The Home Stretch: New York Riveters Take a Run at Redemption

The less said about the February 7th game pitting the New York Riveters against the Boston Pride, the better. At home in Brooklyn, the season-long Riveters slump continued as the Pride blew them out in a 6-1 finish that briefly catapulted the Pride to #1 in the league. Even though the Riveters’ discipline (not always their strong point, particularly in high-scoring losses) held out, with the team only taking three minors throughout the game, they were unable to capitalize on any of the eight penalties assessed overall against Boston. The lack of power play goals was particularly frustrating as the Pride took five of their eight penalties in the second period, including a six-minute stretch during which the Riveters were playing 5-on-4 or 5-or-3 and still failed to score. I’ve been uncomfortable criticizing people for doing things that I can’t do myself (i.e. ‘playing professional hockey’ ‘playing hockey at all’ ‘lacing ice skates properly’), but playing almost half of the period with the player advantage and yet failing to score is particularly egregious. Unfortunately, it was on this particularly unflattering note that the Pride and Riveters parted for the regular season—whether or not they’ll face each other in the playoffs remains to be seen.

The lone Riveters goal in that match-up came from Belyakova early in the game, marking her fifth of the season. Her growth this season has been, uh, one of the few fun parts of being a Riveters fan. Luckily, this past weekend’s game against the Buffalo Beauts provided a glimmer of joy in a sea of defeat, like a beautiful shootout lighthouse. The Riveters’ final home game and their third-to-last of the season, the game was also the Beauts’ opportunity to clinch third place in the league. You can guess what that would have meant for the Riveters… that’s right, another first-place draft pick!!!

But as you may have heard, in the game of hockey it is a good idea to believe in miracles. (You can rip the Miracle references from my cold, dead, cliché hands, y’all.) And so, in a back-and-forth game that, frankly, looked like it could have gone either way, the Riveters beat the Beauts in the shootout, 4-3, on Valentine’s Day. Love is real.

Though, actually, I’m not sure it could have gone either way. The Beauts way outshot the Riveters (41-29, and 6-3 in overtime), including 16 shots in the first period alone, and it seems only right that Nana Fujimoto was named second star of the game. The Rivs’ Fardelmann opened up the scoring early in the first period, a goal that wasn’t answered until the next period, when the Beauts scored twice in three minutes. The third period opened with the Riveters down a goal—never somewhere they like to be, but considering they’re usually down 3-4 goals at that point… not bad. Less than halfway through that final frame, the Rivs’ Fritz-Ward scored to tie it up, but Buffalo pulled ahead again a minute later. With the score sitting at 3-2, the Riveters needed to find their urgency and their legs on the power play, especially after the last Pride game (of which we will no longer speak. That way madness lies). Bray Ketchum came out swinging on the power play to score the tie goal, forcing overtime. (And there was much rejoicing.)

Overtime yielded nothing, but an anxiety-producing shootout (is there any other kind?) brought two good shots from Ammerman and Dosdall, which was enough to lift the Riveters over the Beauts for a 4-3 final. Deep breath. A win. What a feeling.

This exhilaration, however unfamiliar and lovely it may be, is also probably shortlived—because as soon as you do the math (for me, this will be several days of confused squinting later), it’s all there. The numbers don’t lie. The only way the Riveters could overtake the Beauts in points would be for the Riveters to win both of their next two games outright and the Beauts to lose both in regulation. In any other case, (OT losses, etc) the Beauts can match or easily overtake the Rivs.

Do I doubt that the Riveters can do it? Frankly, yes. They would have to improve their win percentage an improbable amount and do so in a streak, including a final game against the Connecticut Whale (who have been in continuous contention with the Pride for first in the league over the last few weeks). I think the Rivs are tired and injured and cold and their rink is really far away and also, probably, they are simply not the best team in the NWHL. In fact, it seems pretty likely that they’re the worst. In this big, weird, dubiously financed, confusingly managed experiment that has been the inaugural NWHL season, someone has to be.

And yet I’m still all in on this team—through the next two games, through the playoffs and (hopefully) beyond. The Riveters aren’t done yet, and neither am I. Maybe one day they’ll reward that faith. And maybe someone will finally #GetCelesteBrownAGoal2k16.

(Celeste Brown is the only Riveters forward to have played all 16 games and not have a goal. Obviously, goals aren’t the only thing that matters in hockey, but Celeste Brown seems chill and I personally would like this for her. This is my #JohnScottMVP moment and also the hill I will die on.)

Catch the Riveters against the Beauts again on 2/21 on the road in Buffalo. Keep the faith, y’all.

