A Star on the Sweater

Katie Burt

It’s a Wednesday morning in December, and Katie Burt is pissed.

She skates toward the bench and hops over the railing. Huffing, she rips off her helmet, the “Entering Lynn, 1629” sign on its reverse side now face up on the floor. Her win-loss record had just gotten even more abysmal—not her real one, but in the mini-game Boston College women’s hockey plays during practice and before every game. During it, the Eagles line up between the blue lines, a goal haphazardly placed on each, and play 3-on-3 to warm up. But once again, Burt’s two backup goaltenders—Gabri Switaj and Molly Barrow—got the best of her. For whatever reason, she just can’t find her groove. Now, she’s 1-10.

Her teammates come over to her on the bench. “Burt, you gotta lighten up,” they say. After all, it’s just practice.

To Burt, it’s not just practice. Every time you step on the ice, she says, it’s got to mean something. In-season or summer, before practice or on the sport’s biggest stage, she’s putting in the same high-level of effort. Burt always fully expects to win. And when she loses, it’s not good for anyone.

“I’m just used to winning. Everywhere I went, I always won,” Burt said this September. “And I want to light a fire under people to do it, too.”

Of course, she’s still winning, at an almost unstoppable pace. Forget the Eagles’ record book—Burt rewrote that one a long time ago. No, the BC senior has a chance to put her name atop the list and become the sport’s all-time winningest goaltender.

She stands at 91 wins in her illustrious career, tied with Wisconsin’s Jessie Vetter for sixth place. Only nine wins separate her from second place, where she’ll be looking up at Minnesota’s Noora Räty, who has 114. To add some perspective, Burt has won 30, 35, and 26 games, respectively, in her career. Based on the number of games she plays and her career winning percentage, Burt should pass that as early as Beanpot Week.

But, for all those wins, there’s only one that matters to Burt. It’s just the one win that, thus far, has gotten away.

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o one can look at a 17-year-old and seriously believe they’re going to be the best who ever played in their sport—though The Heights at least had an idea. Katie Crowley may not have thought “best ever,” but Burt was as close as she was going to get.
It’s why she didn’t say no when Burt graduated early to accelerate her path to BC back in 2014. Crowley could just see that she had something special.

“Even from when she came in as a young freshman, she’s had a confidence,” Crowley said. “It’s not cocky, but it’s confidence—she knows what she can do, and she knows how good she can be.”

As she recalled her freshman year, Burt remembers feeling comforted because she played with a juggernaut offense that featured Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alex Carpenter. That relief continued in her sophomore year, when BC scored a whopping 5.20 goals per game. There would be days, she said, when either Carpenter or Haley Skarupa could do the “heavy lifting” for her. Even last year, when Carpenter and Skarupa left, BC still finished sixth in the nation in scoring.  

Yet she has always held her own—and more—for the team. That freshman year, she had a 1.11 goals against average, the nation’s best. Sure, Burt has been helped by star defensemen—Megan Keller, Kali Flanagan, Kaliya Johnson, Lexi Bender, just to name a few. But in each season, Burt has remained dominant despite increasingly seeing more shots. Burt’s freshman year, opponents only averaged a paltry 17.4 shots per game on her. That total increased to 19.9 as a sophomore and 22.1 as a junior. And still, Burt hasn’t finished worse than fifth in GAA and sixth in save percentage. As a point of comparison, Burt’s goaltending rival—Wisconsin’s Ann-Renée Desbiens, last year’s Patty Kaz winner—averaged only 18.4 shots per game during her career.   

This season, that total is only going to shoot up. Keller and Flanagan are off to the U.S. Olympic Team, leaving BC with its most inexperienced defensive corps since Burt first arrived. It’s exactly where she wants to be.

Burt emphasizes that she comes prepared to work every day, looking for between 30 to 40 shots. As she says, when you have one of those low shot-total games, they don’t end up being shutouts because of how much time you spend stagnantly waiting. Her belief is somewhat backed up by the numbers. In her 34 shutouts, Burt faced an average of 17.6 shots—two under her career average. But she has also failed to record a shutout when she’s two shots under her average 16 times. That includes a few single-digit games in which she gave up multiple goals, such as a nine-save game against Connecticut in 2016 in which she allowed four goals.

Typically, to help her, Crowley will call out at Burt from the bench to keep her mentally sharp, or have her get a drink of water whenever possible.

“When you see more shots, you don’t have to do that because you’re always in the play,” Crowley said. “But she likes to see more shots than less.”

Burt agrees, and is actively welcoming the challenge.

“I love games when I’m constantly moving, constantly having to stop pucks, move out of the net, I think it helps my focus,” Burt said. “I’m ready for it.”

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It should be noted, though, that WBZ, Boston’s CBS affiliate, discovered Burt even earlier than Crowley. She was a sixth grader, featured in a hilariously adorable morning news package. In it, the tween Burt gets her first big break as the starting goaltender for Lynn High School’s girls’ team. She shows up to the rink, carrying all her own bags, as the team—and her dad—brag. Burt, for her part, looks similar—sans the braces—with the precise mannerisms with which she speaks today. Thankfully for YouTube, we, and to date 107 other people, can watch this gem.  Just ignore the hat she’s wearing.

It’s the ending of that piece that remains a touchy subject for Burt. Reporter Paul Burton says that, even as a sixth grader, Burt’s “long-term goal is to skate for the U.S. Olympic Team.” And unlike her teammates Keller and Flanagan, Burt couldn’t join the trip to Pyeongchang, South Korea for 2018. Burt, who has participated with the U.S. U-18 Team, was an early projection to make the team. But she didn’t crack a three-woman unit that included Maddie Rooney, the would-be junior at Minnesota Duluth who last season had fewer wins and a higher goals against average than Burt. The decision left Burt, as she said, “disappointed that I didn’t make it.”

