First Nations player inks contract to join PWHL Boston reserve squad

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Windspeaker.com

There’s a chance that Kelly Babstock could end up seeing some action during the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

Babstock, a member of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, signed a reserve player contract with PWHL Boston on March 20.

Babstock is thrilled with the deal. The pro circuit, which is in its first season of operations, currently has six clubs, three in Canada and three in the United States.

None of the PWHL entrants have team names yet, other than the cities/states they represent. Besides Boston, other clubs participating in the league’s inaugural season are Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, New York and Minnesota.

Babstock, who is 31, in no stranger to pro hockey. She spent seven seasons toiling for various clubs in the National Women’s Hockey League, which then rebranded to the Premier Hockey Federation and now no longer exists.

While other women’s pro circuits in North America have come and gone, the PWHL is believed to be the real deal. It has deep-pocket investors and is providing its players the opportunity to be full-time pro athletes.

“It is so cool to see where this league is,” Babstock said of the PWHL, which has garnered plenty of fan support on both sides of the border. “This is THE league.”

Though she was not selected in the PWHL draft last September, Babstock, who had made three all-star appearances in her first seven seasons of pro hockey, was invited to training camp for PWHL New York last fall.

But she didn’t crack the team’s roster. After being released from that club, Babstock took her talents overseas, signing a deal with the HC Ladies Lugano squad in Switzerland. She played eight matches with the Swiss squad and collected 13 points (six goals and seven assists). The Lugano club completed its season last month.

“I thought my season was over,” Babstock said.

Upon returning to North America, Babstock, who lives in the Connecticut city of Norwalk, was asked to be an instructor at a youth hockey clinic run by the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings in the Mexico City district of Sante Fe.

While in Mexico City, Babstock received a phone call from Danielle Marmer, the general manager for PWHL Boston, asking if she would be interested in joining the club’s reserve player list.

“It was really a surreal moment,” Babstock said. “I didn’t expect this call to happen at all. It’s a big deal in my hockey career, even if I’m just on the reserve team.”

Babstock’s first practice with PWHL Boston is expected to be on April 1.

The Massachusetts squad is playing its final game of the month on March 25 on the road against PWHL New York.

The PWHL will then have a bit of a break in its regular season schedule since the world women’s hockey tournament will be staged April 3 to April 14 in Utica, N.Y.

PWHL Boston has four regular season outings scheduled for April, starting with its April 18 home tilt versus PWHL Toronto.

Babstock said Boston team officials have not told her that she will get to hit the ice for any game action.

“They said ‘We want you to be on the reserve club and be ready just in case.’ I’m just going to go and give it my best.”

Since she spent a good chunk of the PWHL campaign in Switzerland, Babstock said she hasn’t seen too many league games. A six-hour time difference between Switzerland and the eastern parts of North America hindered her ability to catch many live games.

“I was focusing on myself and my career,” Babstock said. “But I saw some games when I got home.”

Though she was cut by PWHL New York earlier this season, Babstock said her aspirations of suiting up for a club in the circuit did not diminish.

“I knew I should have been playing in this league,” she said. “But I didn’t let it dictate my hockey career. I tried to stay positive and enjoy the process.”

And now she’s a step closer to appearing in a PWHL game.

“It was awesome to receive that phone call,” she said. “It definitely made my dream come true.”