Fun Facts about the New York Riveters as of January 28th, 2016

With the All-Star Game done and just five games left, the final month of the NWHL’s regular season doesn’t look exceedingly hopeful for the New York Riveters. Tied for last place in the league (…wassup, Beauts? I regret all the smack I talked about you in November), our favorite Brooklyn hockey team (transferring trash-talk to the Isles seems like a safe bet) will end the season in either last or second-to-last position.

FUN FACT: Even if the Riveters won all of their remaining games in regulation and nobody else won any games at all, the Rivs would still be in third.

Hey, but at least they’re still going to the playoffs!

FUN FACT: Every NWHL team is going to the playoffs.

So it seems pretty likely that when we watch the Riveters throughout February, we’re not looking at the first-ever Isobel Cup champions. This is not resignation, it’s realism—and while being a fan of a winning team is more fun, I’m as comforted by the ‘making history’/‘play for her’ angle as ever. And hey, speaking of making history…

FUN FACT: The New York Riveters made history by trading goalie Shenae Lundberg to the Connecticut Whale for goalie Chelsea Laden, the first trade to take place in the NWHL.

I’m no scout, and the sample size for both players in this league is almost laughably small—one game apiece. Laden played a full game against the Beauts early in the season, coming away with a save percentage of 0.947%, and Lundberg played 28 minutes, of a game for the Rivs, facing 32 shots and saving 28 of them. Both have been injured for the majority of the season, Laden with a broken finger and Lundberg with an ankle injury.

At this point, Riveters appear have a strong goaltending situation. Between Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens, goalies haven’t been the major problem that the Rivs have faced this season—but Laden’s injury seems to be less severe than Lundberg’s, and she also comes at a thousand dollar discount ($14,000 to Lundberg’s $15,000), which, with a $270,000 salary cap, never hurts.

FUN FACT: I like this trade! Why not, right? Does it kind of feel like the league just wanted to remind everyone that trades were still a thing that could happen? Sure! Whatever! You do you, NWHL.

The Riveters play the Beauts on Sunday—the first of three games remaining against Buffalo. Standings-wise, the Beauts appear to be the most even matchup for the Rivs, so these three games will hopefully be a chance for the Riveters to build their confidence going into the playoffs in mid-March. As far as the league’s likely contenders, the Whale and Pride, the Riveters play both teams once more before the season where history began draws to an end.

New York Riveters Lose 6-1 To Connecticut Whale

Y’all, it was all looking so good. Well, it was looking less like the New York Riveters would be unchangeably ‘riveted’ (…get it) to their third place position in the standings, at least.

After the last meeting between the Connecticut Whale and Riveters ended in a shootout, and the Riveters capably took down the Buffalo Beauts 7-3 the time before that, it didn’t seem like too much to think they’d settled into their play as individuals and as a team, and the huge disparity between the top two teams of the NWHL and the bottom two might start to level out. At the halfway point of the season (this game was number 10 of 18 regular season games), it certainly seemed like the right time for the Riveters to get their feet under them.

And then… 6-1, Connecticut Whale wins. So, maybe not on the whole “comeback time” thing.

The score, as remarkably lopsided as it is, wasn’t even the most unbelievable part of the game—not by a considerable margin. While of course I’d love to diminish the severity of being beaten by five goals (the Rivs’ worst defeat since October 18th’s 7-1 Boston Pride victory) (wailing emoji), there were real issues beyond the Riveters’ inability to find the back of the net or shut down the Whale offense.

The game started slow, with only a few shots on goal from each side and no goals through the first ten minutes. Even after the Rivs’ Packer went to the box for crosschecking, and the Whale’s Darkangelo scored on the powerplay to make it 1-0, the first period was notably sluggish for both teams. Line changes for the Riveters looked a little slapdash, and as early as fifteen minutes into the game Fritz-Ward made full use of her ‘A’ to voice concerns about the officiating.

The issues with the officiating were less apparent to me, watching via Cross-Ice Pass but undeniable through the second. Speaking of, I commend the league on the improved quality of that product. Well, barring the outage in the second period. But we remember what it was like in October, right? Right. Meanwhile, the Whale racked up the points—or, rather, Shiann Darkangelo racked up the points. With a natural hat-trick off of a powerplay, a shorthand, and an even strength goal before the game was even half over, Darkangelo was the Whale for a little while there. Frustration was (understandably) growing for the Riveters, especially as the Whale’s Doyle scored to make it 4-0 a mere four minutes into the third.

