Wearing her trademark number six, a number also worn over four fantastic seasons with the Syracuse Orange, Shelby Calof brought a captivating presence to Canada’s entry at the Maccabiah Games. Anchoring the defensive unit, incorporating a flair for offensive brilliance, the tournament transformed Calof into a Canadian sporting hero.
Raised in Canada’s capital, belonging to an elite generation of millennial talent from the Ottawa Valley, Calof enjoyed the opportunity to follow up a brilliant career wearing the paraphernalia of the Orange. Enjoying 120 appearances, the milestone of bringing her career to an epic conclusion by competing in the 2022 NCAA tournament actually served as a prelude.
Gaining the opportunity to participate in the inaugural women’s ice hockey tournament at the Maccabiah Games, the experience involved facets of fulfillment and achievement. Worth noting, Calof was not the only individual from the Capital Region on Canada’s contingent. Mikah Baptiste, who currently calls the Norwich Cadets her club team, wore the Maple Leaf while Mitch Miller served as General Manager.
As grateful as Calof was to skate for Syracuse, contributing towards an era of unprecedented greatness in program lore, the chance to extend her career, while honoring her heritage took on a meaning of tremendous relevance and emotion. Taking into account the number of years involved to have women’s ice hockey accepted as a competitive sport at the Games, her final season in Syracuse started with uncertainty as to whether her dream would reach fruition.
“The NCAA tournament was of course incredible but playing at the Maccabiah Games was a lot more meaningful. There was so much work put in to try and make womens hockey at the Maccabiah Games happen and when it finally became reality I knew it was going to be the most incredible experience of my life – and it was.
At the beginning of my senior year at Syracuse, I thought my last game of the season was going to be my last competitive game ever. I am so glad I was wrong. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to go to the NCAA tournament twice in my college career but honestly, nothing can compare to my time in Israel.”
Pais Arena in Jerusalem became a portal for Calof. One where heritage and childhood dreams intersected on the frozen perimeter. Reflecting on the hockey dream with tremendous maturity, the understanding that wearing the Maple Leaf was possibly fading, the opportunity to participate in the Maccabiah Games felt destined.
Belonging to a Canadian roster that enjoyed an undefeated mark, Calof emerged as one of Canada’s stars. Gaining a multitude of accolades, recognition as Canada’s Player of the Game in the championship final enhanced the prestige of winning the gold medal. As recipient of Tournament MVP honors, her achievement proved synonymous with the sense of hockey history made in Israel.
“Having the Hockey Canada logo on my chest had been a dream of mine since I started playing hockey. In my last few years of high school and first few years of college, I slowly started realizing that I may not achieve that dream.
When the Games became more and more realistic, all I could think about was wearing that logo and representing the Jewish population, which is definitely the most incredible opportunity. It was the best possible situation I could have worn the jersey in.
Going into the first game, it was a ton of nerves and a ton of excitement. I wanted to make my country, culture, team and coaches proud. I did my best and luckily the team came together not only the first game, but the whole tournament and it went better than I could have ever imagined.”
The lasting impact of the tournament went far beyond the final score. In addition to gaining a profound connection to her heritage, already looking forward to the 2025 Games with an eager anticipation, another intriguing facet emerged.
With Team Israel establishing their roots, landmark events such as the 2022 IIHF Division III Group B Women’s Worlds and the Maccabiah Games introducing them to the hockey conversation, Calof finds admiration in their efforts. Despite Israel enduring a winless record at both events, Calof found an enthusiasm among the players.
“One of the most significant parts of my trip was the relationships built with the Israeli team. The commitment and hard work they put in was inspiring.
They had so much sportsmanship and the two games against them may have been my two favorite hockey games I have played in my career. They were open to learn throughout the games as all our players were giving them little pointers and they did not ever take the smile off their faces.
Exploring the country was incredible and experiencing the Jewish culture outside of Ottawa was life changing. Winning gold was, of course, the cherry on top. Yet, as cliche as it sounds, I cannot pick one favorite part of the experience. I wish I could fast forward three years and go back right now, but I am already preparing for the next Games.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”