Emma Keenan enjoyed her first season in Beauts blue

How does one go from Calgary to New York to Sweden and back to New York? Find out as we get to know Beauts’ defender Emma Keenan after her first PHF season.

The Buffalo Beauts had an abundance of new faces on their roster this season, 15 to be exact. One of those new faces, defender Emma Keenan, signed with the Beauts last summer (June 10) to play in the PHF after playing two seasons in Sweden (SDHL). So while it wasn’t her first pro season, it was her first pro season in North America.

Her presence on the blue line not only gave the young Buffalo roster some experience, but she’s also a tough player to play against in corners and against the wall, and Keenan has that savvy ability to jump into a play in the offensive zone when the moment calls for it. The 24-year-old finished her first season in Buffalo with six points (3g-3a) while playing in all 20 games; she also probably was saddled with a few penalties she didn’t deserve, and some she earned.

While the season wasn’t a success in standings for Keenan and the Beauts, there were plenty of brilliant moments as they laid the foundation for what the franchise will become in the coming seasons. She’s one of the few players with dual citizenship - born in California, and raised in Calgary, Alberta - “but I consider myself more Canadian,” she told us.

“I always laugh when they announce the starting lineups because they say I’m from California, and I’ll think ‘oh my god did they mess it up?’ and then I remember,” Keenan said with a laugh. “I moved to Canada when I was a baby, so I don’t have any recollection of living in California.”

So how did a kid from Calgary find herself all the way to Potsdam, New York to play hockey collegiately at Clarkson University?

“I moved to Penticton, British Columbia when I was around 15 to play in the OHA - back then it was the JWHL,” explained Keenan. “That was a league where we would travel for all our games, a lot of showcase weekends out east, which was easier for scouts to get to. That’s how I ended up getting seen by coaches.”

Despite the successes (not many folks out there who can say they won back-to-back NCAA titles) at Clarkson, she would have been just as satisfied with her decision to play there without the championship hats and rings.

“I made a good choice. I loved it there; the coaches, the team, Potsdam. It was a lot of fun. Championships aside, it was a great experience. I loved the culture that we had there; we had a lot of fun, it was a small town but we had a lot of fun. The championships just enhanced that.”

“It’s a small campus, and a small town and hockey is really big there - the only Division I sport there - so we got treated really well,” added Keenan. “We had great fan turnout at games and a lot of great support from the community. It felt like home.”

Once college ended Keenan once again packed up her equipment and found another hockey home, this time in Sweden. The CWHL had just folded, there was uncertainty around the NWHL, and after talking to some players who had played in the SDHL it was an easy decision to start her pro career for Göteborg HC.

“I talked to a lot of girls who played in Sweden, and they had a great experience. They said it was a great league with lots of games - similar to college in that aspect with two games every weekend,” she said. “I started talking to one of the teams over there and my friend and I from high school ended up on that team together, living together. It was a lot of fun, I loved Sweden and I really enjoyed the league. It was good hockey, competitive - they have a good thing going on over there and I enjoyed my two years there for sure.”

In her first season over there, Keenan *exploded* for nine goals in 36 games or five more than she scored in 156 games at Clarkson. What changed, if anything? Was it all of the Swedish Meatballs or Lingonberries she consumed while there? Hardly not! She’s just a solid player, with a little bit of puck luck.

“It’s a very different style of game over there, the ice is bigger - which I thought benefitted my game. I’m a pretty good skater who likes to use my speed, and I don’t have the best hands,” Keenan said while giggling, “so having that extra space out there, I thought was an advantage for me. My team didn’t do too well my first season so I was able to play more of a free and offensive game towards the end of the season as we tried to pick up some wins, and score some goals. We had that ‘nothing to lose’ mentality.”

She also appreciated the appreciation we have for her skillset - and the fact that she’s a pain in the ass to play against, which Beauts fans got a glimpse of this season. “I feel like sometimes as defenders we’re not always the flashy ones and you don’t get on the scoresheet often - so maybe people aren’t always paying attention to what you’re doing out there. It’s nice when people realize those smaller details that are part of my game,” said Keenan.