Nana Fujimoto went out after the fourth goal against, and Scrivens took over in net. Only a few minutes after coming in, Scrivens received the gift that keeps giving… Danielle Ward of the Whale charging the net. While Ward was sent to the box, the Riveters, including Hanrahan, were visibly incensed. The game had been relatively rough up to that point, with four penalties served by each team, but, like I mentioned earlier, there were calls being consistently missed.

At about 11:30 into the third period, there was a serious mishap including a Whale player’s stick and Madison Packer. The specifics weren’t clear, it seemed, to anyone, but it ended with Packer injured. It took quite awhile for her to sit up, let alone to stand and skate, assisted, from the ice. She left the game and there was no designation of any kind of blame as far as penalties went, but it was a truly unnerving moment and I’m sure I join the rest of the women’s hockey world in wishing Madison Packer all the best in her recovery.

That incident, plus a long 50 minutes of uncontrolled play and the undignified cherry on top that was Kelly Babstock’s devastating fifth unanswered goal for the Whale, were just a few of the apparent causes of the Not Great Thing that happened with seven minutes left in the game. Call it what you will (and Twitter certainly did)—line brawl, ‘a few punches to the head,’ donnybrook—the Riveters and the Whale got into it. As far as I can tell, the Rivs weren’t pleased with the Whale’s treatment of Scrivens, and as Riveters captain Ashley Johnston played bodyguard in front of the net, a Whale essentially leveled her (the penalty went to Long, but initial reports were Dougherty—I can’t say with absolute certainty which player began it). It was a case of players taking out their frustrations with the game, and taking matters of on-ice justice into their own hands as they felt it wasn’t being handled properly through the refs and linesmen. Frankly, the only phrase that comes to mind for the fight itself is “well, that escalated quickly,” as the scuffle became just short of a bench-clearer in seconds.

That it happened at all was pretty unusual, but the broadcast handling of the fight was possibly even stranger. Almost as soon as the fists had stopped flying, the Cross-Ice Pass broadcast showed multiple replays of an ice-level viewpoint of the NWHL’s stars punching each other in the head. Obviously, hockey is a contact sport. That’s what the padding is for. But the league has been sort of cagey heretofore about its policies surrounding fighting, with much discussion of whether their policies are fair given the length of the season, the rate of compensation, and the safety/concussion issues inherent in hockey, especially without the structural support that leagues like the NHL at least purport to have in place.

I’m not innocent of the little thrill when a fight breaks out. But that thrill dies. The illicit excitement of animal instinct appearing on ice (or, worse, the gross idea that women fighting each other is titillating) is not worth the very real risks that fighting presents to players. I’m absolutely of the opinion that the NWHL should have very little leniency around fighting from this initial season, and do their level best to keep it out of the league. As a fan, I care about these games and the players, and their throwing down is 100% not what I’m here for.

In the fallout from the fight, the Riveters faced a 5-0 deficit with seven minutes of overlapping penalties to play after the Whale’s Long was ejected and Riveter Ashley Johnston went to the box for roughing. Lyudmila Belyakova scored the Rivs’ only goal on the powerplay to block a shutout, but as soon as Scrivens was pulled from net for the extra attacker, the Whale’s Kelly Stack scored to make it 6-1. And then it ended.

Oh, yeah, and it was Star Wars night. Really, the only reference I can make is that the Riveters were crushed in a garbage compactor by a potent combination of ineffective officiating, defensive breakdown, and player injury. Something something Death Star.

Next time: the Beauts might overtake the Riveters, and six other reasons to give up on 2016 already.

New York Riveters Fall After Fujimoto Injury

It’s been a busy few weeks. What did we miss from the Riveters? Let’s see… Ashley Johnston rocks the groutfit to end all groutfits, Taylor Holtze owns two ducks, and in a ‘Stars, They’re Just Like Us’ moment, Janine Weber and Kiira Dosdall rollerblade to the grocery store.

Oh, yeah, and the Riveters won. Twice.

Of course, I didn’t watch either of those games, which were both match-ups against the Boston Pride. It’s great to see the Rivs getting on the board and gaining some confidence—at some point I’ll hopefully come back around to take a better look at what their keys to success were, but for now, let’s look at the Riveters’ most recent game.

