As the Boston Blades continue to remake their roster, putting the pieces together to restore the glory days of seasons past, a key part in this configuration is the compelling Kate Leary. The pride of Seabrook, New Hampshire, Leary is a former three-sport star, also starring in field hockey and lacrosse at Governor’s Academy, plus three national championships at different levels (U12, U14, U16) with Assabet Valley. Providing the black and gold with a franchise player, Leary is the type of competitor who brings more than a fundamental skill set, her game is complemented by a persistent and enthusiastic persona that inspires those around her to elevate the quality of their game.
Appearing in 26 games this season, tied with Meghan Grieves for the team lead, the beauty of Leary’s game is in her offensive production. Leading the way with a sparkling 16 points, Leary also paces the team in goals scored and points per game (0.62). Tied for the lead in power play goals (with Grieves again) and in power play assists with Melissa Bizzari, Leary has provided the Blades with an impressive statistical milestone on offense, recording double digits in points for the second straight season.
“It is certainly nice to be able to put up points for the Blades. We definitely struggle with scoring and being consistent in our offensive efforts, so to be able to help is nice. But I would certainly like to improve on that and be able to contribute even more.”
Reputed for her durability and steadiness as a member of the Boston College Eagles, where she played for head coach Katie King-Crowley from 2011-2015, she did not miss a game in her last three seasons with the program. Adding to her body of work in program lore, while her sophomore season culminated with the Athletic Director’s Award for Academic Achievement Honors while her first-ever goal in the Eagles jersey was part of a 4-3 overtime win, achieved on December 3, 2011 vs. the Maine Black Bears. Coincidentally, Bizzari scored the overtime winner. Between the pipes for the Black Bears was Brittany Ott, who would be a member of the Blades’ championship team in 2015.
This impressive iron woman has duplicated those same reliable qualities with the Blades, emerging as one of the club’s key figures in terms of both leadership and offensive production. Worth noting, there are six Eagles alumnae on this season’s edition of the Blades, including the aforementioned Bizzari and Grieves, enriching the essence of teamwork and dependability for the black and gold. Undoubtedly, that proud Eagles presence has resulted in an enjoyable season for Leary, rekindling the fond memories of glory years at Chestnut Hill.
Offensively, Leary quickly made an impression this season. With the Blades’ first game of the season taking place on the road against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Canadiennes de Montreal, Leary found the back of the net in the third period. Fittingly, the assists were logged by Bizarri and Grieves.
There was also an element of emotion to this match as Kayla Tutino, the Blades’ first pick overall in the 2016 CWHL Draft, was suiting up for Les Canadiennes. Ironically, Tutino would score later in the third period, her first goal in Canadiennes colors. As a side note, Michelle Ng would score the first goal of the Blades season, which was also the game’s first goal. In the following game against Montreal, Leary would also add her name to the scoresheet, helping set the tone on offense for the black and gold.
The home opener on October 21 against the Calgary Inferno resulted in a three-game scoring streak, as Leary scored once again. In a game that resulted in numerous players from both teams achieving a handful of compelling career firsts, Leary’s veteran presence proved to be invaluable.
In spite of an offensive drought during the month of November, as Leary’s only point resulted in an assist versus the expansion Vanke Rays on November 5, there were still some positives. Among them, Leary showed very disciplined play in a weekend series versus Calgary, as she did not draw any penalty minutes. In addition, Leary did not have a negative plus/minus rating in 60% of the games played that month.
Although the month of December was somewhat grueling, as the Blades played every game on the road, it was certainly an experience that shall result in a lifetime of treasured moments. From December 16 to 20, the Blades became the first American-based professional women’s ice hockey team to compete in China.
Serving as host nation for the 2022 Winter Games, China has made a tremendous effort to provide the resources to elevate both its men’s and women’s ice hockey programs into world class status. With the emergence of a pair of professional women’s teams in the CWHL, the players on both sides of the Pacific are making key inroads towards the game’s evolution, simultaneously making history. For Leary, the chance to see the growing enthusiasm for the game first-hand, while absorbing a different culture in a stimulating part of the world, provided her with a career-defining experience.
Challenging the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays in a pair of two-game series, it was a labor of love for Leary and her teammates. Notching an assist in the December 17 tilt versus Red Star, which features a handful of American-born players, it placed Leary into distinct company, as she logged points during the 2017-18 CWHL season in Canada, the United States and China. Considering that Digit Murphy, a two-time Clarkson Cup winning coach with the Blades is occupying the mantle of head coach with the Red Star, it certainly resulted in a match filled with plenty of emotion. Later in January, that theme would emerge once again as the Red Star visited Boston.
“The China trip was the trip of a lifetime. I mean to fly to a foreign country and get to explore such a different part of the world was awesome. And to get to do that with my teammates and play some hockey was incredible. We enjoyed lots of aspects of the culture and got to see things and do things that really made the trip special. Huge thank you to the CWHL for the experience, definitely something special!”
Heading into the New Year, Leary was a key contributor in a season highlight for the Blades. With Kacy Ambroz taking over the reins as head coach, her debut on January 6, 2018 resulted in a milestone win. Besting the Toronto Furies by a 4-2 tally, Leary would score the only goal of the third period, putting the game out of reach for Toronto. Scoring her first goal since the Blades’ home opener, as Megan Myers recorded the assist, it was the type of outcome that restored confidence in the black and gold that a strong second half was possible.
“Getting our first win was huge, we’ve been working since September together and really needed that. We’ve had so many close games, a few shootouts that we’ve come up short in and that just builds frustration. So to get a win was a little bit of a relief. But I hope we can get a few more wins out of the remainder of the season.”
