26 June, 2018

Remarkable Teammates Howe and Rattray Reflect on Third Terrific Title Win



When Brampton Thunder legend Lori Dupuis took on the role of General Manager after hanging up her skates, she helped put some of the key pieces in place that would form the core of a championship team. Among her greatest, and perhaps, shrewdest draft picks, involved a pair of teammates and lifelong friends. When the Thunder transplanted into Markham, Ontario, capturing their first Clarkson Cup, it signified the third championship that Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray enjoyed as teammates.

In this decade, no pair of Canadian-born teammates has enjoyed such a fascinating ride, especially at so many different levels of play. Such a revered and spectacular legacy in the game found its roots in Canada’s Capital Region, where both were raised. Although iconic players Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight have also gained championships at the NCAA, IIHF, CWHL and NWHL level, neither were raised in the same community (or state), which only makes the story of Howe and Rattray so much more legendary.

“Rattray and I were joking about how it is our 10-year anniversary as teammates and how the Clarkson Cup would be a nice way to celebrate this anniversary. We have been through it all together no doubt, all the highs and lows that hockey can bring you. We were part of a Clarkson University team that set a record for most losses in program history in 2010/11 but then went on to win the NCAA in 2014.

As the Thunder we were the only team not to make playoffs in 2014/15 but went on to a Clarkson Cup victory in 2018. To go through all these roller coasters with the same person by your side creates a friendship like no other.

When you are part of a team it isn't the wins and losses you remember, it is who was sitting next to you through the whole thing and I am very happy to have an incredible person like Jamie by my side.”

Teammates at the PWHL level with the Ottawa Lady Senators, which saw long-time NHL veteran Luke Richardson serving as head coach, their prominence propelled them into international play at an early age. Donning the Maple Leaf in 2010, a magical year that had seen Canada’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams each capture gold at the Vancouver Winter Games, Rattray and Howe added to that magic. Both were part of a historic team which resulted in Canada capturing their first-ever gold medal at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds.

The Canadian roster would feature Erin Ambrose, a future teammate at Clarkson, along with Jessica Campbell, who would also serve as a team captain at the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, an event which saw both Howe and Rattray participate. Both playing for Team Red, Howe would gain the win, while Rattray placed her name on the scoresheet with a third period goal.

Other notable players on that revered Canadian roster included Emily Clark, Sarah Davis, who would become the first Newfoundlander to play for the national senior team, along with Jillian Saulnier and Kelly Terry. As a side note, the team would gain cardboard immortality, featured on hockey cards in Upper Deck’s 2011 World of Sport trading card set.

Committing to the Clarkson Golden Knights in Potsdam, New York, the presence of Rattray and Howe was part of a fascinating time, transforming the program into a nationally ranked powerhouse. While eventual recruits such as Ambrose, Renata Fast, Shannon MacAulay and Cayley Mercer were just as crucial in shifting the balance of power in the ECAC Conference, Howe and Rattray served as the catalysts.

Having closed their collegiate careers by leading the Clarkson Golden Knights to their first ever Frozen Four national championship in 2014, Howe and Rattray would emerge as members of the finest draft classes in Thunder history, one which also included first pick overall Laura Fortino, who skated for ECAC rival Cornell. Undoubtedly, it constituted a collection of talent that was destined to shift the CWHL’s balance of power. Said class also included Carly Mercer, plus Fielding Montgomery and Ellie Seedhouse, members of the Cup championship team.

Although Howe was selected 16th overall that year, she would be the first goaltender taken, her career proving that she would be the finest one taken in said draft. Appropriately, Fortino, Howe and Rattray would all be members of the CWHL All-Rookie Team in 2015, quite possibly the greatest ever assembled. Joining this titanic trio on the All-Rookie Team included Jessica Campbell, an eventual winner of the league’s Humanitarian Award, along with Boston Blades superstars Brianna Decker and Monique Lamoureux.

In spite of the fact that their collective rookie seasons resulted in missing the playoffs, which resulted in the Thunder acquiring Ivy League standout Sarah Edney with the first pick overall in 2015, the promise of players such as Howe and Rattray was coming to realization. As a side note, MacAulay, who would score the greatest goal in Golden Knights history, logging the game-winner versus Minnesota in the national championship game, would also call Rattray and Howe teammates with the Thunder the following season.

