Erica Howe and Liz Knox have been the Thunder’s goaltending duo since the 2014-15 season. Together, they helped turn Markham’s season around and guide their team to its first-ever Clarkson Cup victory on Sunday. Howe’s 17 save performance against Kunlun Red Star in the Clarkson Cup Final capped off an incredible year for the tandem.
The CWHL’s unique schedule is filled with weekend series that test teams in back-to-back contests. Markham’s goaltending depth gave them an advantage that the CWHL’s other six teams were unable to match. In the second game of back-to-backs, the Thunder were able to start a fresh goaltender — with the skillset of a workhorse starter — against either the opponent’s fatigued starter or their less skilled backup.
In the regular season, Howe and Knox split starts 15 to 13, which made them the CWHL’s truest goaltending timeshare. Their closest competition was Calgary’s duo of veteran Delayne Brian and rookie Lindsey Post, but the Inferno’s goalie pair didn’t put up numbers like Howe and Knox did this year. Howe led the way with a .930 save percentage — good for second in the league behind Goaltender of the Year Noora Räty — and Knox was not far behind with a .921 save percentage. Even when Markham was struggling in October and November, their goaltenders had a combined .920 save percentage.
Perhaps what stands out most about the tag team’s numbers is just how close they are. Howe and Knox do have the benefit of playing behind the league’s deepest blue line, but they were both in the neighborhood of the average SA60 among CWHL goaltenders who played at least 200 minutes this season. The similarities in their GAAs and save percentages are evidence of the consistent and exceptional goaltending that they brought to Markham all season long.
When the playoffs arrived the Thunder turned to Howe first and then chose to stick with her after her 34 save performance against Les Canadiennes. In Howe’s three playoff starts she posted a .964 save percentage and allowed just a single goal at even strength. Going with the hot hand served Markham well, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a capable goaltender like Knox waiting in the wings.
Howe may have been standing in the crease when Laura Stacey scored her overtime goal in the Clarkson Cup Final, but both of Markham’s goalies stood tall between the pipes during the team’s unbelievable 14-0-2-3 run that extended from December to the Clarkson Cup Final. In a 28 game season, the Thunder made just one in-game goaltending change. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team in any league getting that level of consistency from their own goalie platoon.
After their fourth year together as teammates Howe and Knox have one more thing to share heading into the offseason: the Clarkson Cup.