TORONTO — When Olivia Howe got into hockey two decades ago, she didn’t imagine she’d still be around the game in 2019.
Growing up playing for a girls’ team in an all-boys’ league in Saskatchewan, all she wanted was to earn a scholarship for school to prepare herself for when the playing days were over.
But opportunities arose for the 25-year-old after graduating from Clarkson University, and now she finds herself with the Moose Jaw Warriors as the only female on a Western Hockey League coaching staff.
"Growing up I didn’t think too much about (my future in hockey)," Howe said. "I didn’t think I was going to make it anywhere in life playing hockey.
"Not having as many opportunities in the female game, playing or coaching, it was always the plan to get a job out of university and start working right away and building up the resume. Luckily enough I’ve had some coaching opportunities land on my plate and I’m so fortunate."
Howe left Clarkson University with a business degree and balanced a full-time job and some minor hockey coaching gigs before receiving a phone call from the Warriors in the summer to meet with general manager Alan Millar.
Howe was given the chance to come in and assist with training camp. But as camp wrapped up and the Warriors prepared to begin the regular season, the organization offered her the role of coach’s assistant on Tim Hunter’s staff.
"I thought I had to jump at it, didn’t hesitate," Howe said about helping out at the camp full of young men between the ages of 16 and 20. "I guess (the team) liked what they saw and decided to bring me back."
Part of Howe’s role includes watching games from the team’s suite taking notes on anything happening on the ice, from the opposition’s power-play setup to how the Warriors forecheck the puck while playing up a goal. She’s there to point out and write down anything that the team didn’t catch in a video session. At practice, she runs specific drills and works with the players on individual skills.
She says the team has embraced her with open arms in the early part of the season, and the players are open to hearing what she has to say.
"These kids have been awesome to me so far and I think that says a lot about their character as young men, maybe accepting something a little different in allowing a female to be around the rink and in the room. I think they’ve accepted it perfectly," said Howe.
Howe was the only child amongst the four in her family that took up her dad’s passion for hockey and was in an organized league at the age of six.
She went on to play four seasons with the Notre Dame Hounds program in Saskatchewan, captaining the team to an Esso Cup national championship in 2011 and contributing a record seven points, along with Taylor Woods. That Esso Cup record stood until this year’s tournament, when Anna Leschyshyn had eight points for the Saskatoon Stars.
Howe grew up in Moose Jaw as a Warriors fan, making the opportunity to join the team all that more special.
Her parents, who are local business owners in the community that have a box at Mosaic Stadium, started taking her and her three siblings to the arena as children.
But she isn’t taking anything for granted.
Even though she is part of a WHL coaching staff, she has kept her full-time job in sales with a transportation company because she isn’t sure where the chance with Moose Jaw will lead. And she balances her time the two, unsure of what is next in life.
She hopes to continue down the coaching avenue and show younger girls that perhaps they can stay in the sport in other ways than just playing.
"At some point you’re getting cut from a team or you’re not healthy enough to continue to play," Howe said. "To be able to stay in the game in a different aspect means a lot to me."