Veteran forward Kelly Babstock signs with NWHL’s Toronto expansion team

Team NWHL forward Kelly Babstock during a game in Wesley Chapel, FL on Jan. 13, 2018. (Photo by Michelle Jay)

TORONTO — Kelly Babstock is ready to have her name written in hockey’s history books.

Babstock, from Mississauga, Ont., signed with the new Toronto franchise of the National Women’s Hockey League on Saturday. Toronto’s new team was announced on April 22, and is the first Canadian city to have a club in the American NWHL.

"It’s a super exciting situation to be in, being a part of the inaugural Toronto NWHL team," said Babstock. "It’s making history, and there’s nothing better than being a part of the history books, being a part of something bigger than yourself."

The 27-year-old Babstock played in the first four seasons of the NWHL, the first three as a member of the Connecticut Whale and the 2018-19 season with the Buffalo Beauts.

She has 27 goals and 33 assists in 65 games, appearing in NWHL all-star game in 2017 and 2018.

Five other players were named to Toronto’s roster when the as-yet unnamed franchise was unveiled April 22, including forwards Shiann Darkangelo and Taylor Woods, defenders Emma Greco and Kristen Barbara, and goaltender Elaine Chuli.

Babstock says she’s happy to once again play with Darkangelo and Greco, who were her teammates on the Whale.

"It’s going to be super exciting to reunite with those girls again, and I’m excited to see what the future roster holds," said Babstock.

Babstock, Chuli, Greco, Darkangelo and Woods were all members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

The PWHPA had balked at competing for either the NWHL or Canadian Women’s Hockey League last season, instead pushing for the establishment of a single league capable of paying players a fair wage and with a financially stable long-term economic model.

The CWHL folded at the end of last season, but members of the PWHPA continue to hold out, staging their own exhibition series until it was put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our mission as the PWHPA has not changed and we are still moving forward with next season — in full force," said the PWHPA in a statement when the Toronto expansion was announced. "Simply put, the opportunities that the NWHL will provide may be good for some players, but it’s not the opportunities that we want for our players or for future generations of young girls who will play the game at the highest level."

For her part, Babstock hopes the labour impasse comes to an end and she’s looking forward to getting back on the ice.

"The PWHPA and the NWHL are unfortunately divided," said Babstock. "I don’t know why that is. I’m still wondering about that."

The NWHL was founded in 2015, becoming North America’s first pro women’s hockey league to pay its players a salary. It currently has teams in Boston, Monmouth Junction, N.J., Danbury, Conn., Buffalo, N.Y., and Saint Paul, Minn.

Babstock lives and works in Connecticut as a hockey coach and will fly to and from Toronto for games and practices. When the Toronto team visits Boston, Monmouth Junction, or Danbury she’ll just drive from home to those games.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.