Robert Morris forward Brittany Howard became the first Colonials player ever selected in the National Women’s Hockey League draft on Thursday night. The forward was selected No. 10 overall by the Buffalo Beauts.
Howard led the Colonials with 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points as a redshirt junior in 2015-16. She’ll return for a fifth season at RMU in 2016-17, as the NWHL drafts players before they enter their senior seasons.
“We’re super proud of her, the entire staff and the program as a whole,” said Robert Morris head coach Paul Colontino. “Her career previous to Robert Morris was fantastic, she made the jump to college, and to her credit she has continually got better each year. It’s a nice way to return to campus being drafted in the top ten to an NWHL team. We’re proud of her.”
It wasn’t something that was high on Howard’s mind coming into the offseason. In fact, she just found out about the draft this week. But that doesn’t make being the first RMU player selected by an NWHL team any less special.
“My friend texted me about it (the other day),” Howard said. “It’s definitely a very cool experience.”
Robert Morris has had plenty of former players play professional hockey, though, and the Beauts are a popular destination. In 2016-17, the Beauts featured three former Colonials. Forwards Morgan Beikirch and Ashley Vesci and goaltender Brianne McLaughlin led the Beauts to their first Isobel Cup championship in the team’s second season. Director of hockey operations Kelley Steadman, now an assistant coach with Mercyhurst, was also on that squad.
McLaughlin retired after the 2016-17, but a notable addition to the Buffalo roster is defender Colleen Murphy, who is the older sister of Colonials senior defender Katherine Murphy.
With so many RMU connections (Howard played her first three seasons at RMU with Vesci and Steadman was her coach for four), she was certainly aware of the Beauts, but now that she’s been drafted by the team, she might pay a bit closer attention to them going forward.
“I think I’ve been focusing on the season at hand, after our last year making it to the elite eight,” she said. “Obviously I stay connected with the hockey community, and I’m definitely more interested now.”
The Beauts are scheduled to play a game at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry this season against the Connecticut Whale on Sunday, Jan 14 at 2:00 p.m.
Howard is the second-highest draft selection in the history of Robert Morris women’s hockey. Delayne Brian was selected sixth overall in the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft. In 2015, both Rebecca Vint (No. 11 overall) and Kristen Richards (No. 16) had their rights selected in the CWHL.
McLaughlin was selected 24th overall in 2010 by Burlington, but never suited up for the squad. With McLaughlin eventually playing in Buffalo, every player ever drafted from Robert Morris has gone on to play in the professional ranks.
“As a program, it’s really exciting to see players graduating college still having a ton of passion for the game and wanting to pursue the game at the next level,” Colontino said. “As we all know, in the women’s game, there are very few players that get to play past college at a very competitive level. It’s huge.”
There’s also an obvious recruiting benefit to having former Robert Morris players having continued success in the professional ranks.
“When you see some of these top players coming out of our league, Mercyhurst has had players drafted, us obviously, it’s good in a way that the CHA is young and emerging,” Colontino said. “All of the teams get better year after year. As a perspective athlete, you see a league that is growing year after year in all aspects. Players are nominated for the Patty Kaz, players are being drafted in the top ten. All of these little things add up, and go to show how strong of a league the CHA is and continuously grows and wants to take that next step.”