The only thing that could keep Kelli Stack from scoring more goals was a knee injury.
The 25-year-old center vying for a spot on the final roster of the U.S. National Women’s Team that will play in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February can only be described as a goal-scoring machine. Stack was second on the team in points (5 goals, 7 assists) at the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships in Burlington, Vt. — where the Americans fell to Canada 5-4 in the championship game.
But after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee last December, she had surgery in January and was sidelined for about eight months. It was her first major injury in her career.
Last week Stack said she was “pleasantly surprised” by how her knee held up on Sept. 9 when the team took up residency at the EDGE Sports Center in Bedford, Mass., where it will train up until the Winter Games.
“That was my first real practice since Dec. 1 when my injury happened,” she said of the Sept. 9 training session. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been skating all summer but I hadn’t really gone through a whole two-hour practice. I was definitely happy with the way I played, but it’s still a work in progress.
“It’s only been a little over eight months since surgery so I’m doing little things every day to get my knee back to 100 percent. Improving on game conditioning, I think that’s the hardest part. When you have an injury and you come back, you’re just not used to the speed and how hard it actually is on your body. [I’m] just working on getting that stamina back and getting my explosiveness back too.”
Coach Katey Stone is pleased with Stack’s progress too.
“It’s great to see her back out here, she’s doing well,” Stone said. “Her rehab has been awesome, so she looks strong. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know that she has knee surgery and she’s back. She continues to look really good and she’s trusting herself. She looks fantastic.”
While Stack was injured, Team USA avenged its 2012 World Championships loss to Canada beating its northern foes in the gold-medal game at the World Championships this past April in Ottawa, Ont. That’s partially why Stack is looking forward to kicking off the U.S.-Canada series on Oct. 12 in Burlington, Vt.
“It’s nice to be able to set our sights on one specific game,” she said. “Obviously we’re working for a greater goal later in the [season], but it helps to have these big games to prepare ourselves just like we would if we were playing in a gold-medal game in the tournament. So having these games against Canada definitely gets us prepared.”
The 5-foot-5 Ohio native said that her vast experience with Team USA will help her get back up to speed more quickly since she knows what to expect at the international level. Stack won a silver medal with the national team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games and she won three straight gold medals with the U.S. national team at the World Championships, in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“I’ve played against Canada, Finland, Sweden, I know the players very well,” said Stack, whose 133 career points at Boston College was a school and Hockey East record. “I definitely think my experience will make a huge difference in coming back after my injury.”
She was also named USA Hockey's Women's Player of the Year in 2011-12 while centering the squad’s first line known as the “Stacksicles” because in addition to Stack it featured twins Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux.
Stack said she’s not sure if that line will be kept intact this season.
“It’s still very early and I think the coaches are experimenting, seeing what we have because we have some new faces,” she said. “So I think right now it’s an experiment project. I think it’s too early to tell what the lines are going to be.”
Either way, she said she would draw on her success with the “Stacksicles” to give her confidence while trying to get her game back.
“Knowing that I was probably playing the best hockey of my life the last two years, so when I think back on those times, I just want to be able to get back to that form,” she said. “It’s definitely helping me to be able to draw on those experiences and those memories knowing that I was once a really, really great player for our team. I can easily get back there if I keep working on it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.