I trekked out to New York home ice at Aviator Sports & Events Center for the first time… and I don’t think ‘trek’ is the wrong verb to use. Coming from lower Manhattan to the rink in Brooklyn involved taking two subways and then hopping on the Q35 bus at Ave H, all the way out to Aviator. And back. Not, by any means, an insurmountable challenge, but definitely a solid hour and a half. A tip: the Q35 bus leaves from the Avenue H side of the Target, which isn’t quite at the actual intersection of Avenue H and Flatbush—I was a little lost until, like a beacon through the night, I spotted a girl in a Fujimoto jersey and followed her. Also, once you get off the bus, hope you’re with other Riveters fans like I was, because the route across the grounds of Floyd Bennett Field to Aviator is not particularly well-marked.

The game itself was exciting—plenty of shots fired off by both teams (36 by Buffalo, 28 by New York), resulting in a strong showing by all goalies. Both teams were held scoreless in the first, and while the Riveters looked less physically aggressive than they have previously, their play looked more organized than ever. In the early minutes of the second, the teams looked about equal—both Hanrahan of New York and Bozek of Buffalo had shots that looked inevitable, but just didn’t make it. It was the Riveters’ powerhouse Madison Packer, however, who lit it up halfway through the period. With the score 1-0 for the home team, the crowd seemed enthusiastic and the Riveters ready to take the win.

While it’s never 100% obvious what causes a team to lose their lead, it’s pretty easy to point to the collision with Fujimoto late in the 2nd as a major factor. She was visibly slow to get up from the run-in with a Beaut, and allowed two goals by Buffalo’s Devon Skeats in the first twelve minutes of the third. While many of the Riveters were dead-set on blocking shots with any part of their body they could, Fujimoto needed to get off the ice, and the coaching staff subbed in Scrivens (for the first time!) at the 13:30 mark. (Fujimoto was later helped off the ice, seemingly favoring one leg.)

Desperation seemed to get the best of the Riveters as the final minutes wore down, and their previously impressive play suffered, becoming less disciplined and coordinated. The defining moment of that issue came when Scrivens was pulled for an extra Riveters attacker and Buffalo managed to sneak an empty-netter with just seven seconds remaining. And that was it. In twenty-two minutes, the game went from a powerful Riveters team effort to a hard loss.

In the interest of making some sense of it all, let’s talk about plus/minus. Not real plus/minus, which I am not nearly enough of a fancystats person to use regularly, but a fake version which hopes to provide some clarity on the Riveters’ situation right now:

PLUS: The First Two Minutes – Spent exclusively in the Buffalo zone, the Riveters looked completely dominant and confident from the get-go.

MINUS: The Third Period – The Riveters have had issues in the final twenty before, allowing two Whale goals and four Pride goals in their respective first matchups. They’d seemed to have overcome that in the last two games versus the Pride, but it appears that their stamina issues aren’t over yet.

PLUS: Beth Hanrahan – I have in my notes that she was “doin’ God’s work,” by which I meant to say Hanrahan had a number of great shots and was working super hard consistently throughout the game.

MINUS: Celeste Brown – Now, this isn’t ‘real’ plus/minus, so I’m not saying that the Riveters are worse with Brown on the ice. With six of the Riveters’ twelve penalty minutes, however, I’m worried that Brown is becoming the bear to poke to draw a penalty from the Riveters.

PLUS: Madison Packer – Three goals in three games makes Packer the highest goal-scorer on the Riveters, and a force to be reckoned with. She’s 5’9, but plays like she’s 6’2, including almost-kinda leveling a linesman at one point.

MINUS: Dani Rylan – Stood directly behind me the entire second period, forcing me to anxiously cover my (only somewhat) critical notes with a sheet of paper like I was taking a sixth-grade math test. (This is a joke.) (Sort of.)

PLUS: Taylor Holze – Blocked shots like her life depended on it, moved like lightning around the ice, and got great shots off, including an amazing breakaway at the midpoint of the second period.

The New York Riveters face the Boston Pride yet again on Sunday in Boston, and then return home to take on the (UNDEFEATED) Whale on the 13th. I hope to see them taking less penalties and playing through the full sixty minutes without fading, especially because they’ve proved before that they can take the Pride. And as always… let’s go Riveters!

A Good Loss: The New York Riveters Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Last Sunday, the New York Riveters put up their best game yet versus Connecticut, managing to hold the Whale to 3 goals while the win-hungry Brooklynites scored just one. Their second consecutive home game showed considerably more team cohesiveness and notably improved on-ice awareness from their prior games, particularly last week’s …significant defeat by the Boston Pride.

