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.