Only one game during the regular season of the National Women’s Hockey League ended in a shutout, one of thirty-six regular season games. Brittany Ott of the Boston Pride was the only goaltender to earn the honor in the inaugural season of the NWHL, though she’d pick up another shutout in the postseason as the Pride won the Isobel Cup. On May 31, the team announced that Ott had re-signed for another year, this time with a slight pay bump to $18,000 for one year.
Ott’s not breaking any records for highest paid goaltender in the league by any stretch, but she appreciates the gesture all the same. “Every little bit helps when our salaries are comparable to part-time job salaries,” Ott said in a phone interview with Excelle Sports last week. “So I’m definitely grateful to get a little bit of a raise.” It’s especially telling for the Boston Pride, when competition for roster slots is high and staying under the salary cap is a challenge.
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) December 20, 2015
While it was unlikely that Ott was a flight risk during free agency, the Pride had already attempted to explore some other options, selecting Canadian Emerance Maschmeyer of Harvard University with their first round pick of the 2015 NWHL Junior Draft. But the NWHL Draft is closer to discovery rights than anything else; and Maschmeyer has officially communicated her intent to play in the CWHL in the 2016-2017 season.
An extra thousand out of the salary cap will probably prove a bargain for the Boston Pride to lock up their starting goaltender, and one of the team’s most clutch performers.
Eventually picking up the season-end award for Best Goaltender, Ott led the league in wins with 13 and goals against average at 1.94, and finished the regular season with a 0.925 save percentage. She performed against the New York Riveters and Buffalo Beauts, posting a 1.85 GAA average in the four games in the Pride’s four game post-season sweep.
If it’s even possible for a player to be underrated on the stacked Boston Pride roster of last season, Brittany Ott would be a solid pick. While local Boston women’s hockey fans were familiar with her work from the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the attention was mostly on the big names from the U.S. women’s national team, like the dynamic scoring contributions from Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, or the proven defensive duo of Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin.
[More from Excelle Sports: On Kacey Bellamy, the Becky Sauerbrunn of USA Hockey]
Brittany Ott is the only goaltender to lift both the Clarkson Cup and the Isobel Cup, but her own contributions to the successful teams of Boston professional hockey should not be overlooked simply because there’s a talented d-core in front of her. And there’s plenty of credit from Ott on that front as well. “I think this year, the defensive core was the best I’ve ever played with. I had the utmost confidence in them on the ice at all times,” Ott said. “They were super hard-working, they always had my back even though there were a couple scrambles.”
Or that players like Hilary Knight are able to step in and cover when needed.
Ott’s tone was total deadpan humor when she brought up that one specific play. “Even Hilary had to play goal for me.”
Ott’s accomplishments on the season are even more remarkable considering that the resources she had were less than favorable (though sadly a common problem in the world of women’s hockey.) “I kind of had to be my own goalie coach this year. Our coaches would give little tidbits, and [Lauren] Slebodnick and Kelsie [Fralick] would give little tidbits here or there, but it was up to me to realize and focus on what I needed to work on that week and understand where I was at. Then I could work and build off of that.”
Accountability is a big theme with Ott, and she went plenty in depth on how that translated into success with InGoal Magazine. Without a regular goaltending coach or access to video, Ott designed her own drills to work on issues as they came up throughout the season.
The strategy worked, but despite the championship run there was plenty of discussion on if Ott truly earned Goaltender of the Year honors. After all, the Boston Pride had an arsenal of offensive weapons, a stingy defense, the team firing across all cylinders and Ott facing less shots than most of her colleagues. But the Pride didn’t have a perfect season, despite the roster and despite their record. The three-game losing streak in November might seem distant now, but proved Boston was beatable.
But if there’s a saving grace of team sports, it’s that the effects of a losing streak are a shared burden. As for Ott, there wasn’t the expectation to put the team on her shoulders and carry them back into the win column. “I put pressure on myself just to perform, but I don’t tend to let outside pressures affect me in my game. That was a tough little skid there, we just came out flat in all areas of the ice those couple games. It was tough, but we were definitely able to learn and grow from it.”
— NWHL (@NWHL) March 20, 2016
Maybe the best example that Ott doesn’t let those external pressures even register is still a moment from the Pride’s season opener back in October. In front of 1,231 fans in Buffalo at the Harbor Center, the Pride were up 4-0 on the Beauts, and time was running out in the third period.
There was no epic comeback for Buffalo, but Kelley Steadman did manage to spoil Ott’s shutout with the first goal of the season for the Beauts with just under seven minutes left in the game. As Ott skated to clear her head, a clump of Buffalo fans pounded on the glass and gleefully shouted that another goal was coming. It was a rowdy and welcome development in the game of women’s hockey; a sign that adult fans were ready to be passionate about the game.
“I was definitely aware of it, that people were banging on the glass,” Ott said, months later. “I just hear it and smirk a little bit. I tune it out, basically. I don’t want to be thinking about that all game long.
“That’s part of the deal of playing in a professional league. You’re going to have those huge crowds, you’re going to have those fans that are going to try to rattle you a little bit. You have to learn to play through it. It’s part of the experience of getting to play hockey at this level.”