When her campaign with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association was wrapping up earlier this year, Katie Burt didn’t know where she would play next.
She knew she was ready to move on, knew she was longing for the consistency of the regular schedule, with set games and practices, that the PHF could provide and even knew where she hoped she could suit up. A Massachusetts native who starred at Boston College and played her first post-NCAA season with the Boston Pride, she wanted to pull on the black and yellow once again.
But when Burt called Pride coach Paul Mara in the spring, she wasn’t sure how he would respond. The two had formed a bond three years prior during Burt’s lone season in Boston, and Mara had respected and supported her decision to leave for the PWHPA ahead of the 2019-20 season, but the Pride are fresh off an Isobel Cup victory and were set to bring back their title-winning goaltending duo. With good reason, Burt had uncertainty about whether Mara would want to carry three goaltenders.
Turns out he didn’t need much persuading to bring aboard the winningest women’s goaltender in NCAA history. “Katie’s a top-tier goaltender in not only our league but in the world,” Mara said. “To add a player of her caliber to our team, it’s one of those things where we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
That’s not to say the door was opened wide for Burt to step right into the top job. Loyalty to his goaltenders is important to Mara, and he wasn’t about to send either Lovisa Selander, who won the league’s top goaltender honor the season following Burt’s departure, or Victoria Hanson to the back of the line. And Burt wouldn’t have expected – or wanted, for that matter – it to be any other way. “I’m one of the most competitive people I think you’ll ever meet. Everything I do is a competition. Whether or not that’s good or bad is not for me to decide,” Burt laughed. “I knew coming in I was not going to be the starter. There was by no means any time that was going to be promised or anything like that. You have to earn every second. And to be honest, I welcomed that. That feeds right into the type of player that I am, the type of person that I am.”
That attitude shone through in training camp. Mara noted the growth he had seen in Burt off ice, a newfound maturity that comes with seasons spent outside of the collegiate game, and said the 24-year-old was “that much better” than she was when she stood in Boston’s blue paint during the 2018-19 campaign.
Specifically, Mara cited Burt’s intensity – sounds about right – and how hard she battled on every single shot that came her way. The changes Mara has seen in Burt are no mirage, either. Burt has made a number of changes to her game, tweaking it to become the goaltender she believes she should be. That means working on her stance, changing her depth in the crease and fine-tuning the details. But the technical side is just one aspect.
“Mentally, I think my game has grown exponentially,” she said. “I’m starting to understand the game more. That’s what stinks about being a goalie, the only way you learn that stuff is by watching hockey or playing hockey and getting those reps, which is why goalies tend to develop a little later. But I really feel like I’m hitting my stride with that understanding of the game and hockey IQ.”
In large part, Burt credits the development of her technical and mental game to the work she does at Stop It Goaltending, where she acts as the women’s director of goalie development and recently took on a role in hockey operations.
Not only has it provided her the additional ice time she could only find in this line of work, but the concentration on all things goaltending has also allowed her to develop a deeper understanding of the position. “Being able to understand something is one thing,” she said, “but being able to explain it in layman’s terms to anyone from a mite to a 25-year-old is a totally different skill and concept.”
And if the proof is in the pudding, Burt’s made it clear how prepared she was for life back in the PHF with a 27-save shutout in her first game in the circuit in three years. The 1-0 victory, a rematch of the Isobel Cup final against the Minnesota Whitecaps, came the day after the two teams had traded blows in a 6-4 Pride victory.
“It was a really gritty win by our team, and we blocked a ton of shots, and everyone was laying it on the line to get the win,” Burt said. “To be a part of that was really special. Nothing was given to me. I had to earn every second I played that game. I had to earn that start. Earning that win was really rewarding for me, and getting that shutout was the cherry on top.”
She understands full well, however, that one shutout isn’t about to win her the job for the season, nor is Mara about to name a clear-cut No. 1 when there is no one forcing his hand. The Pride coach quipped that there’s no handbook to running a three-goalie rotation and that he had no idea how he was going to manage the trio as the season progressed. For her part, Burt doesn’t seem to be sweating it. Whether it’s watching from the stands as the third netminder or playing several games on the bounce, her goal remains singular.
“I just want to go out there and give our team a chance to win every game that I play,”
she said. “I want to help our team win games. Whatever my role is, however it shakes out to be at the end of the year, is to be decided, but every time I step foot on the ice, I want to give our team a chance to win the game.”