With four Winter Games appearances to her credit, Becky Kellar was part of a golden generation for Canada. Such a pioneering spirit extended into the advent of a new era for professional women’s ice hockey. Gracing the ice for the Burlington Barracudas during the CWHL’s inaugural season, Kellar’s world-class talents shone, earning a well-deserved place as a member of the Central Division All-Star Team.
For a player as stoic and humble as Kellar, her legacy in the game deserves to be celebrated. Her career was every bit as relevant to the game’s evolution and the All-Star Game was a milestone worthy of merit. Establishing herself as the greatest player in Barracudas franchise history, an irreplaceable anchor on their defensive unit, one of the unique hallmarks of the CWHL was the accessibility and approachability of the players. Through this, players such as Kellar would become role models, getting the chance to meet fans and enthusiasts of all ages, simultaneously inspiring an enthusiastic generation of young female players to emulate their successes.
Considering that the 2017 CWHL All-Star Game consisted of 12 players making their debut, this new era of talent contributed to a reciprocal feeling. Enjoying the privilege of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the game’s giants, including Kellar, who served in a coaching capacity, it embodied a sense of both achievement and admiration.
Taking on the role of a co-coach on Team White, it allowed Kellar’s career to come full-circle in multiple facets. From the outset, the All-Star Game coincided with the league’s 10th anniversary season. With all four coaches consisting of former players, including three who competed in the inaugural season (Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, Kellar and Cheryl Pounder), it added a new dimension to their legacies, while enlightening a new generation of fans as to their impact.
“It was great to be a part of that game. The league has come so far from that first year.”
Secondly, Kellar’s fellow coach on Team White was Tessa Bonhomme, a teammate of Kellar on the national team for three seasons. Both would be part of the historic roster that captured gold in women’s ice hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, marking the first time that a host country captured women’s ice hockey gold on home soil. As the first-ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL Draft, Bonhomme also brought her own sense of history to the group of inspiring coaches.
That proud Vancouver connection was also evident with three of the on-ice competitors at the All-Star Game. Caroline Ouellette, a teammate of Kellar’s on the national team for a decade, plus former Team USA stalwart Julie Chu were among the veteran leaders for Team White. Also with Team White was Marie-Philip Poulin. As Vancouver signified a coming out party for Poulin, her arrival among a new generation of superstars, she was introduced to a nation of hockey fanatics as she scored the gold-medal clinching goal. On this magical day, her hockey heroics continued with Team White. Recording five points in the game, Poulin’s heroics for Team White were complemented by Jess Jones and Jillian Saulnier (who was invited to Canadian Centralization for the 2018 Winter Games), as the two would each score a hat trick, the first in CWHL All-Star Game history.
Additionally, the All-Star Game allowed Kellar to revisit the site of one of the greatest highlights in her hockey career. When the Toronto Maple Leafs served as the host franchise for the 2000 NHL All-Star Game, part of the festivities included the TSN Challenge, a match which took place on Air Canada Centre ice featuring an exciting chapter in the eternal rivalry between the Canadian and American women’s ice hockey teams.
Part of the victorious Canadian squad, it was a night filled with history for Kellar, as the TSN Challenge signified the first women’s hockey match contested at Air Canada Centre. With more than 15,000 fans in attendance, it was a watershed moment highlighted by a remarkable outpouring of support during the nascent years of elite women’s hockey, an encouraging sign that the game had potential to not only grow, but make its mark in sporting Canadiana.
Gaining the opportunity to return to Air Canada Centre more than a decade later, it was an opportunity to relive that magical night, while contributing new memories. Undoubtedly, the All-Star Game’s impact mirrors what the TSN Challenge meant back in 2000, allowing a new generation of fans to not only build on that event’s legacy, but understand the relevance of empowering competitors such as Kellar, and what they meant to building the game. For Kellar, there was also a serendipitous sense to being part of the 2017 CWHL All-Star Game as more than 8,000 fans were on-hand, setting a new CWHL attendance record. With her two sons among that record-breaking attendance, it was a chance for them to appreciate their mom’s legacy in a whole new light,
“It was pretty awesome to be able to stand on the bench at the ACC. It’s certainly a step up from the rinks you coach at in minor hockey! My kids love the experience as well, being down where the players are and getting a sense of what it is like to be a pro.
The whole experience was a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to play a Canada/US game there when I was still playing so it was fun to be on the bench and get a different perspective.”
Among the unforgettable experiences that constituted the 2017 CWHL All-Star Game experience for players and coaches alike, there was an element that enriched such an experience for Kellar. Having lined up alongside Cheryl Pounder on the blueline, protecting Canada’s crease as defense partners for numerous seasons, their growing friendship ran parallel to a group of collaborative efforts which contributed towards a pair of Winter Games gold medals at Salt Lake 2002 and Torino 2006.
With Pounder serving as a coach on Team Blue, there was a slight tinge of irony. During their playing career in the CWHL, both were rivals as Pounder starred with the Mississauga Warriors. As a side note, former Warriors star forward and four-time Winter Games competitor Jennifer Botterill was part of the All-Star Game’s broadcast team, engaging in sideline reporting duties for Sportsnet.
The golden horseshoe rivalry between the Barracudas and Warriors would take on new life, extending on a much larger scale, as Pounder and Kellar found themselves as opposing coaches. As jubilant as Kellar was to share in this career highlight with Pounder, there were still bragging rights on the line in this game, although it was a rivalry built on levity.
“Cheryl and I were teammates and defence partners for a very long time. I am glad we could both be involved in that game but even more happy that my team could beat hers (smiles).”
Despite the opposition that existed on this day, the mutual respect between them shall last a lifetime. Their friendship exemplifies what is great about women’s ice hockey, a pair of pioneers who remain devoted to the game in their post-playing careers, maintaining the values that made them such admirable competitors. It was the kind of reverential spirit that encompassed what the All-Star Game meant on this day, as temporary rivalries could not mask the sense of celebration and sportsmanship. For the players who graced the ice for such an epic event, their peerless performances definitely paid tribute to the amazing legacies of players such as Kellar, showing that the future remains bright.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
All-Star Game Photo credits by Jess Bazal, Headshot obtained from Twitter