9 Questions with Kalley Armstrong

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Kalley Armstrong wore #13, following in the footsteps of Julie Chu…but also Mats Sundin, for the Harvard Crimson. Photo provided by Kalley Armstrong.

Kalley Armstrong was a multi-sport athlete before she headed to Harvard and racked up 66 points in her four years with the women’s hockey team. Today, the 28-year-old Armstrong is back in Canada pursuing her PhD at Western University in London, Ontario and paying it forward to the next generation through the creation of her own coaching program, Armstrong Hockey. I’ve had the privilege of taking up space on the ice while Kalley does her thing but the real treat is learning about how she is amplifying Indigenous experiences through both her research and coaching. So here’s a quick get-to-know Kalley interview:

How did you get into hockey?

I started off figure skating at a young age but always wanted to play hockey because my dad and my grandpa were both hockey players. I started playing when I was 8 for the Leaside Wildcats girls hockey association in the house league division [Toronto]. My grandpa lived in Leaside and my dad grew up playing there as well. My aunt would drive me to games at 7am Sunday mornings, and I just loved it!

Who were your hockey heroes growing up?

I come from a hockey family, so I always looked up to my grandfather and my dad growing up as my hockey role models. My grandfather played in the NHL and my dad played hockey in college and in Sweden, and I wanted to be just like them. As far as my hockey hero, I was in LOVE with Mats Sundin the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I wore his number 13 whenever I couldn’t get my grandpa’s number 10 and tried to model my game after him. I watched every single Leaf game as a kid, I couldn’t miss seeing Mats out there. I loved the way he carried himself on the ice, his passion and leadership were undeniable.

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Kalley Armstrong playing in an Indigenous Research Hockey Network event at the Leon’s Centre in Kingston, Ontario. Photo by Unveiled Photography.

How did you choose Harvard for your NCAA career?

I was recruited to play hockey by Harvard in high school. I loved the campus, I loved Coach Stone, and I loved the thought of playing for one of the best Women’s Hockey programs in the country. So, I did everything I could to get into Harvard once that opportunity presented itself. Most days I still cannot believe I graduated from Harvard and received a degree from one of the best universities in the world. I am really fortunate for the opportunities hockey has given me.

Who was the (1) toughest goalie and (2) player that you competed against during your NCAA career?

The toughest goalie I encountered in college was Emerance Maschmeyer, who is currently a part of the Canadian National Women’s team program. She played with me at Harvard. I never competed against her in a game obviously, but she brought that intense compete level to practice every day. I could probably count my goals scored against her during practice on two hands, haha. She is awesome, and even more incredible is her character off the ice. I am so proud to call her a friend and teammate.

The toughest player I have played against is not even up for debate. I have played against so many incredible players, many of whom compete at the national level and are all such talented women. But for me, and likely many other players in the NCAA, this one was easy to answer: Kelly Babstock. I grew up playing junior hockey with Kelly for the Toronto Aeros and she is one of my closest friends. We played against each other in college, and I just hated playing against her, she owns the ice. Her talent, spirit and passion for the game is unrivalled, and she is the type of player you just hate playing against but you would do anything to have her on your team. Kelly played for the Quinnipiac Bobcats women’s hockey team and broke several scoring records in her four years there, alongside being a top contender for scoring in the NCAA every season. She led that program to a ton of success. I am so proud of what she is doing now – alongside coaching youth hockey in Connecticut and running development programs, she goes back to her home community, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, and mentors the youth.

Did you consider continuing your hockey career after university?

I would have loved to continue playing and pursuing hockey further. I was the type of player that developed much later in my career. Unfortunately, concussions were a part of my college career and they were quite serious, so I decided to stop playing after my senior year at Harvard [Editor’s Note: Kalley recently spoke on a panel at Rowan’s Legacy Symposium, a concussion awareness and advocacy event held in Ottawa]. But, being unable to play drove me into coaching, and I am so happy to give back to the game now and hopefully mentor and positively impact players now like my coaches did with me.

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What made you decide to go to graduate school?

I had moved to London, Ontario to be the assistant coach for the Western Women’s hockey program and also took up a part time job as an administrative assistant with the Public Health Program at Western. While there, I met my current academic supervisor Gerald McKinley and he encouraged me to pursue my passion for hockey and Indigenous youth. I applied to the Master’s program in Anthropology at Western, and a few years later I completed my Master’s and am now pursuing my PhD this fall. Funny how things work out.

Tell us about your Master’s research.

In a nutshell, my Master’s research centers on the stories of my Indigenous grandfather who played in the NHL. I talk about the impact of the Indian Act on our family – my grandfather’s mother was a First Nations woman and his father was Irish, so my Grandfather, his sister, and his mother did not have Indian status. I talk about the stories of his childhood, memories of his Indigenous grandparents, and stories told to him by his mother.  I also discuss our relationship and how we are trying to connect back with our culture through story. I am so grateful that my grandfather trusted me with his story, and I look up to him so much.

What are you planning for your doctoral research?

My PhD research is not quite specific yet, but I will be focusing on First Nations youth and participation in hockey. I would like to do research at both the community and national level, for example working with the Little Native Hockey League and the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. I have been lucky enough to be involved in both as a coach, and both events provide great opportunities for Indigenous youth to pursue hockey and connect with their culture.

What made you decide to start Armstrong hockey and how can people get involved/participate?

I started Armstrong Hockey because I have always wanted to make hockey development accessible to First Nations communities. Right now it is very small scale, but I would eventually love to grow my outreach to more communities throughout Ontario. My two very good friends Kelly Babstock and Sydney Daniels, both of whom are successful Indigenous female hockey players and amazing role models, are doing the same thing in their home communities. I was lucky enough to have them join me for my first Armstrong Hockey camp this summer, and I have been out to help out at their camps as well. Essentially, I want to build a hockey community for youth where they can connect to their culture, have strong role models to look up to, and access to resources to help them succeed in whatever they want to do. I want them to see their potential and do whatever I can to help them on their journey to reaching it.

I am planning on running another youth hockey camp over winter break, and then again in the summer in London, Ontario. I would love to get up to Sudbury and try and run a camp there as well, as that is where my Indigenous side of the family is from. If people are interested and want to see the things I am up to, they can follow Armstrong Hockey on social media. When we run these camps we are always looking for volunteers and donations as well. Donations help to fund these camps significantly, and contribute to expenses such as ice rental, hockey jerseys, and a provided lunch for the players. I am so thankful to have the support of the communities surrounding London – Chippewa Nation of the Thames, Munsee-Delaware Nation and Oneida Nation of the Thames have been wonderful and supportive, and their youth inspire me every day.

You can follow Armstrong Hockey on Instagram.

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