner raising nights among her career highlights. “It is really one of the main reasons why I chose this school is because I knew it would be good for development. I would be playing with some of the best players that would push me everyday.”
Keenan is looking to continue her career in either the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the National Women’s Hockey League, or in Europe. She has interest in playing professionally for a couple of years before stepping away. When that day comes, her major in Innovation and Entrepreneurship with a minor in Law, will open doors to the next chapter.
Last spring and summer, Keenan got the chance to work with Canada’s best at a National Team Development Camp.
“That was really cool,” says Keenan. “That was a great learning experience for me. It really is high class, the best of the best. You see how elite they are. Being able to learn and play with those players was really an eye-opening experience. I’m pretty grateful to be able to have gone. You learn so much from playing at that level. It just makes you a better hockey player.”
Winning does too. She says it puts things in perspective and there is the feeling of being on top. Plus opponents come after you.
“The second year, you are the defending national champions, and every team brings their best game and wants to beat you. It kind of pushes you as a player to be better,” she explains. “Deal with that pressure … that was amazing what we did, but it’s a new year. It’s going to be a battle. Just because you won it one year, doesn't mean anything for the next year.”
Keenan says players gain so much experience from those games.
“I definitely think it makes you better suited to handle other situations like that again.”
Not only was it an “awesome” experience, Keenan describes it as surreal to win.
“To win back-to-back was pretty amazing,” she says. “Pretty cool thing to do. Not many people get to experience it ever.”
Keenan believes she is a different person from playing college hockey.
“It’s such a balance playing and going to school. It helps you really develop as a person,” says Keenan, a three-time Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey All-Academic team selection.
During my three years in Penticton, OHA was influential in my growth as a student, an athlete, and most importantly a person. Their overwhelming support made the city feel like home and the community feel like family. It was truly a first class experience, in an elite program that has prepared me for my time in university and any future endeavors."