Having assembled one of the greatest women’s ice hockey careers in this dazzling decade, Kelli Stack’s status as a world-class athlete has reached even greater stature during the 2017-18 season. As the first player signed in the nascent history of the Kunlun Red Star, Stack is more than just a franchise player. Graciously taking on the role of ambassador, embodying what is great about the game, she is also a role model for a burgeoning market filled with a flourishing number of players and fans.
“To play in China means a lot to me and my legacy. Not only have I made an impact on women’s hockey in North America, but now I’m impacting the game on a much larger scale. I’m helping an entire country grow the sport I love, and also playing alongside their national team members every day.
To know that I am playing a small role in their development means more to me than winning any medal or award. If I can help the Chinese girls become better hockey players then I will have an amazing story to tell for the rest of my life.
My entire experience with KRS has been awesome so far, but what I have enjoyed most is developing new friendships with girls from across the world. We may come from very different backgrounds, but learning about them and how they live and do things is fascinating to me!”
As of January 15, 2018, Stack remained the leading scorer among all American-born players with an astounding 29 points. In the race for the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the league’s top scorer, Stack trails rookie sensation Cayley Mercer of the Vanke Rays, the Red Star’s expansion cousins, by just one point. Among the league’s top 10 scorers, six are from the expansion teams, as the Rays feature four players, while Stack is joined by Zoe Hickel representing the Red Star in the top 10.
Worth noting, Stack paces all players in the league with 18 goals, three better than Jamie Lee Rattray of the Markham Thunder. In addition, Stack leads the way with four game-winning goals. Red Star teammate Shiann Darkangelo, plus Vanke Rays rookie Hanna Bunton have three game-winners this season.
Such performances are not only indicative of Stack’s world-class talent, but it demonstrates how Stack has delivered on all accounts for this ambitious club. With the introduction of the Red Star taking place at the iconic Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the presence of Stack, among a group of familiar luminaries, definitely provided a major league image, while allowing Stack for a unique sense of a brilliant career coming full circle.
The feeling of coming full circle was evident as the Red Star introduced Digit Murphy as their head coach. Having coached Stack during the Boston Blades’ halcyon days, Murphy became the first American-born coach to capture the Clarkson Cup, which saw Stack as part of the championship roster. In addition, Murphy would be the winning coach of the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game. Although Stack also participated in that landmark event, which was also held in Toronto, she was on the Team White roster, coached by Furies bench boss Sommer West.
Also joining Stack at the introduction would be Noora Raty, quite possibly the greatest goaltender to hail from Europe. Having stood between the pipes for the Finnish national team, Raty and Stack were on opposite ends of one of hockey’s great rivalries. Both would also reach the apex of a podium finish with their respective nations at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
Phil Esposito, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Boston Bruins and founder of the Tampa Bay Lightning brought his charismatic presence to the introduction as well. Serving as an executive for the Red Star organization, he was also on-hand for the first game in Red Star history, which was held north of Toronto in the suburb of Markham against the Thunder.
Akin to Stack, both have enjoyed numerous glories in Boston, adding to the city’s rich hockey history. While Esposito set the NHL’s single-season scoring record (later broken by Wayne Gretzky) as a member of the black and gold, Stack holds a similar but equally important mark in Boston hockey.
Setting a record for most points scored by a freshman in Boston College women’s ice hockey, she would graduate with All-America honors, while transitioning into a prized franchise player with the CWHL’s Boston Blades.
In her first season with the Blades, Stack not only set the franchise record for most points in one season with 42, it also stands as the highest season point total for an American-born player in CWHL history. Taking into account that Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight (both teammates of Stack with Team USA) also skated for the Blades, it is testament to the tremendous legacy that Stack has forged in the game.
Considering that Stack is also on pace to finish the season as the Red Star’s leading scorer, her point total may be destined to stand as their franchise mark as well. Should that occur, Stack will join Jennifer Botterill as the only women in CWHL history to hold single-season scoring records with two different franchises. Botterill, who also played her collegiate hockey in the Boston area with Harvard, owns the records for the now defunct Mississauga Chiefs and the Toronto Furies.
