All-star Babstock glad to be back in Canada to play at historic hockey site
Being a league all-star is nothing new for Kelly Babstock.
But for the 30-year-old member of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Ontario, her third appearance in a women’s all-star showcase event was her most meaningful one.
That’s because Babstock participated in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) all-star weekend staged at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, a downtown rink rebuilt on the site of the historic Maple Leaf Gardens.
Babstock, a member of the New Jersey-based Metropolitan Riveters, one of seven PHF franchises this season, represented Team Canada in the all-star festivities held Jan. 28 and Jan. 29.
The event also featured elite players representing two other squads, Team U.S. and Team World. They played two round-robin mini-games each on Sunday before Babstock and her Canadian teammates edged Team World 3-2 in the championship final.
Babstock previously participated in the 2017 all-star event in Pittsburgh and the 2018 match in Minnesota, when the pro circuit was called the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). The league rebranded in September 2021.
“This is by far my favourite,” Babstock said moments after Team Canada emerged victorious in the final. “It’s just amazing to see the growth of this league and the talent. This weekend, the highest skill in women’s hockey was displayed and it was super awesome to be a part of and to be surrounded by such amazing women role models in the hockey game.”
Babstock grew up in Mississauga, Ont. She now lives in the southwestern Connecticut city of Norwalk.
“It was amazing to come back home,” she said. “Being back home in front of my family and just being like a Toronto kid playing in the Maple Leaf Gardens is a dream come true. It’s really cool. Growing up I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to play pro because there wasn’t such a thing back in the day. And it’s so amazing all the women’s hockey legends that set us up for our moment right now. It’s great. The game is heading in amazing directions.”
Babstock also enjoyed the fact she was able to meet and socialize with some other league rivals
that she only knew because she had played against them.
“My favourite moment of the weekend was just having fun with the girls off the ice and just learning different people and becoming friends with them,” she said. “It’s really cool to see the girls off the ice. That’s been really fun.”
Babstock was also pleased to become an all-star again, five years after her last appearance.
“It’s been a couple of years,” she said. “So, I’m super pumped. It’s exciting to be here.”
Babstock has been living in Connecticut since 2010 when she first started attending Quinnipiac University on an athletic scholarship.
After graduating from the university, Babstock turned pro, signing on with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. She played three seasons with that franchise before joining the Buffalo Beauts for the 2018-19 campaign.
Babstock was excited to return to her home province and play for the Toronto Six, starting with the 2020-21 campaign. She signed a deal with the Six in May of 2020.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Babstock, who was planning to continue living in Connecticut, would have been forced to quarantine for two weeks every time she arrived in Canada for a game or practice.
As a result, Babstock was traded to the Riveters. She is now in her third season with that club. It takes her about an hour to commute to the Riveters’ home rink in East Rutherford, N.J.
This past weekend’s all-star festivities included round-robin action on Sunday, featuring 14-minute games of four-on-four play.
Team Canada edged the U.S. in the opening match, 2-1, in a contest decided by a shootout. The Canadians were then edged 2-1 by Team World in their next outing.
Babstock and company then had to wait and watch nervously as the Americans battled Team World in the final round-robin contest.
“We needed Team World to win,” Babstock said. “It was definitely a stressful game.”
Team World did end up prevailing 3-2 in that tilt, setting up a Canada/Team World final, which featured an 18-minute game of four-on-four play.
Besides playing for the Riveters, Babstock is also coaching a pair of Connecticut girls’ teams this season.
Once the season concludes Babstock will team up with one of her best friends, Kalley Armstrong, the granddaughter of former Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain George Armstrong, to launch a coaching and Indigenous mentorship program in various First Nations throughout Ontario.
“She’s such a great leader and I’m just super excited to team with her and grow the game in Indigenous communities,” Babstock said of Armstrong.
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com