Crowley, a three-time Olympian herself, sympathizes with Burt’s frustrations. She believes Burt will get more out of starting at BC than backing up on the national team, a role she was likely to play. But there’s no doubt to her that Burt is ready.

“The thing about goaltenders is that there’s only one a game,” Crowley said. “I think there’s reasons that they pick different goaltenders in the game. She just needs to get keep her head down, work hard, and keep proving she’s a great goaltender through and through.”

Burt, by her own accord, refuses to look back.

“I gave myself about a week and then it was time to move on,” Burt said. “I can’t sit here and feel sorry for myself four, five months after I get cut. We have a job to do—I have a job to do.”

Instead, she’s thrown herself into an additional role she has taken up on the team: leader. In a move atypical for a goaltender, the Eagles voted Burt as their assistant captain. While the two players donning Cs—Kenzie Kent and Makenna Newkirk—are likely to lead by quiet example, Burt relishes in being the vocal one from the crease. She hopes to take after Andie Anastos, last year’s captain, who she said was “the best leader that I have ever been under.”

And after the season, she’ll reevaluate where she is. Hopefully, she said, she’ll get another shot at it. She’ll be prepared—just as she was this year.  

“Absolutely,” Burt said. “Obviously, there are always things that I can improve on, but I feel that I could be there. And I’ll be gearing up for 2022.”

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But first, there’s that one more win.

Throughout her career, Burt has helped BC lift many trophies. The Eagles have won two Beanpots and two Hockey East Championships behind Burt’s pads. Twice, they’ve made it to the Frozen Four. One time, they made it to the national championship game, as part of that legendary season in which the Eagles started 40-0. For Burt, those losses can be divided into two categories: the ones they blew and the ones they just got beat.

In that first category come the games that still sting from her freshman year. The Eagles lost only three times, but all three came with trophies on the line. The first, the 2015 Beanpot Final, was a 3-2 comeback win for Harvard. Burt allowed two goals in two minutes in the second, and BC lost its first game of the year. The second, a 4-1 loss to Boston University in the Hockey East Final. And in the third, the Eagles again couldn’t keep up with the Crimson in the Frozen Four, with Burt allowing two third-period goals described by The Heights at the time as “uncharacteristically bad.” All of those have stuck with her.

“Freshman year, I think every single game we lost was in our control,” Burt said. “Those teams weren’t better than us, and those are the ones you take the hardest.”

The other category includes the games in which you just get beat. That happened several times during BC’s magical 2016-17 run, which saw two overtime winners by Anastos, the team’s unifying force, in the Hockey East semis and finals. But Burt qualifies the 1-0 Wisconsin defeat in last year’s Frozen Four as the most notable one. Unlike those freshman-year games, she said the Badgers outplayed the Eagles, plain and simple.

“We couldn’t be disappointed in that loss,” Burt said.

Her goaltending coach, Alison Quandt, brings up that game as the lead clips on Burt’s highlight reel. Despite the loss practically at the buzzer, Quandt believes it was Burt at her best.

“She really gave us a chance to win,” Quandt said. “She made some unbelievable saves throughout the game. That was a special game for her.”

As for that national championship game, she’d prefer not to speak much about it. She admits that it’s somewhere in the middle of those two categories—the Eagles had their opportunities, but also made plenty of mistakes that led to the loss.

“There’s a lot we could’ve done better, but you look at that Minnesota team and it’s amazing we kept with them,” Burt said.

The time to just keep with them is over, though. As Burt said, she hates to lose. And she believes the Eagles have proved they can play with the Minnesotans and Wisconsins—“those teams out West,” as Crowley says, that continue to dominate the conversation when it comes to women’s hockey. The only thing that holds the Eagles back from reaching that upper echelon of legitimacy and solidifying their argument is to win a national championship. Burt knows the road goes through them, especially this year, where, to win it all, teams will have to go through the Ridder Arena, Minnesota’s home ice.

It’s a matter now of getting her priorities straight, something Burt can best explain on her own:

“They way that I think of it is, freshman year, I was young, I wanted to win the national championship because I wanted to win a national championship. Sophomore year rolled around, I wanted to win a national championship because I wanted the seniors—the best senior class we ever had—to get it. It was the only thing they hadn’t done and I wanted to win it for them. Last year, we had that chip on our shoulder where we had such a great team and no one believed in us. And I wanted to win it for everyone in the room. This year, I want to win it for BC women’s hockey. Just the program itself, I think we deserve it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it, but I think being able to bring that to this program, for all the people who have put on this jersey, who have built this program, would be so special.”

Sure, the chance to be the best that ever played creeps up on her every once in a while. It’s a unique and special opportunity, without question. Burt won’t think about it on the ice—she’ll celebrate afterward, but it’s all business in the rink.

No matter what, she won’t stop thinking about getting a star on BC’s sweater—not for herself, or even her current team, but for everyone who will one day arrive in Chestnut Hill, for her coach, and for her program, so that it gets the respect she feels it deserves.

It’s a Wednesday morning in September, and Katie Burt couldn’t be more ready.

Michael Sullivan

Michael Sullivan was the 2017 editor-in-chief of The Heights and a two-time sports editor. He brought this paper to once a week and reminisces about the Wednesdays he could've had at BC. You can still follow his journalistic adventures @MichaelJSully.

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