In 2015-16, the Blades roster was gutted by the creation of the NWHL. Almost all of the Blades stars, including Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, left the CWHL to suit up for the Boston Pride. That season Megan Myers led a depleted Blades team with four goals in 17 games. As a team, Boston had just 17 goals and finished with a record of 1-23-0. Needless to say, it was a rough year to be a Blades fan.
The 2016-17 season was Kate Leary’s first in the CWHL. She injected desperately needed skill into Boston’s top six forward group and almost singlehandedly transformed the team’s offense. Leary finished her rookie season with 10 goals and six assists in 24 games, more than doubling the Blades highest-scoring forward from the previous season.
Leary is the Blades biggest weapon, and because of that she’s the focus for opposing defenses. But that hasn’t stopped her from creating scoring chances and burying goals for Boston. Leary is off to another promising start this season with three goals and an assist in her first seven games. With her rookie season in the rearview mirror, Leary believes she has a better handle on what being a pro in the CWHL is all about.
"I think that the first year you don't really know what to expect,” Leary told the Ice Garden. “It's very different than college hockey — not just on the ice, but off the ice. It's a different atmosphere. You're not living with all of your teammates, you're not around them as much. We're all adults with jobs, and that is a different aspect that takes some getting used to."
The biggest challenge for Leary and her teammates in 2017-18 will be finding a way to win without veteran defender Tara Watchorn in the lineup and in the locker room. But Leary is confident that Boston still has a solid core of leaders and experienced players, some of whom are new to the team this season.
"Anytime you lose someone who's an Olympian from your team, it’s definitely a big loss,” Leary admitted. “In moving forward we have players like Dru Burns and Megan Myers who have been in the league and on the Blades for four, five years. It's good to have that leadership from people who know the league and have been around for awhile. We also have [Kaitlin] Spurling who was playing over in Europe, and older players like Michelle Ng who played college hockey and is now coaching.”
The 2017-18 season is unlike any other in CWHL history. The league expanded into China by adding two new teams to the fold. And because this is an Olympic year, Canada’s national team stars are centralized and preparing for PyeongChang. That means there’s a lot more parity and unknowns this year. For the Blades, that presents an opportunity to build on last season’s momentum and make some noise.
“After playing Vanke we got to see that they're very good and I think that's awesome for the league — to continue to grow and have new teams that can compete and win games,” Leary explained. “With the Canadiennes and Calgary Inferno losing all of their Olympians it certainly makes it more open for any team to make a push for the championship."
But the Blades may not get far without Leary scoring goals like she did last season. Despite scoring 10 goals in her rookie year, the 5-foot-2 winger is humble about her individual success. She’s far more interested in winning than collecting individual accolades.
"I certainly love scoring, because I love winning,” Leary told The Ice Garden. “I love competing. Growing up — playing in high school and before that — I really enjoyed scoring the big goal. A lot of that is just staying calm when the pressure is on and believing, 'I am going to put this puck in the net.'
“I don't necessarily 'snipe' most of my goals," Leary continued while laughing. "I just go to the net knowing I'm going to get beat up, but also knowing that I'm going to put the puck in the net. That's more my game."
She may not be comfortable being called a sniper, but there’s no denying that Leary is a natural goal scorer. Last season she scored nearly one-third of the Blades goals, she finished tied for third in the CWHL in power play goals, and she led all American-born CWHL skaters in goals and points. It’s safe to say that she’s a rising star in the CWHL and the most dangerous forward on her team.