On the eve of the opening night of the 2018-19 NWHL season, the 2017 first-overall pick, Katie Burt, won’t be tucked into bed nice and early with the nervous jitters about playing in her first game. All right, true, that’s in part because the Boston Pride are the lone team not taking part in opening weekend. But it’s also because Burt has some other pressing business: she’ll be working the foul lines during Game 1 the MLB’s American League Division Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
This isn’t some cross promotional tactic. It’s not because Burt won a random draw. Rather, this is Burt’s other job. It has been for the past four years. When she wasn’t snaring pucks for Boston College this past season, she was scooping up foul balls and watching the Red Sox celebrate victory after victory in the midst of an incredible 108-win season. And, if Burt is being honest, she loved every single minute of it because, at her very core, baseball is her first love.
“Obviously, I have a tremendous love for hockey, but in my heart, I think I’m a baseball player,” said Burt, a former pitcher who relied on her fastball and curveball. “The tough reality of it was that it got to a point where the guys are so much bigger, faster and stronger that it’s just not fair. When I went to high school, I was forced to switch over to softball and it wasn’t for me. That’s when I realized that my future was in hockey, and it’s taken me to some great places.”
Right about now, you’re probably thinking the same thing most do when Burt brings up her hurling days. A pitcher? Really? The obvious parallel would have seen Burt on the other side of the plate, framing pitches and directing traffic as a catcher. But Burt explained there are a lot more similarities between firing two-seamers across the plate and guarding the goal than one might think.
“You’re all alone on the mound, and you’re all alone in the crease,” Burt said. “When it comes down to it, you have to make a pitch and you have to make a save. I think it helped me a ton being a pitcher. I love living for the big moment, I love getting that big strikeout. And it’s the same thing in hockey. I love living for the big moments, the big saves. A strikeout can turn the momentum of the game, and it’s the same thing with a big save.”
Well, when you put it that way.
And make no mistake, Burt is no stranger to the big save. She’s also no stranger to the big game, either. For those unfamiliar, allow us a brief moment to run through her resume. Burt has four Hockey East titles, three Beanpots and two Hockey East Tournament wins to her name. She is the NCAA’s all-time wins leader (121), has the fifth-best winning percentage in collegiate history (.863), ranks fifth in shutouts (35) and ranks 12th and 13th, respectively, in saves (3,180) and save percentage (.937). You may have noticed one thing missing, however.
“It would have been nicer if we won a national championship,” Burt said. “I didn’t go to Boston College to break records, I went to win a national championship. It’s really disappointing throughout my four years we had opportunities and didn’t capitalize.”
That opportunity has come and gone, unfortunately, with Burt graduating this past season and moving on to her next opportunity in Boston, where she’ll be part of the Pride’s goaltending cohort. As she prepares to move on to the next level, prepares for what the professional game can bring, Burt knows that she faces a new wave of challenges. At the college level, she was dominant. It may not be the same as she enters the pro ranks, particularly with a number of Olympians returning to the league this coming season.
“I’m expecting a lot out of the competition,” Burt said. “I know the NWHL is such a great place to play, there’s so many great players and it’s going to be a grind and I’m excited for that. The fun games are the ones where you know it’s going to be a grind, where you know it’s going to be a hard fought battle, and I think every game in the NWHL is going to be like that for us.”
But the in-game battles won’t be the only ones for Burt. While her rookie campaign brings with it considerable hype, there are no promises Burt will get the bulk of the starts. The incumbent, Brittany Ott, appeared in 13 games for the Pride last season. Madison Litchfield was the third-stringer who got one game in but was stuck behind Ott and the since-departed Brianna Laing on the depth chart. All three will compete internally for crease time. Although, to hear Burt tell it, she couldn’t care less how the starts shake out. “I want to win the Isobel Cup,” Burt said. “That’s about it. If that means I sit on the bench for 15 or 20 games, so be it. I just want to succeed and whatever coach thinks will put us in the best position, I’m all for it.”
Burt knows full well, though, that when she does get the call, there will be certain expectations. As a game-stealer in college, one who was leaned upon heavily and started 35 or more games in every single season in the NCAA, that onlookers will be anticipating more of the same in her first season in the NWHL.
“People can think whatever they want. It doesn’t really bother me,” Burt said. “I think pressure is what you put on yourself, so I’m just going to go out there and give my team a chance to win every game. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do.”