In just the second game of her college career, Brittany Howard scored her first goal and added an assist.
In her next game, the Robert Morris University freshman had an assist. A night later, Howard had a goal and an assist. It was the start of a nine-game string in which Howard had four goals and 13 assists as the Colonials of Pittsburgh went 8-1 and led to Howard being selected as College Hockey America conference Player of the Month for October.
Then in November — after being held pointless in several games — Howard erupted for all four goals in Robert Morris’ 4-2 victory over the University of Maine.
“They just put me in good spots on the ice and I was just able to bury the puck,” she said of her line mates in the four-goal performance.
Howard, a 5-foot-4 forward, ranks as the leading freshman scorer in NCAA Division I with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and has teamed with junior Rebecca Vint (34 points) and senior Thea Imbrogno (29) to give the Colonials a high-scoring line that has helped them to a 21-5-2 record and the first national ranking in their history. Robert Morris is ranked No. 8 in NCAA Division I in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Women’s College Hockey Poll.
It’s all a bit of a surprise for Howard, who says she came into her freshman year with no expectations other than “to try and contribute as much as I can to the team.”
But it didn’t take long for Robert Morris coach Paul Colontino to realize he had a special talent in Howard. Speaking in November to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Colontino said Howard is “the whole package” as a hockey player.
“You’ve got kind of a little [Sidney] Crosby,” Colontino said. “I don’t want to compare anyone to Sid, but sometimes you come across those players where it’s like, ‘What does this player not do?’ ”
Colontino, in fact, had been watching Howard for quite a while. Howard, from St. Thomas, Ontario, committed to play at RMU in her sophomore year of high school. She had a terrific high school career, scoring 29 goals with 46 assists — or a point for every one of her 75 games over four seasons.
Howard said she decided to commit early to Robert Morris because after visiting three schools, RMU struck her as the perfect fit. She liked the academics, the coaching staff, the program’s success and the campus.
“They made my decision really easy,” she said.
As good as she’s played this season, Howard says the transition to college hockey forced her to adapt.
“Definitely the speed is a lot faster,” she said. “Passes are crisper and shots are harder.”
But with help from her teammates — particularly Vint and Imbrogno, whom she says she loves being on the ice with — and coaches, Howard has quickly adapted. She’s taken advice and tips to heart and tried to get better to help her team.
In fact, her sense of team is so strong that almost any attempt to get Howard to talk about her own success is quickly deflected toward the Colonials’ success this season.
Her biggest thrill so far this season?
“Us being ranked, for sure,” she said.
Though she’s enjoyed plenty of individual and team success this season, she said she’s not satisfied.
“I think my overall game just needs to get better, every aspect,” she said. “I just want to be the best player I can be.”
One thing she admits she has is a strong shot with a quick release. She calls it “one of my best attributes.”
And, though she’s just a freshman, she hasn’t been shy about taking shots when she has opportunities. In fact, she says Colontino continually tells her to shoot — and she obliges.
“I think it’s a big part of my game, so I don’t want to shy away from what I can contribute to the team,” she said.
Howard said she’s worked a lot to develop her quick release, including putting in time over the summers, with her mom giving her a hand in extended practice sessions. Both her mother and father played hockey when they were younger, and Howard comes from a sports-minded family. As a girl, she played hockey with her older sister, Brooke, and occasionally with her twin brother, Cody.
It’s a six-hour drive from Robert Morris to her home in Ontario, but Howard says her parents have been incredibly supportive, regularly making the drive to watch her play.
As Colontino noted earlier this season, it’s well worth a long drive to watch Howard play.
“She gets hockey,” the coach told the Tribune-Review. “There are some people who are great skaters. There are some people who have great shots. And then there are some people who can physically do things. She can [do all those things], but when you’re talking about great attributes that you really can’t teach, she understands the game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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