It’s been a hot second since we discussed the best team in the NWHL, the New York ‘Dani Rylan will make this league international if she has to put players on her back and swim them across the ocean’ Riveters. The whole NWHL has been busy drafting free agents after they finished their player camps—some see October coming quicker than others (that’s a moderately low blow at the Beauts, who have thus far signed just five players… Buffalo, playin’ the long game… probably), but the Riveters have been making decisive moves in their recent signings. Loved ones, let’s take a journey…
…all the way back to late June, and the signing of Morgan Fritz-Ward. Fritz-Ward graduated this year from Quinnipiac University, where she was captain of their NCAA Championship quarterfinals-qualifying team, the Bobcats. Prior to college, Fritz-Ward was a member of the Minnesota Ice Cats, a U17 AAA team. (A short aside: the Ice Cats run a fine twitter account, @98icecats, which I highly recommend giving a follow for such gems as “Choc milk back at hotel.” But I digress.) Her collegiate career ended with a final tally of 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists), showing a record of improvement over four years—from a 16-game, one-goal season as a freshman to a strong senior season in which she notched 15 of her career 26 assists and was notable for her defensive skills.
Choc milk back at hotel
— MN IceCats (@98icecats) July 26, 2015
Next, Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Hanrahan. Guess which thing we have in common: A) a sister named Claire or B) 75 points in 140 games with the Providence College Friars. Her new GM calls her a “natural leader on the ice with a knack for finding the back of the net,” which is very true—Hanrahan had great collegiate numbers and won a ton of awards, including last year’s Hockey East Sportsmanship Award. She also played with fellow Riveter Janine Weber at Providence, which continues the trend of the Riveters choosing players who have previous experience together, as they did in drafting forwards Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa from Boston College (If it’s not a trend, I’m making it one. #sportswriting). It makes a lot of sense to find players that already have chemistry and bring them onto a new team together, rather than hoping it will materialize out of nowhere, or relying on a ‘Miracle’-esque team-building montage to get you there (“I play for the United States of America,” more like ‘I weep openly at a film for children’).
Do you like NCAA Division I National Champions? How about two-time international gold medalists? Have the Riveters got a player for you: Madison Packer of the Wisconsin Badgers.
There is very little not to like about Packer—even her least productive season as a Badger saw her putting up more points than many players do in multiple seasons—and her best, ‘breakout’ season, 2012-13, saw her earn 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 35 games. Packer makes things happen. Plus, I am delighted to report that she has the third most penalties and penalty minutes in Badgers history. That, plus Packer’s self-described “gritty style” and relative size (5’9) spells big, physical, fun play, which I’m looking forward to.
For our final forward, we have the second international player to sign with the Riveters, Lyudmila Belyakova from the Russian national team. Since the Cold War is over, and wasn’t actually concurrent with my existence on Earth, I’ll lay off of the defection angle… but it will be difficult (see earlier ‘Miracle’ reference). Belyakova is described as “dynamic,” “goal-oriented,” and “creative,” all accolades that her experience belies—she played for the Russian U18 team at the age of 12 and the women’s national team at 15. I will give us all a moment to think about what we were doing at age 12, and to feel shame. She’s now 20, making her the youngest Riveter by at least two years, but already has, according to Wikipedia, “21 individual cups and 59 medals in various denominations,” including gold at the 2015 Winter Universiade university tournament. Belyakova is, simply put, extremely good. And very young, meaning she will hopefully have years of great hockey in front of her as a Riveter. Plus, her nickname is Luda, which is incredible, because now I’m imagining her as Ludacris.
DEFENSE: (DEFENSEWOMEN? DEFENSEPEOPLE??)
When it comes to Kiira Dosdall, however, the defection angle has a little truth to it. Not from Russia—from the CWHL. While this is neither the time nor the place to get into the relative value and worth of the CWHL with/versus the NWHL, etc, etc, the competitive dynamic between the leagues has been a tense discussion in the months since the NWHL’s beginning. Like Janine Weber, Dosdall left the CWHL’s reigning champion Boston Blades to join the Riveters. (Relevant: is there a Riveter that hasn’t previously played with Janine Weber? Also relevant: more past teammates playing together! #sportswriting #trends!) More seriously, Dosdall, at 28, has an impressive record at the collegiate, international and CWHL levels—experience that will position her as a veteran leader for the Riveters. She has played for the Blades, the Vienna Sabres, and Colgate University in the last 10 years, and some of her accolades include a Patty Kazmaier nomination and a ground-breaking four-year streak on the Elite Women’s Hockey League All-Star team in Austria.
The Riveters’ other defensive signing was Ashley Johnston. The six-foot Johnston played in the CWHL in 2010… while she was still in her senior year of high school. No big deal. When she went off to Union College, she was an integral element of their team, playing every game of three of her four seasons and achieving stats that included being second in blocked shots in her senior season. And off the ice, Johnston was busy assisting in the design of prosthetic limbs for children. That sounds like a joke about how impressive she is, but I assure you, it is not. Assume that this article was written through a monsoon of inadequacy tears.
Shenae Lundberg, who played with Johnston at Union College (#sportswriting #trends #confirmed) has a whole lot of talent to her name—a 1,110-save senior season cemented her place in the books as Union’s all-time career saves record holder and one of just 21 NCAA DI women in the ‘3,000 saves club.’ Lundberg is undeniably good, and, because this is the kind of scoop only I can bring you, her twitter (@lundberg_s1), while not super active, is equivalently excellent and includes what may be my favorite tweet of all time:
Lundberg, regardless of her very real social media savvy and goalie skills, will not be the goaltender everyone is watching come October 11th. That honor will belong to the Riveters’ third international signee, Nana Fujimoto. Fujimoto represented Japan at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championships as the team recorded historic games, including their first victory over Sweden. Fujimoto, as Japan’s starting goalie at this year’s Worlds, was named Best Goaltender with a .938 save percentage and 1.52 GAA over five games.
Her signing received more mainstream media attention than any other NWHL signing so far, including a Puck Daddy exclusive interview in which Fujimoto namechecks Shannon Szabados as an influence on her game and reveals that she’s never been to New York City. As a current New York resident, all I can say is THE L TRAIN IS BACK, AND YOU ARE WELCOME. There’s a ton to be said about the influence that a female hockey player signing with a pro league will have on the game in Japan, but Fujimoto said it best in the aforementioned Puck Daddy interview: “Ice hockey is still a minor sport in Japan. To sign with a professional league in North America will have a huge impact. It will bring a bright future to the Japanese children playing hockey back there and [help] them to know more about the sport of hockey.”
With 10 out of their allowed 18 players signed, the New York Riveters officially have more than half of their roster finalized. In the three weeks that remain before the signing deadline, the Riveters will have to fill in a roster that currently contains six forwards, two defensemen, and two goaltenders. Unless they’re skittish about a Florida Panthers-esque goalie breakdown (PUT DANI RYLAN IN NET), and with Kimberly Newell as a prospect, I suspect they won’t sign another goalie this year. But with that said, a whole lot still remains to be seen: will the team favor forwards? Defense? How many CWHL defections will we see? Will I ever stop making Dani Rylan jokes? Where will the next international player be from (please say Kazakhstan)? How are any of these people going to live in New York on $15,000 or less a season? Stay tuned, Riveters fans!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Riveters signed TWO more players while I was faffing around waiting to post this– Elena Orlando, a defender out of Qunnipiac , and Meghan Fardelmann, a forward out of Boston College.