The PWHL's Boston team has locked down three United States national team players for its inaugural roster, signing goaltender Aerin Frankel, defender Megan Keller, and forward Hilary Knight. All three have signed three-year contracts with the team.
"I couldn't have asked for better three people and better three players to build this roster around," said GM Danielle Marmer. "Heading into free agency, I had a wish list. I wrote three names on a piece and paper, and they were Aerin, Hilary and Megan."
"I'm proud and honored to have these three players on my roster," she added.
Marmer, like others from other PWHL teams and the Boston players themselves, said that the free agency process happened more quickly than she expected; she said she didn't think that the deals would essentially be done in one day. All three have ties to the Boston area, making them a natural fit for the team, and have played together on the national team in the past.
Frankel is one of the up-and-coming goaltenders with Team USA. The 24-year-old New York native played five seasons at Northeastern and averaged a 1.31 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in 139 games. Her overall collegiate record was an outstanding 103-19-13, and she won the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2021. She has also been on the U.S. national team for three straight World Championships, having played in two tournaments, and won one gold and two silver medals.
"I knew that I wanted a goaltender who was going to compete, who can win," Marmer said. "Aerin's won in every level that she's played at. She's just the ultimate competitor, and [when] I did my homework and talked to coaches, that was a phrase that came up and time & time again. I knew that was somebody I didn't want to wait for the draft; I wanted to make sure I locked her in as early as possible."
"When we had the announcement of the cities come out, I obviously had my eyes set on Boston and it's a place that has become so special to me for so many reasons," Frankel said. "I was really hoping that I could land a spot on this team, and to do so alongside Megan and Hilary is also a dream come true. They are two incredible hockey players and role models to me."
Marmer noted that she wanted to build from the crease out – and that made Keller a natural choice.
"I wanted a defender who's going to be hard to play against, who's going to be physical, but who could also contribute on offense, who could run a power play," she said. "That's Megan... had an outstanding college career, broke a ton of records during a Boston College dynasty. Ever since, she's showing what she can do on the U.S. national team & why she's one of those top defenders and a top defender in the world."
Keller, 27, joined the PWHPA after her four years at BC, where she put up 158 points from the backend – an incredible offensive output for anyone, let alone a defender. She's represented the U.S. internationally since 2014, whether at the U18s, Worlds, or Olympics, and has five Worlds medals and two Olympic medals. She was also a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist.
"Boston quickly became my home when I got the chance to come out & attend Boston college," said Keller, who grew up in Michigan. "I've stuck around ever since, just because I love this city so much. It's truly become a place that I call my home, so I couldn't be more happy and fortunate to be able to play for the Boston franchise, and especially alongside teammates Hilary and Aerin. You can't pick two better people, friends, and teammates to be able to go on this journey with."
The Boston team rounds out its signings with Hilary Knight, a face of USA hockey and one of the most prominent women's players in North America. The 34-year-old has played professionally for over 10 years, with stops in the CWHL, NWHL/PHF, and PWHPA.
To call her list of accolades "impressive" would be an understatement. She has four Olympic medals and 13 Worlds medals, is a two-time NCAA champion as well as both a Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup champion. Earlier this year, she was honored as the first-ever IIHF Female Player of the Year. I could keep going, but as Marmer said – I think you get the point.
"I wanted somebody who could put the puck in the net, and there's no one better than Hilary Knight," Marmer said. "She's proven time & time again throughout her career that she really is the best goal scorer. There isn't anyone who's done more for women's hockey than she has."
Now, Knight returns to pro hockey in Boston, where she spent two seasons with the Blades and two with the Pride. She averaged 1.22 points per game in five CWHL seasons (including two with Les Canadiennes) and 1.78 points per game in her NWHL seasons. Last season with the PWHPA, she had 10 points (4G, 6A) in 18 games. Her 2023 World Championship performance was perhaps her best yet; she scored 8 goals and added 4 assists in 7 games.
"I can't think of a better location to have such a competitive team," Knight said. "It's not lost on us that it's called Title Town for a reason. There's a big responsibility to step up and step into this spotlight and put on a great performance for our fans, because we do have the best fans in the United States."
"If there's another championship on the line, I want to win it," she added.
Although this will be her third professional team in Boston, this opportunity feels different for Knight.
"We've been all working towards this the last 10-plus years, even before then," she said. "I think what's different now is, to my knowledge, having a CBA done before we even have a puck drop and a season. That's instrumental to protecting the players and setting up a structure of success to make sure that this thing is sustainable, and that we're navigating the future in an appropriate way that makes sense from a business standpoint, but also from a player experience standpoint as well."
Frankel noted that the league structure and resources will allow post-collegiate players to thrive. While she enjoyed playing with the PWHPA after concluding her time at Northeastern, the travel schedule and lack of regular practice and team skates was difficult. "I had the opportunity to play in [the PWHPA] last year and I really, really enjoyed that. The level of play was amazing and it was competitive and we got to experience a lot of different hockey cities. But I think what was lacking for me personally was just a very stable training environment... I think the structure that [is] being built is one that's going to be amazing this year, and it is exciting for the younger players who are in college to look forward to when they are able to graduate."
"I couldn't be more excited, from the investor group that's involved and the pieces that we have in the place, and the type of experience that all of us athletes have long-earned and now we're going to experience," Knight said. "You can get down into the weeds about this versus that, but this is completely different than anything we've ever had before, and that's what's so exciting. Many years we've been scratching the surface of what could be. Now we're here, and it's going to be a magical journey for everyone."
Knight, like others, acknowledged that the new PWHL collective bargaining agreement isn't perfect, but a good starting point for the years of professional women's hockey ahead.
"The first thing that people will tell you is that if both sides are unhappy, it's a good negotiation," she said. "There are definitely things that we'd love to have more of, for example, the compensation piece. At the same time, this is a substantial step in the right direction."
"Everyone collectively, whether you're playing a smaller role or a larger role, we're all rowing in the right direction," she said. "That, at the end of the day, is going to get women's professional hockey to where it needs to be."