With China serving as the host country for the 2022 edition of the Winter Games, the presence of Stack brings a heightened sense of importance for the game in this region. For the members of the Chinese national women’s team that call Stack a teammate on the Red Star roster, they could not have asked for a greater role model. Undoubtedly, the chance to serve as a mentor, helping these younger players believe in their dreams, and the chance to forge their own world-class hockey legacies is one that Stack takes on with tremendous pride,
“Yes, I absolutely see myself as a mentor for the younger Chinese National team players. I try to set a good example on and off the ice by working hard, being kind and helping them learn new skills.”
From the outset, Stack would play a key part in Red Star history, gaining one of the assists on the first goal in franchise history. Along with Baiwei Yu, they would gain the helpers on a goal scored by Zoe Hickel at the 16:45 mark of the first period in an October 21 road contest against the Markham Thunder.
Although Stack would have to wait one week later to register her first goal as a member of the Red Star, achieving the feat on October 28 versus the Calgary Inferno, Stack’s presence was critical. Recording a goal and an assist, her first multi-point performance as a member of the Red Star, resulting in the club gaining their first-ever win, topping the Inferno in a dramatic 4-3 overtime win which saw Finland’s Annina Rajahuta log the game-winner. Fittingly, Rajahuta and Stack were recognized among the Three Stars of the Game.
Following that solid performance, the offensive floodgates would open for Stack, as she would go on to masterfully assemble a superlative eight-game scoring streak. Recording goals in each one of those games, setting a franchise mark in the process, Stack amassed 13 points during said streak.
Among the highlights, Stack notched a multi-goal effort against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Canadiennes de Montreal. As a side note, the series against Montreal also saw Stack and her Red Star teammates take to NHL ice, competing at the Bell Centre.
Perhaps more impressive, Stack was sensational in her home debut, which was also part of the streak. Hosting the Toronto Furies on November 18, she logged a multi-point game, including her first power play goal with the franchise. Four days later, her streak would end in grand fashion, recording three points against the Markham Thunder, including the game-winning tally, surprisingly, her first of the season.
Although Markham would keep Stack off the scoresheet in a November 24 affair, she would not be contained for very long. With four more games at home before the holiday break, Stack quickly built on her previous success. With the Red Star and Rays engaging in a home-and-home series, Stack made a huge statement in the first game. Scoring a hat trick, along with an assist, it was the springboard towards an exceptional six-game scoring streak.
Following it up with the game-winning tally in the second game versus Vanke, the second series on home ice brought with it even more tremendous emotion. Competing against the Boston Blades for the first time in her career, the team that she captured the Clarkson Cup with in 2013, Stack delivered with the game-winner in the opening game. Recording an assist in the second contest, providing the Red Star with a two-game sweep, it propelled the club into a three-way tie for first place in the league standings, along with Montreal and Calgary.
The New Year would see the Red Star cross the Pacific, competing against the Furies for the first time at MasterCard Centre in a two-game series on January 13 and 14. Recording an assist in the first game versus Toronto, the Red Star’s first in 27 days, any rink rust would quickly evaporate. The following day, Stack erupted for the greatest performance of the season, logging an incredible six points, as the Red Star obliterated the host Furies. Scoring twice, along with four assists, Stack was the offensive catalyst, holding the hot hand for an exciting team that is within reach of finishing first overall in the league standings.
With 15 points in the last six games, Stack’s ambition of the Angela James Bowl is equally within reach. Should such ambition translate into reality, Stack would end up making history twice. Not only would she become the first American-born player to attain this pinnacle, she would also become the first player from an expansion team to finish as the league’s leading scorer.
Considering that the 2018 Clarkson Cup willl be held in Toronto, it certainly emphasizes the feeling of full circle. Of note, Murphy and Stack enjoyed their 2013 Cup triumph in Markham. Should the Red Star become the first expansion team to win the coveted Cup, it would serve as the crowning achievement to a career that has seen Stack establish herself as one of the greatest of her generation,
“I am excited for our team. We have a really good mix of players and will have a good shot at winning the Clarkson Cup. It would probably end up being my most memorable hockey moment if we could win the Clarkson Cup this year.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/ShenzhenKRS/