The lone Riveters goal was scored by Ashley Johnston in the second period, which served to bring them even with the Whale, who scored their first goal midway through the first. A 1-1 tie game at the end of 40 minutes is as good as the Rivs have looked thus far, and there was a moment where it seemed like they might pull off their first-ever win. Even when the Whale’s Kaleigh Fratkin scored just over two minutes into the final period, the win felt almost within reach. At the end of the third, the decision to pull Nana Fujimoto from the net for another attacker made a ton of sense. Unfortunately, the Riveters couldn’t manage to keep the game moving in their direction for a tying goal, and instead they allowed another Connecticut goal for a final score of 3-1.

And yet… I’m excited. This was not the penalty-happy, pass-missing, physical-in-a-bad-way team we saw as recently as last weekend. In fact, after Lyudmila Belyakova took two hooking minors in under five minutes at the end of the first, the Riveters didn’t take another penalty for over 25 minutes, including the entirety of the second…. a period during which the Whale were held scoreless. CRAZY. It is worth noting that both non-empty net goals by the Whale were scored while on the powerplay, so the Riveters still have some work to do on their penalty kill.

Nana Fujimoto (recommended listening: Na Na Na Na Naa by Kaiser Chiefs) played the entire game, making 17 saves, some of which were entirely improbable and a big component of the closeness of the score. After three games, the biggest shooters on the Riveters are Brooke Ammerman (12), Bray Ketchum (11) and Janine Weber (10)—Ammerman’s persistence and paid off with one of the team’s three regular season goals thus far, and I’m hoping that Ketchum and Weber’s shots start to find the back of the net soon.

The NWHL is looking pretty uneven after three games played per team—only the Whale and the Boston Pride have won, while the Buffalo Beauts remain in the same sorry winless state as the Riveters. After less than a month, I’m still willing to attribute this to the newness of the league and hold out for the win I know is coming. Frankly, after last weekend, this feels almost like a win. Like the Riveters are finally doing some of the right things, and they’re either paying off or are right on the verge of doing so.

Headed into a break for the 4 Nations Cup, the Riveters won’t play for three weeks before returning to face back-to-back games against the Pride in late November. The dominance of the Pride thus far and their rough first matchup in New York will definitely present a challenge, but I’m hoping the Riveters can come back in great shape and keep their composure through those games.

In conclusion, four rejected titles for this article:

  • The Rivs Have the Same Win/Loss Record as My 5th Grade Basketball Team
  • I Dream a Dream that One Day the Riveters Will Have a Multi-Goal Game
  • It’s Been 3 Games and I’m Still Unclear as to the Official Riveters Emoji
  • If This Is How I React to Losing by 2 Imagine What I’ll Do When The Rivs Win

See you in November, steadfast Riveters fans! May the break pass quickly and may Celeste Brown favorite all of your tweets.

Brianna Decker & Zoe Hickel lead Boston Pride To Roll Over New York Riveters

Let’s get it out of the way: the New York Riveters lost 7-1 to the Boston Pride at their home opener on Sunday night. Do I want to talk about it? No. Have I committed to do so for you, the good people of the internet? Yes. So let’s go.

A potent combination of seasonal allergies, midterms and unforeseen circumstances kept me away from Aviator Sports & Events (the New York Riveters’ home rink) on Sunday night, but according to the team there were over 1,000 fans in attendance for the game, many of whom lined up well in advance to get into the building. I watched via the free YouTube live-streaming that the NWHL has set up, which was glitchy/non-functional for about half of the first period, and then required link switches and refreshes throughout as the tech team reconfigured. Once the second period came around, it was great to have the Riveters’ home commentator join the broadcast—for this game, it was just one announcer (named Carmine, I believe) since his co-commentator was helping triage streaming problems, but she will generally be on mic in the future. Very cool, and a helpful touch for newer fans, who might have a harder time following the action without commentary.

Is it blatantly obvious that I don’t want to talk about the hockey? It is, right?

The Boston Pride were delayed in traffic and arrived at the arena late, causing the 7:00pm game to be held off for over an hour (puck drop around 8:20pm), but regardless of the wait, the atmosphere seemed electric, even through the live-stream (which had its own jocular fan comment section). Although their warmups were cut short, the Pride exploded out of the gate, with Zoe Hickel netting their first goal on the first shot of the game, just 55 seconds in. Which was FINE.

The Riveters didn’t seem terribly outmatched in the first period—they had a goal waved off just a few minutes in and Janine Weber’s line was making serious moves with around five minutes left. Then Brianna Decker scored for the Pride to close out the first, which wasn’t ideal, but, again, it happens. A two-goal lead is the worst in hockey, right? Right. Shots on goal at the end of the first period were only slightly tipped in Boston’s favor, at Pride 13, Riveters 11.

