One of the most accomplished women’s ice hockey goaltenders during the 2000s, Robyn Rittmaster is sharing her expertise between the pipes with a new generation of netminders. As a member of the remarkable coaching staff for the Ottawa Gee Gees women’s ice hockey team (which features Kayla Hottot, Erika Pouliot, Marianna Locke, and former NHLer Steve Seguin, among others), Rittmaster has taken their promising netminders under her wing.
A well-traveled goaltender, Rittmaster was born in Maine, but her family relocated to Halifax when she was 5. At the 1995 Canada Winter Games, she would participate with Team Nova Scotia. Like so many women’s hockey players, Rittmaster is also a two-sport star. “I won a national championship in soccer with the Calgary Dinos in 98. I played for Calgary for 3 years, and my sister (Dana) played hockey for McGill, and she was their team captain.”
Rittmaster attended the Hockey Canada Under-22 development camp in 1999 as a third string goaltender. “The national team development program was a good option. You see something else. There are not many options in the States, so it is a good place to start.”
Said camp also included Kim St. Pierre, the winningest goaltender in the history of IIHF women’s hockey. “St. Pierre was my sister’s roommate at McGill. You did not see many great girl goalies growing up in Nova Scotia. The camp was a week long and there were many technically sound goalies. They have a lot of experience.”
In Calgary, Rittmaster played for two well-known coaches, Wally Kozak of the Calgary Oval X-Treme, and Julie Healey with the Calgary Dinos. “Kozak was a very technical, experienced coach. When I played with the Oval X-Treme, the team had Wickenheiser and Goyette.” While she played for Kozak, she learned some very important lessons. “He taught me that you can win with any players. You do not need to be the best to win. He made hockey very simple.”
“During the (1998) regular season, there was not a lot of competition. We played the Edmonton Chimos several times. Our team qualified for the Esso Nationals, and we really had to get our game together quickly. In my first year there we won, it was during an Olympic year, and Wally ensured that we just had a no-mistake game. It was defense first type of hockey, chip in and chip out. I remember that season Dana Antal and Jennifer Botterill were picked up for the X-Treme.” The following year (1999), Rittmaster would win a silver medal at the Esso Women’s Nationals.
After the Oval X-Treme, Rittmaster played for Howie Draper at the University of Alberta. “He represents professionalism and he runs a great organization. All of his players knew what to do.” She had left the Calgary Dinos to join the U of Alberta Pandas as the Dinos had folded their hockey program in the early 2000s. “When the team folded, I was still doing my first degree. At the U of A, I was working on a masters program, and I found out the team needed a goalie.”
Just like her time with the Oval X-Treme, Rittmaster’s teammates at the U of A represented a who’s who of hockey. Among her teammates were Danielle Bourgeois (who graduated as the CIS All-Time scoring leader), Judy Diduck (who won a silver medal at the first women’s hockey competition in the Winter Games), and Delaney Collins (who would play for the Canadian national team). “The U of A won with really great players. It was really important to be prepared because I did not get a lot of shots during a game. There were intense practices, and a lot of competition.” Despite the intensity of the practices, they were still fun, “The competition was so much between ourselves. We wanted to see who could celebrate the loudest, and we really battled in practice.”
Having established herself in Alberta as one of the finest goaltenders in Canada, the next step in her career would see her move across the country. The Ottawa Capital Canucks of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (later re-christened the Ottawa Lady Senators), would serve as the next stop in a superlative career. “I knew Isabelle Aube from the Maritimes. I played for Team Atlantic at an Under-22 competition. She needed a goalie in Ottawa. As I was looking to get closer to my sister who was in Montreal, I knew I wanted to play there more.”
Ironically, a coach out of Montreal would figure in the next step of her hockey career in Ottawa. Yanick Evola, the former head coach of the Montreal Axion (pronounced Action) was assuming the reins for the Ottawa Gee Gees women’s ice hockey program. “The Gee Gees are a great fit. They were looking for a goalie coach. As Evola coached with the Axion, I knew of him. They seemed to have a good program going. Their goalies needed help a lot. The team lost Jessika Audet (known affectionately as Grandma)."
Her star pupil is former Princeton Tigers goaltender Cassie Seguin. “It is awesome to see her play. She came to goalie schools and played for the Canadian Under-18. She won a PWHL championship and has NCAA experience on a list of things that just goes on.” Rittmaster continued, “She thinks like a goalie coach. She is a good goalie and battles things thrown at her. She analyzes herself very well and is very reflective.”
"All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated"
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