First to re-sign with the Connecticut Whale, Kelly Babstock was on a mission. Her Quinnipiac University friends and teammates were graduating in 2016, and she knew they would be ready to play professional hockey.
“I’m friends with them, so I’m like, ‘Come on, let’s go play for the Whale, so we can be teammates again.’”
Her persistence paid off, as a few months later, the Whale signed a trio of Bobcats with Nicole Connery, Nicole Kosta, and Cydney Roesler. Now, Babstock is unassuming about her role in their signings.
“I didn’t need to convince them. They wanted to continue to play hockey, and playing in the NWHL doesn’t take much convincing to continue your dreams. I just wanted them to be on our team because I had played with them, and they’re high-level players who deserve to be on the roster.”
Nonetheless, the three rookies point to Babstock’s enthusiasm about her experience as a factor in their decisions to sign. With a trio of Quinnipiac alum in Babstock, Shiann Darkangelo, and Chelsea Laden before her, Roesler specifically recalls Babstock’s role in her decision.
“Having former Quinnipiac players play in the league was a big thing because they were talking so much about it, especially Kelly Babstock – about how much fun she had and how great the experience was. ... It was great to hear how it was from her perspective, to have her giving me information. It sounded like she had a lot of fun.”
A second home
The Whale’s new location also helped Babstock achieve her dreams of playing with her old teammates. Quinnipiac University lies only ten minutes away from the city of Northford, home to the Whale’s new rink.
“It’s exciting. … It kind of feels like home. I’m not that far from Quinnipiac, and playing with the same girls is really comforting. It really helped me to sign with this team knowing that I have a couple connections already,” said Kosta.
The connection is strong between both current and past Quinnipiac players as they cheer each other on. Describing the feeling of having her old teammates and coaches show up to the Whale’s preseason game against Russia, Connery was a bit in awe.
“That was incredible – just a great scene to have that many of them come out to support us for preseason. A couple of us go see their games. It’s definitely really great to have old teammates to do that.”
The dream continues
The support of their college community offers the players a glimpse of how far women’s professional hockey has come and what opportunities they now have.
“It’s nice to have the fans that supported you in college, to see them in the stands supporting you in professional hockey. When I was playing in college, I didn’t think that it would be an option because the league had not formed until I got out of college, so it’s crazy to have that continued support,” said Babstock.
The rookies at least knew that there was another option, and it was up to them to recognize and pursue the opportunity.
“The biggest thing was that once college ended I wasn’t ready to give up the game, and this league has given me the opportunity to keep playing, and that’s amazing,” explained Roesler. “I’m really looking forward to stepping on the ice with this group and compete against some of the best players that there are.”
Babstock provides a returner’s insight to the opportunity, bringing up the Whale’s goal of reaching the finals.
“Everyone is a lot hungrier than last year because we finally know what it takes to win a championship. … We’re working harder to get the Whale on that trophy, to the Isobel Cup.”
Ultimately, however, all of them are nothing but appreciative at the chance they have to play professionally. Connery expressed her gratitude, saying:
“It’s definitely a dream come true. … Every time I’m given a new piece of clothing or gear, I’m reminded of how lucky and privileged I am. … It’s a privilege to be on the ice with professional athletes who dedicate their lives to this work. … It’s only a fraction of people that get to step out on the ice with the most skilled and talented players in the world, … so just being here is so powerful and fulfilling.”