NWHL Goalie Of The Year Brittany Ott Talks Accountability, Success
The Boston Pride took home the very first NWHL Championship earlier this month when St. Clair, Michigan native Brittany Ott backstopped them through four playoff games with .915 save percentage and a 1.85 GAA. The next weekend Ott was named the league’s inaugural Goaltender of the Year, an award voted on by NWHL media. InGoal magazine recently caught up with Ott to reflect on the season past and what it takes to succeed at this level.
The final playoff round against the Buffalo Beauts was much closer than anyone expected. Until the middle of the third period of the final game, Boston had a 1-0 lead over Buffalo and it looked to be a nailbiter. The last ten minutes were dramatic — a shorthanded goal by Boston’s Brianna Decker, a disallowed goal for the Beauts, and a penalty in the final minute of play that had Ott facing a 6-on-4 when Buffalo pulled Brianne McLaughlin for the extra attacker.
“They really came out strong in that third period,” Ott said. “That’s when they got the bulk of their shots in the game and they just threw it all out there. We really had to be sharp in that third period to hold on.”
How did Ott stay focused in that situation, with everything on the line and all that offensive pressure? “You just have to try to block everything else out. If you start worrying about things outside of yourself you get distracted and you need to focus. Concentrate on the things you know that you can control.”
One of her tricks for maintaining focus is something she learned from Genevieve Lacasse, whom Ott has known for years and who played with Ott last season as a member of the CWHL’s Boston Blades. “She said choose two words that you can refer back to to reset yourself after a bad goal or a bad play to help you get back to where you need to be, leveled off. So I tell myself “relax” and “focus.” I say those two words and just breathe in and breathe back out. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Like when I skate to the corner, I tell myself those two words and just try to reset that way.”
After the game, Ott and her Pride teammates celebrated with the Isobel Cup before heading back to Boston where they took it to Denna Laing, a Pride forward severely injured at the Winter Classic in January. The team has dedicated their win to Laing, who is now rehabilitating in the Boston area.
“It’s one if those scary, scary moments that you never think is going to happen to your teammate, let alone you.” As much as this was a difficult experience for the sport and its fans, was more personal for Laing’s teammates. “She is the strongest person I know. She’s so positive and hardworking. She’s making progress every day, every week there. She’s doing a great job. She’s doing everything she can to get better and she’s definitely on the right track.”
Now that the season is over, it’s time to recharge. Ott will take some time off to spend with family and friends at home in Michigan and then it’s back to work, hitting the ice once or twice a week over the summer. “Just try to keep the feel of the game and not get too far away from it or lose touch. Everybody needs a little bit of a summer rest, I think.”
Summer is the time to tweak and add elements to your game to stay on top of things. Ott will be working on her post play, moving off the post, to the middle, and back onto the post. “I think that’s something that’s continually developing and changing, especially watching NHL goalies.” Ott doesn’t have the size to play the way 6’5″ Pekka Rinne does, or 6’3″ Tuukka Rask, but she does take notice of what they’re doing in various situations. “I’m only 5’3”. I can’t play too deep or too small. I play each one situationally.”
“I like watching goalies like Jonathan Quick,” she says. “He’s phenomenal, the way he moves. His lateral game is just unbelievable. I like watching Pekka Rinne. He’s excellent, just does whatever it takes to make that save. Doesn’t matter if it looks ugly or if it looks pretty, he’s just going to make that save. Tuukka [Rask] is awesome to watch, like with his post coverage, he’s down on his knees. That’s not how I play it but it’s still fun to watch players like that.”
If they do give her ideas about adjustments for her game, she is responsible herself for learning them. Like many high level female goalies, Ott doesn’t have a regular goaltending coach.
That means she has to hold herself accountable, both in season and in the summers. The Pride goalies didn’t have access to either coaching or video this past year. “It was tough not seeing the outside perspective” that a goalie coach or video sessions can provide, she says. “But knowing I didn’t have those resources, I just had to reflect after the game, remember things that happened, and just try to recreate those plays and maybe make a drill out of it to work on that next week at skills session.”
“I just had to hold myself accountable to correct my mistakes. And you know when you’re in that situation, too. I know if I missed that push, or I did half of the push that I needed to do. You can feel the difference, too. You can feel the difference between a powerful push and an “oh I didn’t realize I had to get all the way across” push. I just try to remember things like that, but not let it weigh on me during the game.”
This is a transition that many female players face when moving on from college hockey. At school, resources are at your fingertips, from ice time to extra help from the coaches. The women of the Pride on the other hand, get two practices a week, usually only fifty minutes or so.
“It’s tough to do specific work other than your crease movements to warm up. Otherwise it’s usually flow and then maybe practice penalty killing and little bit, a mini game at the end of practice. So you’re seeing shots but it’s not always as specific as you need it to be to make corrections in your game.”
The Pride players managed to coordinate a Wednesday morning skills session, where the skaters could work on their skills in greater detail. And that was where Ott was able to call her own “drills” in a way. “Playing it by ear,” she calls it.
She always has the other goalies at practice, Kelsie Fralick and Lauren Slebodnik, to provide feedback and she still talks to Lacasse on occasion. “I’ve always respected her. I played with her in 19 and Under Little Caesar’s, actually, and then against her at Providence College. She’s a great resource to have as a goalie. She’s always talking shop with me.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. The Pride dominated possession all season and Ott herself had the second highest save percentage in the league, a .925, and six more wins than any other NWHL goalie.
That sort of domination comes at a price for goaltenders, though. When you’re seeing fewer shots, the ones you face often come on the back of errors or broken plays by the team in front. “When the first shots come after you’ve been standing by yourself down there for five, ten minutes or whatever it is then you know it’s going to be like probably an odd-man rush or a breakaway even. But it’s going to have to be a good save, a big save.”
Not at all like the kind of thing that Lacasse went through this year. “She faced over 1000 shots in one season which is actually unheard of for a goaltender at this level,” Ott noted. “I think I faced somewhere around 450 [It was 400, according to the NWHL website, which hasn’t always been accurate.] I think they played maybe 12 or 14 more games than we did. That’s crazy. She had a phenomenal year, she’s a phenomenal goalie. I love watching her play.”
It is possible that in the future, the Pride will be able to provide more goalie-specific tools. For now, though, Ott will have to rely on herself and have confidence in her own game. It’s working so far.