Drafts in succeeding years also brought together key pieces of the championship puzzle. From the outset, the 2015 class involved first pick overall Sarah Edney, who would go on to compete with Buffalo in the 2018 Isobel Cup Finals. Afterwards, picks Becca King, Jenna MacParland and Kristen Richards would all emerge as key contributors in the run to the Clarkson. One year later, 2016 brought former IIHF U18 Women’s World gold medalists in Laura Stacey and Taylor Woods. Worth noting, it was Stacey that would log the Clarkson Cup winning goal in overtime.

The gradual rise to respectability, plus a return to postseason in 2016, Howe and Rattray were among the cornerstones of such success. During 2014-18, Howe paced the Thunder in wins (28), while Rattray was the leading scorer (102 points). Certainly, the 2017-18 season marked a turning point in their compelling careers. With the club relocating from its only home in Brampton to a new beginning in Markham, the result was providing a new fan base with a championship, making history as the league’s first franchise based in York Region to claim the coveted Clarkson Cup.

“It's pretty special to bring back this championship to Markham, especially because they have welcomed us with nothing but open arms this past year! Everyone from the mayor to the community it as been amazing.

Being a part of both chapters of the Thunder has been very special to me, to be able to start the Markham chapter with a championship is pretty special. I think also after the year we had with all the ups and downs this group of girls are truly the most deserving of this championship.”

The sensational season included many other proud milestones for the women who donned the Thunder’s green and white. From Liz Knox becoming the franchise’s all-time winningest goaltender, to Karolina Urban playing in her 75th career game, to Dania Simmonds tying the league mark for most consecutive games played, both Knox and Rattray added their name to this distinguished list of franchise highlights.

Heading into the season with 20 career wins and 1,267 saves, Howe reached a pair of statistical metrics. With eight wins this season, she surpassed the 25-wins mark, joining Cindy Eadie and Liz Knox in this category. Posting 451 saves (two shy of her career high), Howe now boasts over 1,500 career saves. As a side note, she would also post career bests in goals against average (2.18) and shutouts (three).

Ranking fourth in the race for the Angela James Bowl with 39 points, Rattray was the only member of the Thunder to reach the top 10 in league scoring and average more than one point per game. Ranking second in goals scored (trailing league leader Kelli Stack by four markers), Rattray reached the proud milestone of 50 career goals and 100 career points.

The landmark 100th point would take place on March 10, 2018 in a convincing 8-0 shutout versus the Boston Blades. Such a contest was filled with plenty of emotion, as it signified the return of Laura Fortino, Jocelyne Larocque and Laura Stacey to the Thunder after appearing in the 2018 Winter Games with Canada’s contingent.

Already holding a 1-0 advantage as Stacey logged her first of the game, Rattray scored at the 15:20 mark of the first, unassisted. Serendipitously, Larocque would gain her first assist of the season on Rattray’s second goal of the game, a short-handed effort that saw the Thunder extend their lead to 4-0 in the second period. Logging a third period assist on a power play goal by Kristen Richards, it capped off a sparkling performance by Rattray. Fittingly, it was Howe who earned the shutout, also garnering Third Star of the Game honors. Rattray would be recognized as Second Star while Laura Stacey, who would score the Clarkson Cup clinching goal, gained the First Star nod.

Capturing the Jayna Hefford Trophy, named in honor of the Thunder’s all-time leading scorer, the honor recognizes the league’s Most Outstanding Player as voted on by the players. Becoming the first player in Thunder history to win this prestigious prize, it signified a major milestone in Rattray’s career, complementing the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award that she garnered in 2014 with Clarkson. Not only has she followed in Hefford’s footsteps, emerging as the anchor of the Thunder offense for her generation, the recognition has allowed her to truly take her place among the league’s elites,

“I still cannot believe it happened, I am truly humbled by it all, to think about the talent that is in this league and they chose me as the winner....it is still crazy to me. I truly just love coming to the rink everyday and working hard, and I think that is also a tribute to my teammates for the type of people they are. It truly was an amazing atmosphere every day at the rink and as a player that's something you always look for in a team.

Also to win a trophy with Jayna's name on it is pretty special. She is a player that I grew up admiring and now have the pleasure of calling my friend; it is pretty damn cool. She is the type of person that her peers always looked up to because of her work ethic and professionalism. Still to this day, she exemplifies all those qualities, so yes....it is pretty damn cool...(smiles).”

Howe would also add to the haul of hockey hardware for the Thunder. Gaining well-deserved recognition as the MVP of the Clarkson Cup. Posting a brilliant undefeated record throughout the postseason, Howe was crucial in the Thunder eliminating the defending champion Canadiennes de Montreal in the semi-finals. Recording 17 saves in the Finals, as the Thunder faced an ambitious Kunlun Red Star group that was determined to become the first expansion team to win the Clarkson Cup, the recognition was truly an affirmation of Howe’s status as a big-game goaltender, displaying a tremendous proficiency to rise to the occasion; a key factor towards instilling confidence in her Thunder teammates that a victory was possible.