With some time to reflect on the just-completed PHF season under her belt, we asked Keenan for her thoughts on her first year in Buffalo, and if it exceeded her expectations.

“Yeah, for sure (it exceeded them). I think we had a really good group and when you have a losing season as we did, it says a lot that there were never any issues on our team. It would be super easy to have things get negative, or people turn on each other, or point fingers. But that didn’t happen with this group. I thought that was really special, and what made the year what it was, to be honest. It was still really fun and we had a lot of good times.”

“We were able to make some pushes, played in some close games - which sometimes can be more devastating, knowing that you were a goal or two away, or an overtime loss,” she explained. “The chemistry that we had as a group - in the locker room and off the ice - that’s what set our group apart - and hopefully we can build off that hopefully for next year. Maybe use that bond that we do have (that maybe other teams didn’t) and use that to our advantage, it could potentially make a difference in the long run.”

Sounds like Keenan would like to come back for another season, so we naturally had to ask if that is in the cards for her.

“I’m definitely looking to come back. We have some meetings over the next few weeks, and decisions will have to be made. But, I definitely would love to come back and like you said, take care of some unfinished business; show what we can do with this team. I love Buffalo, I love the fans here, and I’m looking forward to coming back if the opportunity is there.”

The Beauts have been known for having some of the most passionate, and dedicated, fans in the PHF dating back to their inaugural season. Keenan got a glimpse of that this past season, despite all of the rules, restrictions, and regulations related to covid and player safety.

“Our fans were just awesome. Great, just great support. Great loyalty. I think we have the best fans in the league, and it makes a difference. Playing in front of them in that outdoor game was amazing. Just the energy that they brought that day, I think it was a huge reason we were able to get that win,” she said with a grin that could be heard through our phone call.

“All season long we saw all of the little girls cheering us on. But it’s not only them - we had support from people of all ages, which is awesome to see. When you go out in Buffalo and people hear you play for the Beauts they’ll say - ‘oh that’s awesome, we come to your games!’ I recently saw someone in a grocery store wearing our Beauts outdoor game t-shirt. It’s really special.”

So what’s next for Keenan as we move away from Season 7 in the PHF and look ahead toward Season 8?

“I’m still in Buffalo for now, but I’ll head back to Calgary in a few weeks. I just accepted a job with Hockey Canada (again for the summer) and I’ll be driving back home to do that. I’m excited to go back for another summer with them and spend some time with my family and friends,” she paused and then laughed, “It will be a long drive. But, I want my car back home with me, and my hockey equipment. I’m hoping to do it in three days, but we’ll see. It wasn’t too bad on the way here.”

Once Keenan is back at her home base, she will start to prepare for what she hopes is a second season in Beauts blue (and we hope so too). Starting with off-ice workouts and then progressing more as the summer starts to fade away.

“I think it’s good to give my body that break from skating, and the mental break as well - a reset - so that I feel fresh. Once I get home I’ll do a lot of skill work on the ice. As it gets closer to the season starting, I’ll mix in some skating conditioning, stuff like that. A lot of those specific skills like point shots, and defense-related things. Like I mentioned earlier - my hands aren’t the greatest - so I’m always trying to work on stuff like that!”

“Off-ice training is very important, and the off-season is the time to get your strength back that you sometimes lose over the course of the season when you aren’t able to work out as hard. As soon as the NHL playoffs start I’ll start thinking about how much I miss playing and will want to get back out there competing. But it will be good to take that time to reset before next season.”

We expect that along with Keenan, a large portion of the Beauts roster will return for another season together and would be stone-cold shocked if we see 15 new faces in Buffalo again. The sky is the limit for that group and with the retirement of defender Marie-Jo Pelletier that could mean more ice-time for a player like Keenan - who is just scratching the surface of her potential. Despite what she thinks about her hands, Keenan is a potential candidate for Defender of the Year; next season, and beyond.