Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Omelets by day, superfan by night: Joanne Keller fuels UMass hockey to the Frozen Four

Meet UMass hockey’s favorite omelet maestro

Joanne+Keller+takes+a+photo+with+Sam+the+Minuteman+outside+the+Keybank+Center+in+Buffalo%2C+NY%2C+on+Saturday%2C+Apr.+13%2C+2019.+Photo+by+Jon+Asgeirsson.
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Omelets by day, superfan by night: Joanne Keller fuels UMass hockey to the Frozen Four

Joanne Keller takes a photo with Sam the Minuteman outside the Keybank Center in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, Apr. 13, 2019. Photo by Jon Asgeirsson.

Joanne Keller takes a photo with Sam the Minuteman outside the Keybank Center in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, Apr. 13, 2019. Photo by Jon Asgeirsson.

Jon Asgeirsson

Joanne Keller takes a photo with Sam the Minuteman outside the Keybank Center in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, Apr. 13, 2019. Photo by Jon Asgeirsson.

Jon Asgeirsson

Jon Asgeirsson

Joanne Keller takes a photo with Sam the Minuteman outside the Keybank Center in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, Apr. 13, 2019. Photo by Jon Asgeirsson.

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Joanne Keller fuels the Massachusetts hockey team. Literally.

As a cook at Hampshire Dining Commons, Keller has served thousands of UMass students, but none more memorable than the Minutemen she’s come to adore. She even has a special station for them.

“I cook for the hockey team most of the season and it’s really fun,” Keller said with a smile.  “I’ve got to have a really nice relationship with them. I’m like the Mom away from home at some points. I’m the first person a lot of them see when they first get to school and, in the morning, they have to get up and come to breakfast. It’s so important for them to eat a good breakfast, especially if they have practice to go to.”

Players routinely swipe in and head straight to her station to be greeted by a familiar face.

Omelets are Keller’s specialty, and a campus-wide favorite, so most of them go that route, but some prefer fried or scrambled eggs. No matter what they ask for, everyone’s favorite ‘omelet lady’ gladly whips it up.

Keller’s become especially close with a few of the players and has gone out of her way to do what she can for the team, even outside of the friendly confines of Hamp.

“George Mika and Niko [Hildenbrand] and I, we went and had ice cream last year and tried to get some breakfast going on this year, but they’ve been so busy,” Keller said. “I made [a few players] a pie at Thanksgiving because they were all here for Thanksgiving, so I made them a few desserts because they were kind of homesick.

“Like Jake Gaudet, he’s always there. He delivers vegetables for his summer job and I used to have a vegetable farm so we have a little connection there. But most of them are all very nice and polite, and I just like them all and we just have a good time.”

From baking desserts for players who couldn’t get home to see their families on holidays to providing the team with the basic energy to start their long days in the classroom and on the ice, Keller really does it all for the Minutemen, and she’s enjoyed every second of their record-setting run. So much so, that she traveled all the way to New Hampshire to witness them advance to the Frozen Four two weeks ago, and then to Buffalo to watch them play on the national stage.

After being in the stands for the 4-0 shutout of Notre Dame that sent UMass to the Frozen Four, Keller went back to work with plans already made. “I told my boss, ‘I’ll see ya, I’m going to Buffalo,’” she said with a laugh. “I told my husband I was going to drive here, and he goes, ‘no, no. I’ll take you.’ So, we made reservations, we got tickets, and we’re here for the weekend.”

On Thursday, when the Minutemen blew a two-goal, third-period lead against Denver to push the national semifinal into sudden-death overtime, Keller wasn’t too worried.

“I have to say: our hearts were in our throats,” she said, “but you know, I kept thinking, ‘this team, I’ve watched them, you know two seconds left in a game and they score [on Feb. 15],’ so I had full faith.”

On Friday, Keller was at the Hobey Baker Award ceremony, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the top player in college hockey. When Cale Makar’s name was called, it was the end of a long campaign she started months before in support of one of her most loyal omelet patrons.

“I had gotten a whole bunch of pins and I put a cup on my station [with] a sign that said, ‘vote for Cale for Hobey Baker’,” she said, “and for a month kids took pins and started voting, and I think we got the total up there. Every time we saw kids we’d say, ‘make sure you vote for Cale Makar because he’s going to be our Hobey Baker Award winner,’ and they all got into it.”

The first, and only, Hobey Baker winner in UMass history is a fan of hers, as well.

“Number one omelet lady ever,” Makar said with a laugh before the national title game. “I don’t know how UMass recruited her, but they obviously did some studying and got her to come. She’s awesome.”

As a 12-year supporter, Keller has seen UMass hockey during its best and worst seasons.

But this one was different from the jump.

“I knew this summer when they all got here, they were real enthusiastic,” she said, “their whole attitude had changed and, of course, with coach [Greg] Carvel and all, I said ‘oh this is a special team.’”

She was right.

Saturday night, the Minutemen who frequent her station have the chance to secure their first-ever national championship, and Keller, once again, will be there to witness their quest in person.

“I’m really happy for them because they’ve worked extremely hard all season, not only on the ice but off the ice, and they’re great kids,” she said in anticipation on Friday. “They’re in the community helping out others, so they’re well deserving of everything they have.

“They always find a way to win and they really are winners, no matter what happens, but I think they’re going to bring that trophy home to UMass.”

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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