“To be named the Clarkson MVP was a huge honour. I was just so excited for our team to win that I can honestly say I did not expect it at all.  As a goalie you are just so appreciative of the efforts of the players in front of you and I know as a player it was truly a team effort that got me the title of Clarkson Cup MVP.

Off the top of my head I can think of at least dozen plays where players threw their bodies in front of pucks or had a huge back check that could have been the difference in the playoffs. It was the little things that made our team successful.”

Playing against Noora Raty, the first European-born backstop to be recognized as the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year, Howe displayed an amazing grace under pressure in the Finals. With a hockey resume that includes two Winter Games bronze medals, plus an Outstanding Player Award at the IIHF Women’s Worlds, Raty was one of the crown jewels for the Red Star.

The other key acquisition for the Red Star was American Kelli Stack, a two-time silver medalist in the Winter Games and former Bob Allen Award winner, whose previous stint in the CWHL included a Clarkson Cup victory in 2013 with the Boston Blades. Becoming the first American to win the Angela James Bowl, Stack also captured the league’s MVP Award in 2018. Coincidentally, both Rattray and Stack participated in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, with Rattray on Team Red and Stack with Team White. Undoubtedly, the matchup of Stack vs Rattray, as the Most Valuable Player and Most Outstanding Player battled for hockey supremacy, was another intriguing subplot in this year’s Finals.

As Howe matched up against Raty between the pipes in the Finals, it emphasized one of the key themes of the 2017-18 CWHL season: great goaltending. Taking into account that each team in the league, including the expansion Red Star and Vanke Rays, featured at least one goaltender with international experience, the quality of talent between the pipes was quite possibly the most outstanding in league history.

Such a splendid sorority included Delayne Brian (Calgary, Canada U-18), Elaine Chuli (Vanke, Canada U-22), Lauren Dahm (Boston, USA U-22), Emerance Maschmeyer (Montreal, Canada U-18/Senior) and CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small (Toronto, Winter Games gold medalist 2002). Undoubtedly, the chance for Howe to compete against someone as accomplished as Raty for one of the biggest prizes in women’s ice hockey was the ideal finish to such a season built on elite goaltending, simultaneously resulting in a tremendous source of motivation for Howe,

“I think one of the things that made this year so special was the incredible goalie battles that went down throughout the year. When you look down the ice and you see a world class goalie like Noora Raty you know your team is going to have to work for every chance they get.

As the goalie on the other side of the rink you just want to keep things clean and simple to give your team the best shot at winning. The goalie battles in the CWHL were a theme all year and I think having these battles prepared me for the Clarkson Cup Final, so I knew what I had to do and I could just go out there and play my game and have some fun.”

Considering that both Howe and Rattray have suited up for Canada’s national team at all three levels of play (U18, U22/Development, Senior), the championship asserted their status as world-class players, reaching a legendary status that deserves to be an integral part of modern sporting Canadiana.

Having achieved so many milestones with Howe, the chance to win the Clarkson Cup together is the crowning touch to a decade of dominance. In discussing the impact of winning a third title together, Rattray displays a symbiotic rapport. With minutes remaining in a scoreless third period of the Finals, a moment of levity was one that indicated to Rattray that another championship would be in their grasp, affirming their lasting legacies,

“Oh boy, where do I start with Howie? I have had the pleasure of playing with her for ten years...straight. Pretty amazing! I do not think there are too many people that can say they have done that. Our relationship has grown over the years on and off the ice and I think that is what makes this moment special with her; we are teammates, training partners and best friends.

I get to see her work ethic every single day, and there is no person that deserves this more than her, she is the calming piece of this team, she is so consistent, seriously though...in ten years I have not seen too many performances that are short of amazing.

At one point during the championship game, with two minutes left in regulation, she had come out of her net to play a puck away from Alex Carpenter. After that, I look down in the net and she has both her hands on her chest laughing at Liz Knox on the bench.

That right there (was when) I knew we were going to win. When your goalie is so calm and confident like that, it truly radiates through the whole team. We have had the opportunity to win at a lot of levels, this one is special just like all the others.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images obtained from:

 

Photo credits: Sean Elliott (Frozen Four), John Hassett (Patty Kazmaier Award), Teri Di-Lauro (Howe Raising Cup)

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