Teammates since their teens with the Lady Sens, then to Clarkson U and now on to Brampton of the CWHL and the Canadian women’s national team, Ottawa’s Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray have remained at each other’s side throughout their hockey journeys
By Dan Plouffe
From the broom closet to the big leagues, Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray have been side-by-side every step of the way.
The Ottawa hockey stars’ first meeting wasn’t under the most desirable circumstances. The lone female members of their respective Cumberland Barons and Kanata Blazers competitive hockey clubs, Howe and Rattray would often come face-to-face in their makeshift changeroom before and after their teams went to battle.
“There wasn’t much space in there,” laughs Howe, who had the added challenge of finding her way into goalie equipment.
From those roots, they later joined forces as members of the Ottawa Lady Sens Provincial Women’s Hockey League organization and are now in the midst of their seventh season together – a journey that took them to Clarkson University and now to the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
“We’ve been best friends for a long time,” notes Rattray, now Howe’s roommate for the first time at their apartment near Pearson airport. “We’re pretty inseparable at this point.”
The “box” rule continued to be applied when the pair made their debuts with the senior women’s national team towards the end of 2014.
“Putting on that jersey any time, but especially at the senior level, is really special,” Rattray highlights. “It was pretty amazing, especially doing it together.”
The high-scoring forward and her veteran linemates Haley Irwin and Rebecca Johnston all finished in a tie for second in tournament scoring at the Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, B.C.
Howe didn’t see any game action as the #3 goaltender behind #1 Geneviève Lacasse, but she nevertheless fully enjoyed watching her off-season training partner at the Carleton University high-performance centre stymy all three shooters to lift Canada to the championship game shootout victory over USA.
“She was one of our best friends during the summer,” Howe says of the Limoges resident. “We were so excited. We were all jumping around. But watching Lacasse in practice, you kind of feel she has the confidence and ability, so we weren’t surprised to see her do that.”
One week later, however, it was Howe’s turn to shine in the shootout. Back between the pipes for Brampton, Howe outdueled Lacasse, turning aside each Boston shootout attempt – not to mention 52 of 53 shots before that – to give Brampton a 2-1 win, with Rattray recording the shootout winner.
“That was her best game,” signals Brampton general manager and former Olympic gold medalist Lori Dupuis, whose team began 1-5-1 but has now won 3 of 4 since Howe’s heroics. “She basically won the game for us.”
Dupuis was very pleased to add the Ottawa products to the fold on her team that features a number of other former Clarkson players.
“I think they’re coming along really great,” indicates the Cornwall native. “It’s difficult coming out of college where you’re so regimented in your bubble. Here, you’ve got to figure it out for yourself, so it’s great that they can help each other out.”
The CWHL may be the top women’s league in the world, but many players/staff still work “real world” jobs during the day prior to evening practices and weekend games.
“It’s different for women coming out of college,” notes Rattray, who won the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award as NCAA women’s hockey MVP, following in the footsteps of greats such as Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and Jennifer Botterill. “Men get the opportunity to play pro. They can kind of go anywhere and get paid.”
With national development card and provincial Quest for Gold funding, Howe and Rattray are able to keep employment to a part-time commitment. It can make for a busy schedule nonetheless. A recent example: their day begins with a workout at Hockey Canada’s Toronto home at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, then both head to their admin jobs (Rattray at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, Howe at a logistics company with an office at the airport), Rattray then instructs shooting at Cutting Edge hockey school in Oakville while Howe (who’s also a goalie coach with Canlan Ice Sports in Etobicoke) prepares a quick meal at home before their 8:30 p.m. practice in Brampton.
It’s not quite living the high life and making big bucks, but each player remains proud to be able to say their profession is “hockey player.”
“We want to keep it going as long as possible,” Howe pledges. “It’s such a privilege to play the game that we’ve played since we were kids.”
Although they’ve taken identical paths since hockey began getting serious, it’s not entirely by design that Rattray and Howe have remained teammates this long.
“Every time, we picked completely separately,” Howe underlines, noting that they were ecstatic nonetheless when they counted to 3 and said “Brampton!” simultaneously as their preferred CWHL destination. “It’s kind of funny that we chose on our own, and I guess fate brought us together, again.”
There’s one other thing that’s followed Rattray and Howe each step of the way – championships.
They won the provincial league title in their final season with the Sens, a U18 national title with Team Ontario, a U18 world title with Team Canada, and then last year, they captured Clarkson’s first NCAA title in school history.
“It was a really emotional experience,” recounts Howe, whose team downed two-time defending-champion Minnesota 5-4 in the Frozen Four final. “Right now, we’ll still turn on the end of the game and watch it, and be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that happened.’”
Part of the attraction to play for Brampton was the prospect of creating another champion team from a fairly low starting point.
“Freshman year, we actually set a record for most losses in Clarkson history. It was a whole building period, it’s not like it was a one-year thing. Our class was always building towards that one big win,” explains Howe, whose CWHL club finished in the league basement last season.
“We’re excited, with Brampton, to build something. We’ve got a great group of girls here. Down the road, hopefully all the hard work will pay off again.”
Chosen for the CWHL All-Star Game in their rookie seasons (and victorious for Team Red in the December contest at Air Canada Centre), the pair don’t want their run of titles to stop any time soon.
“(The CWHL) is kind of the only level we’re missing, and then eventually the World or Olympic level,” Rattray underlines. “That’s the next goal.”
–with files from Jamie Shinkewski
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