That win was the catalyst for a solid offensive output that saw Leary record at least one point in six of the following eight games. From January 6 to February 25, the scoring brilliance resulted in 11 points, on the strength of seven assists, highlighted by three multi-point efforts, consistently providing the Blades with a chance to win. While there were a multitude of notable moments throughout Leary’s remarkable run, one of the most notable was combining with Courtney Turner on a first period goal by Japanese-born star Sato Kikuchi versus the Calgary Inferno on February 24, her first goal in the black and gold jersey.
During such a sensational stretch, Leary would record a pair of multi-point outputs within eight days of each other. Each performance brought with it tremendous sentiment. Larsen Skating Rink at Eruzione Center would see the Blades host the expansion Red Star from January 27 to February 1. With a total of 10 Eagles alumnae skating for the Blades and the Red Star, it was one of the most notable series of the New Year, as it not only solidified the Eagles’ legacy of producing elite players for the professional ranks, it brought multiple careers full circle. Notably, Alexandra Carpenter and Kelli Stack, the top all-time leading scorers in Eagles lore suiting up for the Red Star, the opening game on January 27 was an emotional homecoming.
Of note, Leary would be involved in each of the Blades goals. Early in the second period, Leary collaborated with Courtney Turner, the first overall pick in the 2017 CWHL Draft to assist on Dru Burns’ first goal of the season, tying the score at 1-apiece. Although Rachel Llanes and Kelli Stack would score for Red Star in the second period, reclaiming a lead, the Blades never showed signs of quit.
At the 18:25 mark of the third period, the Blades capitalized on a power play opportunity as Leary earned the lone assist on Taylor Wasylk’s second career goal, trimming the Red Star’s lead to one goal. Merely 19 seconds later, Carpenter would find the back of the net, as the Red Star took a 4-2 advantage that they would not relinquish. Stack would assemble a three-point performance while five other American-born players on the Red Star would log at least one point.
The aftermath resulted in a poignant on-ice photo that resulted in a gathering of Eagles alums, whether they were draped in Blades’ black and gold or Red Star road whites, arm in arm, smiles aplenty as the common bond of Boston College greatness bolstered an incredibly meaningful occasion that embodies the flourishing heritage of Eagles hockey. With Eagles alum Lexi Bender (who competes professionally in an American league) in attendance, along with legendary head coach Katie King-Crowley and her young daughter, they joined this grouping of cheerful talent, bolstering a connection that has defined and enriched the careers of so many.
After scoring in the rubber match of the three-game set with Red Star, Leary would rise to the occasion in her finest statistical performance of the season. With a February 3 match signifying Montreal’s first visit to Boston this season, Leary and her fellow Blades made a statement in this game, proving that parity was not only prevalent, but that any win against their club would be one that was hard-earned.
Assembling a superlative three-point performance in an eventual shootout loss to Montreal, Leary’s assiduousness and determination was complemented by Lauren Dahm’s impressive 48 save effort. In spite of the result, it was certainly Leary’s finest hour this season. The Blades certainly humbled the defending champions, climbing out to a 2-0 lead after one period of play. At the 0:34 second mark, Bizzari scored on Emerance Maschmeyer, with Leary and Wasylk logging the assists. As a side note, it was Wasylk’s first assist as a Blade. Nearly three minutes later, Bizzari scored again, exploiting a power play opportunity, as Montreal suffered one of its worst starts to any game this season.
Early in the second, Montreal spoiled Dahm’s bid for a shutout, as franchise legend Ann-Sophie Bettez trimmed the Blades’ lead to one goal. With almost 12 minutes of scoreless play, Leary rose to the occasion once again. Collaborating with Grieves, she placed the puck past Maschmeyer at the 12:29 mark, providing the Blades with their second power play goal of the contest and a 3-1 advantage.
While Montreal would mount a comeback, there was a tinge of irony in the fact that the skater who helped propel said comeback was an alum of the Boston University Terriers program, the eternal rival of the Eagles. Scoring the last goal of the second, and the first goal of the third, Sarah Lefort single-handedly provided Montreal with a glimmer of hope.
Leary and Wasylk would join forces once again, unified in the effort of attempting to win their biggest game this season. Leary set up Wasylk, who not only scored the go-ahead goal, but recorded the first multi-point game of her CWHL career. Reclaiming the lead, the home crowd erupted in approval, aware of the opportunity that a win could have in helping alter the league’s balance of power. With Montreal called for two penalties in a span of 47 seconds less than two minutes after Wasylk’s goal, their fifth and sixth penalties of the game, hometown fans and players alike were salivating at the chance to extend their lead.
Such glories were not meant to be, as Lefort tied the game at the 11:25 mark, the Blades certainly earned the respect of many in the league. Holding Montreal scoreless for the remainder of the third, the Blades also stymied their opponents’ offense in the overtime frame, with Dahm a wall of stone, constantly frustrating their sputtering offense. Although Montreal would manage to emerge victorious by a 2-1 margin in the shootout, the level of respect praised upon the Blades was one that certainly provided a symbolic win, highlighted by Bizarri and Leary garnering Second and Third Stars of the Game, testament to their superstar potential for a proud franchise.
“The Montreal shootout game was definitely one of our better games of the season. They’re a great team so it’s nice to get a point out of that game. But certainly a tough one to lose after we had been up 2-0 to start. I think as a team we need to put together a complete game to win. But overall we put up a pretty good effort against one of the top teams in the league. That’s something we pride ourselves on is not getting outworked and really hustling and grinding it out. Being a gritty team is part of who the Blades are.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Gretchen Ertl, Dave Holland, Michelle Jay, BDZ Sports