As one of the prestigious women’s ice hockey programs in U Sports (formerly known by the sobriquet Canadian Interuniversity Sports), Montreal’s McGill Martlets hold an appeal that ranges from coast to coast. While the accomplished program has seen an exceptional number of homegrown talent grace the ice at McConnell Arena, contributing to its remarkable dynasty status, there has been no shortage of talent from Western Canada to have donned the Martlets colors.
Among the graduating class of 2016, Brittany Fouracres was an integral component of the Martlets defensive unit, blossoming into a leader and an eventual CWHL Draft Pick. Following in her footsteps is a proud group of players this season which features a prominent number of skaters from British Columbia.
Such a group has already made an impression. Blueliner Cassidy Bell (Baldonnel, BC) has shown great potential as a scoring sensation while Olivia Ramos from New Westminster, is one of five freshman forwards on the team. Joined by Zoe Todd, the Fraser Valley Phantom alum who skated at the 2014 Esso Cup, another BC native, currently in her sophomore season, is also part of the Pacific presence on the Martlets roster.
Raised in the community of Tsawwassen, BC, sophomore Nicole Howlett is an obvious presence on the ice. Towering in at 6 feet tall, the product of South Delta Secondary combines remarkable instincts and fearless play. Showing proficiency at both ends of the ice, she can take on any role required of her, continuously committed to finishing plays.
During her freshman season, Howlett scored her first goal as a Martlet in a 5-0 road win against the Toronto Varsity Blues. Statistically, her finest performance involved a multi-assist effort against the Carleton Ravens in a 3-1 final. With her season culminating in the experience of competing in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships, it was a proud milestone for Howlett,
“It was just energizing. The whole event was really exciting and it made our team come together a lot. There is a lot of pressure to perform in a big tournament and we stuck together through the whole event.”
During September’s University of British Columbia (UBC) East vs. West Showcase, Howlett made a strong off-ice contribution towards team building. Inviting her fellow BC residents to a meal at her family home in Delta, British Columbia, it was part of an exceptional time which allowed one more good time before focusing on hockey in the season to come.
Of note, UBC showed a touch of class honoring Todd in a pregame ceremony. Her father Bruce was a former member of the McGill Redmen football team, before serving as a professor at UBC. With a scholarship in his name, the chance to honor his legacy helped set a positive tone for McGill’s Pacific-raised players.
As a side note, two of Howlett’s current Martlet teammates from BC (Bell and Ramos) were also teammates together with the JWHL’s Pacific Steelers. Taking into account the vast distance separating their home province from their current hockey destination, the ability to call such good friends as teammates once again allows Howlett a treasured aspect to her new surroundings. Simultaneously, it allows all to continue to grow and develop as players, leaders and close friends.
“It is definitely cool to rekindle and play on the ice with the Martlets. We are continuing our friendship while playing together on the other side of Canada. I enjoy playing together. What appealed to me about McGill was the academics, the team, the coaches, There is just good energy.”
Perhaps the most unique aspect involving Howlett’s current season at McGill involved the visit of Doug Lidster. Having spent 10 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, accumulating over 300 points in an NHL career that included Stanley Cup wins with the Ragners and Stars, he has made a superlative transition to coaching.
Having captured a Calder Cup championship as a coach in 2014, Lidster’s hockey resume involves international experience too. Having played with Canada’s national team at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, he has also coached at the international level, a unique aspect in common with Martlets coach Peter Smith.
Both have served on the coaching staff of Canada’s national women’s ice hockey team at the Winter Games. Lidster capturing gold at Torino 2006, while Smith enjoyed the golden jubilation on home ice, part of an unforgettable Vancouver 2010 event. The chance for Howlett and her fellow BC teammates to meet with Lidster strengthened the sense of Pacific pride on a memorable day,
“The opportunity to meet him included the chance to give advice to everyone and allow us a different perspective on the game.”
Entering her sophomore season, Howlett has worked towards taking on an increased role of responsibility, while working towards making more contributions on the ice. In five games against NCAA opponents, Howlett would score a power play goal on September 25 against Vermont, a 3-2 final, while earning an assist in a 3-0 shutout win which occurred on October 14 against Harvard. The third goal in the victory against Harvard was scored by fellow BC resident Ramos
Howlett’s regular season debut signified more than a key victory for the Martlets, it also represented an exceptional milestone. Skating in opposing territory, as Les Carabins de Montreal engaged in opening night celebrations by raising their national championship banner, Howlett would spoil such festivities with an impressive two-goal performance in a 5-1 final.
With said performance, Howlett would experience two milestones in one night. Not only did Howlett score in her regular season debut, she would also assemble the first multi-goal performance and subsequently, log the first game-winning goal in her career, respectively.
“It was really exciting, definitely a highlight, especially since it was the first game of the regular season. It was definitely a great start to our season. There was a lot of energy in that game and we played against a good team. After the goal, the team just kept scoring afterwards, and it continued to be exciting.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Action shot by Mark Staffieri, Image with Doug Lidster by McGill Martlets Athletics