The Riveters started the second period on the penalty kill, which was no fun at all, given their history with powerplays—but it turns out that wasn’t the real concern this time, because even as the man advantage tipped in their favor immediately after (as the Pride lost a player to a tripping call) Brianna Decker scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0. Well, if a two-goal lead is bad… a three-goal lead has got to be worse. Or so I hoped.

This was about halfway through the game, at which point both teams switched goalies—Lundberg came in for Fujimoto on the Riveters’ end and Ott for Slebodnick. With that change, it seemed possible that the Riveters might be able to bring the game back under their control, and Gabie Figueroa’s goal late in the second felt portentous. It was 3-1. Shots on goal for the second were almost equal (22-21 BOS). It was all happening. Don’t call it a comeback!

No, seriously. Don’t. Seventeen seconds into the third period, Zoe Hickel struck again. 4-1. And in the next five minutes, the barrage began on Lundberg. While I’m sure the stats will tell the real story, it certainly felt like the Pride were simply parked in front of the Riveters’ net, constantly battering the players (goalie and defense alike) with shots, and the Riveters just… weren’t doing a lot. In the space of one minute, Buie and Bolden both scored to bring the score to a formidable 6-1 lead for Boston.

It was clear that the team and fans alike were frustrated, with the already reactive crowd booing every move the Pride made, the Riveters getting scrappier (including the beginnings of a fight by Amber Moore) and more penalty-happy, and even Coach Wiseman, who apparently drew a bench penalty in the third, though the details surrounding that were thin on the ground.

None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that the Riveters had given up at this point. Janine Weber had an incredible breakaway in the middle of the third (denied by Ott), and though it was hard to tell who exactly was involved from the live-stream, many Riveters (like Ashley Johnston) were blocking shots like it was nobody’s business. But by the time Jordan Smelker of the Pride scored to bring the game to 7-1, it seemed like the physical play that had been keeping Boston on their toes in the first was just giving the Pride more and more chances to score in the late minutes of the game.

And that was the end of it. Definitely a tough night to be a Riveters fan. As tempting as it is to ascribe this loss to a dominant Boston team, I do think this game, as well as the Riveters’ pre-season and regular season record thus far, reflected more about the team and the way they’re playing. The Riveters are also very quick to draw penalties, which they need to get away from doing, if this is the result. Apparently the coaching staff said the Riveters’ compete level was ‘zero’ for this game—which I can’t really judge—but when you’ve never won a game, maybe morale is at zero too. From what I can see, there are definitely certain players who are always almost where they need to be, or almost scoring. The hard part, I guess, is actually making those things happen.

The Riveters return to Aviator next Sunday night to face the Connecticut Whale again… and this time, it’s personal.

Minnesota Whitecaps Beat New York Riveters In Exhibition Play

To be completely honest, I was not expecting the face of the NWHL—its commissioner, the New York Riveters’ GM—to be the person standing behind the ticket table at Chelsea Piers Sky Rink on Sunday morning. But there Dani Rylan was, scanning barcodes and high-fiving dozens of kids as they ran wild through the rink. While I overheard someone disparaging her for doing so, wondering how a league will be taken seriously if its commissioner ‘has to’ also serve as ticket-taker, I would argue that it rather reflects commitment on her part—not so much that she can’t find someone else to do it, but that she’s willing to be the front line and to ensure that the fans have a positive first experience.

I love the Chelsea Piers Sky Rink—it’s convenient to Manhattanites and holds years of memories of cheering on the NYU team amidst a horde of my classmates as they openly chug moonshine out of jars. It’s where I expected the Riveters to play when the league was first announced, and it was definitely disappointing to hear that it wouldn’t be the case (though Aviator, the Riveters’ regular home rink, is infinitely better than the first location announced, out on Long Island). On a Sunday morning like that of the New York Riveters’ exhibition game versus the Minnesota Whitecaps, the sun pours through the windows and although all extremities will likely be completely insensate given some overzealous cooling on the part of Chelsea Piers, it’s a great place to watch some hockey.

A note to would-be attendees—warm-ups begin well before the stated beginning time. The reason I don’t know exactly how much before is because… I wasn’t there yet. So if you’re interested in warm-ups and zamboni action, arriving around 45 minutes before the time on the ticket is a good bet.

If you’re looking for a metaphor for the entire game, you might look no farther than the announcement of the starters—while the Minnesota squad in their impressive black-and-white jerseys stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the goal line, shifting impassively before skating out to the blue line, the Riveters wore red NWHL practice jerseys with numbers but no names, mismatched miscellaneous gear from college or other leagues, shifted on their skates in uncertainty and had accidentally lined up on the blue line to begin with.

