Among the highly anticipated issues released by The Hockey News, its annual list of the Top 100 People of Power and Influence is always a great source of discussion, usually augmenting debate, while tapping into the dynamic that is the people shaping and transforming hockey. In the 2016 edition (cover date January 25, 2016, Vol. 69, No. 10), a record number of women have made the list, testament to the growing impact they hold in the game’s profile.
Such sensational women include Julie Grand, the NHL deputy general counsel (who ranked highest at 31), Stephanie Vail, known for her creativity with hockey GIFs, along with Team Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, the only woman from this year’s list who was part of the 2015 edition. In addition, two members of the NWHL family find a place on the Top 100, including league founder and commissioner Dani Rylan and Connecticut Whale forward Kelli Stack, one of the league’s most recognizable and popular players.
“It is quite an honor to be on this list, especially when you look at it from top to bottom, I actually cannot believe it. This list includes the biggest names in the game and I am just so honored to represent the women’s side. We have put in so much work over the past eight years to grow the women’s game and to have it get noticed like this is very special.”
Ranking at number 68 (although there is no published criteria as to how such rankings take place), Stack is sandwiched in between Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr at 67 and current Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli at number 69. Recognizing her accomplishments with Boston College, Team USA and her Clarkson Cup with the Boston Blades (worth noting is the fact that she was the first American to score a goal in the history of the CWHL All-Star Game), THN also reported that she was the NWHL’s highest paid player, earning a $25,000 salary.
While it was also mentioned that Stack’s jersey is among the highest selling in the league, which is also a significant revenue stream for players as they earn a percentage of sales, there is no question that her signing with the incipient league, along with the likes of Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight gave the league instant credibility. As a side note, Decker, Duggan and Stack were once featured in People Magazine, while Duggan and Knight were once profiled by Cosmopolitan, propelling all of them into a growing celebrity status. Such significant star power was crucial to the league’s launch, helping make the promise of professional women’s hockey in the United States viable.
A former recipient of the prestigious Bob Allen Award from USA Hockey, Stack is helping to transform the Connecticut Whale into one of the most exciting teams in women’s hockey. Having won their first 10 games in franchise history, the Whale sit atop the NWHL’s standings, establishing themselves as Isobel Cup contenders, with Stack among the league’s scoring leaders. Among the players named to the NWHL’s inaugural All-Star Game (she also competed in the CWHL’s inaugural All-Star Game back in 2014), her presence is helping define a watershed moment for women’s hockey in the United States.
“My favorite part of playing for the Whale has been getting to know new people. Our team truly is a blend of personalities and I am lucky to have made new friends along the way. We have a lot of fun together, we are always laughing and having a good time, and we somehow find a way to win while doing it…it has been a fun season so far!”
Taking into account that the defunct Hartford Whalers of the NHL featured Hall of Famers such as Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, Brendan Shanahan, Paul Coffey and Chris Pronger, Stack’s arrival is establishing a new legacy for pro hockey in the Nutmeg State. Gracing the ice at Chelsea Piers, Stack is providing a new generation of pro hockey fans with the chance to root for another world class talent, akin to the legends who donned the Whalers jersey.
Through it all, Stack’s most admirable quality may be her resilience. Although there was a rough stretch in 2013 defined by injury, she never lost her focus. Even injured, she still possessed a winning smile and a dedication to her team that reflects remarkable character and leadership, part of an empowering positive attitude.
Such resilience and dedication may provide even greater moments to come in Stack’s sensational career. The last few years has seen a unique parallel between women’s hockey and soccer programs in the United States. After losing a heartbreaking final to Japan in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the US soccer program was at a crossroads.
Bouncing back to defeat Japan in the 2015 FIFA final, it launched the players into a new stratosphere, one of the most intriguing sports stories of the year. In 2015, the US women’s team also captured gold at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, an important first step towards redemption.
Considering that the US hockey team suffered its own heartbreaking loss at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, they are hoping to emulate the result of their soccer sisters with their own victory at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, also the 20th Anniversary of the first women’s hockey tournament at the Games. Should Stack contribute to such a golden outcome, not only may she find herself back on the THN Top 100, it may lead to unprecedented popularity, while ensuring that higher player compensation is part of an exciting future where women’s hockey in the United States truly embarks on a golden era.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from collinsvillepress.com