Long reputed as an impact player, the arrival of Brittany Howard paid immediate dividends for the Toronto Six. Wearing the number 41, her statistical brilliance has provided a beneficial consistency, adding an important new dimension to a team eager to be in the conversation for an Isobel Cup. Through the first 12 games of the 2022-23 PHF season, her 18 points tied Boston’s Loren Gabel for the league lead, while her 12 goals paced all players.
Raised in St. Thomas, Ontario, Howard also enjoyed the privilege of playing for Team Canada. Serendipitously, her debut wearing the Maple Leaf took place during the 2019 Rivalry Series in nearby London. Also revered for rewriting the record books of the NCAA’s RMU Colonials, the chance to grace the ice, garbed in Six paraphernalia, provided a unique feeling of homecoming.
Worth noting, Howard holds the rare distinction of having played for two professional teams in Toronto. Her rookie season involved wearing the blue jersey of the now defunct Furies. Sami Jo Small, the current President of the Six, served in the capacity of General Manager for the Furies when Howard was recruited.
As a side note, Howard held a unique connection to the PHF before joining the Furies. During the league’s 2017 Draft, the Buffalo Beauts selected Howard in the third round.
Making her Six debut on home ice versus the Minnesota Whitecaps, Howard quickly established herself as an offensive catalyst. Involved in all three of Toronto’s goals, Howard made headlines by scoring the first goal of the PHF season. With her second goal of the game, the overtime winner, allowing the Six to emerge victorious in a hard-fought 3-2 final, both assisted by Kati Tabin, it set an exciting tone as such a compelling season unfolded.
Before the holiday break, Howard assembled an exciting and historic performance, providing a celebrated place in franchise lore. Recording the first hat trick in franchise history, the path towards such success entailed a great run of momentum. Having scored twice versus the defending Isobel Cup champion Boston Pride in a convincing 7-3 final on November 27, it also marked the start of a four-game goal scoring streak.
During said streak, Howard enjoyed the jubilation of the hat trick. Fittingly taking place on home ice, she lit the lamp three times on December 11 versus the Metropolitan Riveters.
Recording the first goal of the game, Howard added her name to the scoresheet once again before the opening period expired, the Six enjoying a 3-0 advantage. The second period saw Riveters backstop Katie Burt hold the Riveters scoreless, as Fanni Gasparics and charter member Madison Packer, also the team captain, trimmed the Toronto lead.
With 2:10 remaining, a defensive stalemate defining the third period, Howard led the way as the offensive floodgates burst. Scoring on Burt unassisted for the 4-2 advantage, the home crowd roared in glorious approval, the elusive hat trick now a revered reality. Following the excitement of such an historic feat, Howard and Tabin logged the assists on Emma Woods goal, closing out the contest in a 5-2 final.
Rewarded for her on-ice wizardry with the First Star of the Game, the acclaim continued with the PHF Player of the Month Award for December. Statistically, Howard’s December included eight points in four games played, also finding the back of the net for the Six in the Buffalo Believes Classic, an outdoor showcase.
“It was definitely a cool little accomplishment there, but obviously, we are way more worried about the win column. Therefore, we were happy to get those wins against New York and then we just want to keep improving and peak come March.”
Emerging as the Six leader in goals, points, plus/minus rating, along with power play and game-winning goals, such a strong showing early in her inaugural season served as testament to her prodigious talents. Reflecting on the pride of achievement, her sentiments are eclipsed by the strong focus towards team success. Acknowledging that individual numbers will fall in place through collaborative success, the most important numbers for Howard are in the win column
“It is something (that) you obviously think about in the summer and your goals within the season. We, just as a team want to keep rolling, and individual accomplishments will come. We are way more worried about winning at the end of the day as a team and being a collective group.”
With the onset of the New Year, Howard maintained the hot hand, part of a significant chapter in both, PHF and Canadian, hockey history. The city of Rimouski, Quebec played host to a weekend series, highlighted by the first-ever match between two Canadian-based teams in the PHF, part of the Montreal Force barnstorming tour of La Belle Province.
Treating the fans at the Colisee Financiere Sun Life to a tremendous display of talent during the weekend series, the opening game saw Howard log an assist in the first period. Although Elaine Chili and Marie-Soleil Deschenes, the goaltenders from the Six and Force stonewalled the offenses in the third period, plus overtime, an exhilarating outcome saw Howard rise to the occasion.
With a shootout needed to determine the winner, Howard placed herself in rarified air. Scoring twice in the shootout, propelling the Six to a highly emotional 3-2 victory, the first chapter in the Canadian rivalry added to her growing legend. As the Six swept the weekend series, Howard assisted on Emma Woods game-winning goal in the Sunday match, another 3-2 final. With the sweep, the Six leaped over the Boston Pride for first overall in the league standings.
Through it all, the combination of individual and team success has provided Howard with one of the most exciting seasons of her career. Discussing the most enjoyable facets of skating for the Six, the friendships made and the development of a great culture have contributed towards a time of pure magic, bringing Howard a strong feeling of fulfillment.
“Definitely the chemistry of the team. It obviously translates on the ice with our first half there. It has been an amazing experience. Some of the little things off the ice, those are the memories that will last a lifetime, and the friendships and the bonds, that has been the biggest thing for me. It is just the team chemistry in the locker room.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Featured image by Lori Bolliger Photography