Certainly nothing unfixable—they’re almost definitely just waiting to debut their real jerseys for their first games, and since they’re being provided equipment, I suspect it’s the same situation with other gear. The visible nervousness and small errors—those, too, are not insurmountable, but were thrown into stark relief against a team like the Whitecaps, who, like: a) are very good b) are more experienced c) have twins, which pings some kind of ‘The Shining’ sensor in my head and is just kinda unnerving.

The Riveters, it became clear early on, are a team with a lot of talented players who just aren’t playing like a team yet. Three of the Minnesota goals were scored while on the penalty kill, a point not lost on the coaching staff, who pointed to lack of special team cohesion in post-game interviews. My personal, very professional note on the subject, scribbled in the margin of my roster after the 3rd Whitecaps PP goal, was ‘wtf is up w/ Rivs PK.’

The game was scoreless for much of the first period, with the Whitecaps’ first powerplay goal coming from Mira Jalosuo as they outshot the Riveters 14-8. The Whitecaps lead grew early in the second as they scored twice in the first six minutes. Despite Riveter Morgan Fritz-Ward’s goal right before the midpoint of the game, starting goalie Shenae Lundberg was pulled at 30 minutes and Nana Fujimoto entered the game. It looked like a comeback was in the cards when Bray Ketchum scored after a blessedly successful penalty kill, bringing the score to 3-2 Minnesota, but the third period didn’t yield much for the home team. The penalties the Rivs drew steadily came back to haunt them, as both of the Lamoureux twins scored power play goals in the closing minutes, bringing the final score to 5-2 Whitecaps.

Perhaps another metaphor: the attempted rallying stomp-stomp-clap of ‘We Will Rock You’ with 1:34 left on the clock, as off-beat as I’ve ever heard it, for the missed passes, frustrating moments of non-synchronicity and wind-ups for shots that went nowhere. The crowd, probably around 150 strong, wanted the Riveters to win. The Riveters were eager to get on the board in the preseason. The fans wanted to find some kind of rhythm to get things going. The new teammates shouted for the puck and banged sticks on the ice, raced to be in position, set up for shots on goal. Both were largely unsuccessful.

The New York Riveters need to play together more—just need to play more, hands down. There was a perceptible moment—whether of hesitation or realignment—prior to many shots on goal, allowing the Whitecaps to drop in and poke the puck away or allowing the opposing goaltender to better assess the Riveters’ offense and block the shot. Similarly, passes were intercepted or missed due to lack of awareness of other players on the ice—the kind of fumble that makes every spectator take a sharp breath of disappointment through their teeth. It was, I suspect, the very feeling my parents experienced watching me attempt sports throughout my childhood—you want the moment to resolve, for everything to click, the happy ending, but sometimes it’s just… not happening.

That said: there were glimmers of possibility, where the team on the ice was suddenly the team that the Riveters will clearly be in two or three months. The goals were amazing to watch, particularly Ketchum’s, which was unassisted and, honestly, magical.

Here were some of the standouts:

The Announcer: Who was having more fun announcing Lamoureux goals and assists (and, notably, the goals/assists between the two) than most people have in their entire lives. You do you, sir.

Beth Hanrahan: If it’s physical play you’re after, look no farther than #3. She continually got into it, including the moment at which she went down on the ice under a Whitecap and responded by getting a shoulder under her and rolling the other player off with not-inconsiderable force, causing her to catch a little air on the way down. Not bad for someone who stands at 5’5.
Runners-up for uber-scrappiness: Brown #6, Figueroa #8

Bray Ketchum: Previously mentioned goal aside, I would also like to celebrate Ketchum’s response to a delay of game penalty in the third period, which consisted of an eye roll so thorough and intense that I could see it from the fifth row of the bleachers. I think I might have a favorite player.

Jenny Scrivens: She didn’t play, but was present at Chelsea Piers. All I can say… scarf game strong. Verrrrry strong.

Nana Fujimoto: Fujimoto got off of a 17-hour flight from Japan less than 18 hours prior to this game, and still only allowed two goals in 30 minutes of play. She made some huge, solid saves and I can’t wait to see what she can do when she’s not jetlagged.

All in all, despite a less-than excellent final score and going into the regular season without a win, I can’t help but be enthusiastic about what’s to come for the Riveters. It really sank in sometime during the first period—we were there to watch women be paid to play hockey against other women—some of the very best players in the world. That the whole thing was happening was the most incredible kind of improbable. And we got to be there for it.

