It seems almost unfair every time it happens. And it happens a lot.
It’s late in a game, and the Whale are struggling. Whether they’re tied, down a goal or hanging desperately onto a lead, it seems like victory will slip just out of their grasp. Suddenly, a flash of a dark ponytail, a flick of the wrist — Kelli Stack strikes again, propelling her team to another win and rapidly proving her status as not only one of the NWHL’s most elite players, but also one of the league’s most clutch performers.
Stack’s numbers jump off of the screen: She’s in the top five overall in points (17), assists (10), first star awards (2) and total star awards (5). She’s been named NWHL Player of the Week once and leads her team with three game-winning goals. Not only that, she’s noticeable on the ice- much like Hilary Knight or Kelley Steadman can catch the attention of fans without even needing to check the name and number on the back of the jersey, Stack’s small stature, speed, and quick hands let you know it’s her before you’ve even realized she’s pick-pocketed the defense and rocketed into the offensive zone.
It’s easy to see that Stack is the spark this team needs. But while she’s busy with the razzle-dazzle, another Kelly is having her own banner year, albeit more quietly than her teammate. Kelly Babstock, one of the team’s more reliable forwards, has been playing equally well this season. While she might always come through with the same kind of late-game heroics that Stack does, it’s a fair argument to say that Connecticut wouldn’t be breathing down Boston’s neck in the standings without her in the lineup.
Consider this: Babstock is right behind Stack in points with 14 of her own (7 G, 7 A), good for third on her team, and that’s just with around a shooting percentage of 6.0 percent, something we can probably expect to go up in the next few games. She’s not just a goal scorer, either, but a reliable center who can win draws for her team. Stack’s face-off percentage is the highest on the team, with 0.674 while Babstock isn’t far behind with a 0.589 percent success rate — she’s won 100 face-offs so far this year. She’s taken 170 total, which is the second highest on her team behind Stack’s ludicrous 368.
Here’s where Babstock’s value really shines through- both she and Stack have strikingly similar even strength Corsi For percentages. Using the NWHL’s advanced stats spreadsheet through Jan. 31, both are hovering at 52 percent (Stack has a 0.3 percent edge over Babstock).
They aren’t only keeping control of the puck well, but they’re also generating high-quality opportunities at the ‘home plate’ area, which is from the goal posts out to the face-off dots and then straight up to the top of the circle. It’s where dangerous scoring opportunities are usually generated, and Stack and Babstock’s chances are, again, nearly identical. Both have a 58 percent Scoring Chances For percentage — likely a big factor in the Whale’s success this season and a telling factor that helps explains why both have been in the top three for Connecticut’s scoring.
Kelli Stack makes everyone better on the ice when she’s there, and that’s something that anyone who’s watched her play already knows. But without Babstock, the Whale’s depth down their lineup, arguably their biggest asset this season, would be severely hurt. She’s an invaluable asset to them.
Stack will get the nod if the team needs to win in overtime or the shootout. But keep one eye on Babstock, too. When the playoffs roll around, don’t be surprised if she steps up and continues to contribute in a big way to the Whale’s run to the Isobel Cup.