A yearlong break might have been the best thing to happen to Kelli Stack and her hockey career.
Stack, whose last on-ice tournament was the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, needed the time off after being around the game for the better part of 20 years.
“I think I was getting burnt out from always having hockey in my life,” Stack said. “I enjoyed it but I wasn’t super excited to go to the rink all the time, and there were other things I wanted to do other than shooting pucks.”
Now she’s back with a renewed energy, ready to tackle the next chapter of her career and earn an opportunity with the U.S. Women’s National team. She is also competing with the National Women’s Hockey League, as one of the top stars and forwards in the new league.
“Right now, I’m definitely in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life,” Stack said. “I think it’s because I didn’t want to come back to the team and have there be any doubts. I wanted to show the new coaching staff and some of my new teammates that I’m serious about this.
“I thought two years ago I was ready and the best shape ever, but the human body is an amazing thing and you really don’t know how far you can push yourself. There’s always something you can improve upon.”
This was Stack’s first extended break from hockey since she was 12 or 13 years old, as the Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, native played every weekend with the Honeybaked program in Detroit.
“It was such a big part of my life, and in high school you miss out on certain things,” Stack said. “My dad drove my three hours two nights a week, and that was a big sacrifice for him and myself and my family.
“I played in college and lived in Boston, training and playing for the Blades. I injured my knee [in 2013] and had ACL surgery, and you think about how much work you put in trying to get ready for the Olympics, it’s no small task. All of it just took a big toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Like some other key veterans in the program, it took a year away from the game after the Olympics for the 27-year-old Stack to rediscover her desire.
“I thought I was ready to retire, get a job and do that whole thing,” Stack said. “I pretty much worked out all summer not knowing what I would end up doing.
“The fall came around and I wasn’t ready to play a hockey season yet. I couldn’t commit to traveling all over and playing hockey.”
Instead, Stack entered team sales for a major hockey retailer and bought a house in western Massachusetts.
“Working a real job and being a normal person for awhile showed me that hockey is a gift, and to have the opportunity to play at such a high level, it’s such a short amount of time,” Stack said. “In 10 years, I don’t want to look back and have regrets and say, ‘I was still good enough at 27 to be on the team, but I made a choice not to play.
“Not playing basically made me extra motivated when I started training again. It re-energized me and made me realize that playing hockey is such a special opportunity, and to be on a team with a great group of girls is something I’ll never get to do once I hit a certain age.”
That team-based aspect and being able to bond with fellow teammates drove Stack back to the game. She signed a contract with the Connecticut Whale of the NWHL and participated in a USA Hockey off-ice training camp in Colorado Springs earlier this year.
Stack, who broke Boston College scoring records during a dominating college career, has played with the Boston Blades in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, setting franchise marks. She won Olympic silver medals in 2010 and 2014 and captured three IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals, taking the title of Best Forward of the Tournament in 2012.
Stack returns to the professional game, as she had a chance to sign with the Boston Pride of the NWHL this summer but opted to go with Connecticut.
“I want the league to survive and do well and be competitive,” Stack said. “I live equal distance to both places and Boston is loaded with talent. I want the league to be competitive and I want it to succeed, so I thought Connecticut would be the best place for me.
“I think with it being the first year of the league, we’re making history. It’s going to be a really special feeling to be one of the main pieces in Connecticut.”
Stack is also readying for the upcoming Four Nations Cup in Sweden this November and the IIHF Women’s World Championship in 2016.
With a reignited passion and work ethic, the future is bright for Stack.
“I think being around the team again, just having that bond with your friends and teammates, it’s something you don’t appreciate until you don’t have it anymore,” Stack said. “I’m just excited to get back onto the ice and I want to play for as long as I can.
“I feel recharged, re-energized and more motivated than I ever was before.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.