A Brief New York Riveters Season Preview

Late September in New York… the mornings are cold, the coffee is full of pumpkin and HOCKEY IS BACK. Over the last few weeks, the New York Riveters have been gearing up for the season with their first practice, media day, equipment fitting, and a pre-season tilt against the FDNY team. I hope in my heart of hearts that they are all settling in well to the enormous Zoolander-esque 18-person Bushwick loft I’m imagining them sharing. It’s full of light and always has at least one bathtub full of hockey pads. (It’s definitely weird how bad I want all of the Riveters to be best friends.)

(Edit – apparently, according to this article, many of the Riveters are living in two big “athlete houses” outside of Brooklyn. All of my dreams are coming true. I’m an oracle.)

PRESEASON

The Riveters have two preseason games—the first was on September 27th against the squad from the Fire Department of New York (I don’t know why they’re playing each other, but I love it) at their home rink, Aviator, out in Brooklyn. FDNY won 6-2 in regulation, with Riveters goals coming from Janine Weber and Brooke Ammerman, as well as a goal by Gabie Figueroa in a practice 4-on-4 and a practice shootout goal by Madison Packer. I wasn’t at the game myself, but saw commentary that even within the span of one game, the team was visibly coalescing and improving, which is to be expected given that their entire team isn’t even in the country yet (Luuudaaaa) and, y’know, it’s the pre-season.

The second pre-season game will be next Sunday, October 4th, at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan—I’m extremely excited to be attending, and will be reporting back with commentary and hot takes from the front. The Riveters are going up against the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Western Women’s Hockey League, a team whose roster includes players like the two-time U.S. Olympian Lamoureux twins (Two times each. Four medals. All of the math tutoring was worth it). It’s cool to see the NWHL working with and playing against a WWHL team—I’m hoping it’s a sign that some of the Highlander Syndrome that Kate so eloquently tackled previously will die down and that multiple leagues are closer to thriving in the women’s hockey world. I’ll be tweeting @annalisebissa and writing up my experience at the game for Watch This, so keep an eye out!

REGULAR SEASON

The regular season begins for the Riveters on October 11th—an away game against the Whale—and then returns to Brooklyn for the home opener on the 18th. The Riveters will play nine home games and nine away (three at each of their rivals’ rinks) over the course of the regular season (through February), and playoffs will take place during March (fingers crossed!). The team will also participate in an exhibition game against the Japanese national team in December and the NWHL All-Star game in Buffalo in late January.

I’ll be back soon with all of the Riveters news that’s fit to make #jokes about, including the death of the Rivs’ #KnightWatch dream, collecting cans out of the trash to pay for student season tickets (crosses fingers for student season ticket packages), tackling public transit out to Aviator and so much more!

New York Riveters Signings SO FAR

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…

FORWARDS:

…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.

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.

GOALIES:

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.”

IN CONCLUSION:

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.

 

 

The Sound of Victory: New York Riveters Sign Celeste Brown

Hear that? It’s the sound of victory.

No, the inaugural NWHL season doesn’t start for another four-plus months. But I’m still notching yesterday’s events in the winning column for the New York Riveters—the signing of their second player, Celeste Brown.

Brown has racked up impressive play and perhaps even more impressive leadership during her career thus far. She was captain of the Rochester Institute of Technology team for two years, during a period that the NWHL’s official statement describes as “perhaps the most transformative class in RIT program history,” including a NCAA Division I playoff run after participating in their transition from D III.

She is not a superstar-Olympian-type, and is more notable for her consistency– but as far as I’m concerned, that makes her more compelling. At RIT, she played every game of multiple seasons, and if you’ve been following the NWHL closely, you may recall that Brown was highlighted on their social media during player camps. Why? Because she went to all of them. Including the Pride and the Riveters’ camps, which were held on the same days, necessitating a back-and-forth commute from Boston to Long Island three times in two days—not to mention the sheer exhaustion of bringing her A-game at all four sessions.

In a small league, without the guarantees, comfort, and infrastructure that surrounds more established leagues—pro or collegiate—there will almost certainly be complications, confusion, and adversity. Celeste Brown has made it clear that she is a player and a person who does not balk in the face of those issues. She was dead-set on playing pro hockey, and she has done it. I have to think that the Riveters’ front office understands this, and it was part of their rationale for signing her. I’m certain that she’ll be a strong presence of leadership and positive attitude for the team come October, and it’s those attributes, along with her on-ice accomplishments, that make me so excited to have Celeste Brown as a New York Riveter.