Isobel Cup, Game One: Whale edge Beauts, Pride steamroll Riveters for series leads

Game One of the Isobel Cup had what some might call the expected results, with both higher seeds — No. 1 Boston Pride and No. 2 Connecticut Whale — pulling out wins on their home ice.

Whale 3, Beauts 0: The Buffalo Beauts threw 35 shots at Jaimie Leonoff, but none found the back of the net as the Connecticut Whale goaltender earned herself the first shutout in her team’s history, 3-0, at Chelsea Piers CT in Game One of the Isobel Cup semifinals.

The win gives Connecticut the upper hand over Buffalo in the best-of-three series, as well as a chance to sweep Saturday night. The Beauts managed to have a solid game in the first and third periods despite having both of their top scorers — Kelley Steadman and Meghan Duggan — out of the lineup, likely both due to coaching conflicts.

Both teams played an even game throughout, with an emphasis on defense. The Beauts came out strong on the forecheck, attempting to throw the Whale off early; however, Leonoff was equal to the task, withstanding several rushes from the Skeats-Kunichika-Browne line and the tandem of Erin Zach and Jessica Fickel. However, Connecticut found its legs toward the end of the first, closing the gap in shots 11-9 before the first buzzer.

Special teams took over in the second period, with Buffalo losing its composure and Connecticut capitalizing. Kelli Stack broke the scoreless tie at 9:12 on a 2-on-1 with Shiann Darkangelo at even strength, but the Beauts’ mounting frustration created a line to the penalty box, allowing the Whale to get comfortable on their end of the ice. Five minutes after Stack’s goal, Jessica Koizumi found Sam Faber on the doorstep to double the score. The Beauts had their fair share of chances on the power play, but both Leonoff and the Whale’s defense did well to keep them off the scoresheet, Leonoff moving well post-to-post and hanging onto her rebounds, while the defense got plenty of sticks in the lanes and deflected shot after shot.

Buffalo pushed hard to even the score in the third period, but by that point Leonoff was untouchable, withstanding a shooting gallery (the Whale were outshot 14-2 in the third period) to preserve the shutout and the crucial first win for her team. Kelly Babstock added an empty netter shorthanded in the final minute of the game.

The Beauts will look to force a third game Saturday night at Chelsea Piers, and they will hopefully do so with at least Steadman in the lineup; the practice forward was with Robert Morris University at the CHA Tournament (ironically being held in Buffalo this weekend), but RMU lost to Mercyhurst Friday afternoon, so barring any other conflicts, I’d imagine she’d be making her way to Connecticut for tomorrow evening’s game.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chelsea Piers CT. 

Pride 6, Riveters 0: Jenny Scrivens withstood 56 saves and allowed six goals as the Pride barreled over New York, 6-0, at Ray Bourque Arena in Boston. The overmatched Riveters committed six penalties, three of which the Pride were able to convert on, and Brianna Decker and Jillian Dempsey combined for seven points on the evening (Dempsey with four, Decker with three). Brittany Ott made 17 saves for Boston in the win, earning the first shutout in the playoffs in the Pride’s history.

Bozek Helps Buffalo Beauts Clinch Third Seed Over New York Riveters

 

An even game in the first period turned into a rout, as the Buffalo Beauts overwhelmed the New York Riveters’ defense and goaltender Nana Fujimoto, winning 5-1 at Harborcenter Sunday and clinching the third seed in the Isobel Cup playoffs.

The Beauts also made a little bit of history Sunday, becoming the first team in NWHL history to have a mascot. Krusher (with a K), donated by the KIA Memorial Roadmarch, made her debut at Harborcenter, dropping the ceremonial puck with the players and tossing out tee shirts to the crowd. Perhaps Krusher proved to be the lucky charm the Beauts needed to pull ahead of New York for good.

Defender Megan Bozek had three points in the win, including the goal to start off the Beauts’ scoring. The entire blueline in fact stepped up and jumped into the play, with Emily Pfalzer adding an assist and Paige Harrington and Lindsay Grigg having excellent games.

Bozek’s goal came in the first period as she carried the puck into the zone, slapping it past Fujimoto’s right pad as she crossed the ice. It was a break for the Beauts, who had only four shots recorded on net despite a number of rushes into the zone; meanwhile, the Riveters had eight, with much of the play being stymied in the neutral zone for both teams.

The Riveters briefly tied it in the second period — Bray Ketchum made good on a penalty shot she received after Bozek hooked her on a breakaway. But with eight minutes to go, Bozek sent Duggan on a beautiful drive that resulted in her going top shelf on Fujimoto to break the tie.

From that point forward, it was all Beauts. While the Riveters executed good defensive strategy for much of the game, staying low, clogging the middle of the ice and collapsing onto whoever carried the puck into the zone, the Beauts’ relentless forecheck finally found its way to the net in the third period. Hayley Williams threw a shot from a bad angle to the front of the net that Fujimoto stopped, but Tatiana Rafter was there to collect and put home the rebound for her second goal of the season, and then Kourtney Kunichika quickly added her ninth of the year to pad the lead. Despite a timeout and pulling their goalie, the Riveters failed to generate much on offense, and Kelley Steadman sealed the win with an empty-net goal.

General manager Linda Mroz said the kind of effort the Beauts put forth Sunday was what she had envisioned seeing all season after putting together the roster.

“I’m blaming it on the mascot,” she joked, adding that having Krusher there to pep up the lighter-than-usual crowd definitely put a positive spin on the afternoon.

Indeed, Sunday’s game seemed to be the best the team has played all year, with all three components working on the ice at the same time. The penalty kill was solid as well, keeping New York off the board on all four attempts. Forward Hailey Browne said despite the few lulls in the game, Buffalo finished exactly how it intended to.

“We didn’t want a one-goal game, we didn’t want OT,” she said. “We wanted to bury them.”

And bury them the Beauts did, both in goals and shots; after being outshot 8-4 in that opening period, Buffalo came back to dominate possession, outshooting the Riveters 30-18. Brianne McLaughlin wasn’t kept very busy, but still earned the third star of the game for her performance in net.

Defense was definitely a focus in earlier practices as well, according to both Browne and Pfalzer, and it showed — not only did the blueline step up offensively, but it also kept the Riveters well clear of McLaughlin, allowing her to see most shots and forcing wide other opportunities. Harrington, Grigg, and others on the ice also made great individual efforts to fend off fast breaks and passes inside the middle.

“Everyone had a great game,” Pfalzer said of her team’s effort, particularly that of her defensive corps. “It was awesome to see everyone produce.”

The Beauts now have one weekend left in the regular season, and it’s against the team they began it with — the Boston Pride, fresh off of clinching first place in the league after beating the Connecticut Whale 5-3. The points don’t matter quite as much as they might have before, but Browne said the team still wants to finish the season on a high note.

“They’re a very good team,” she said. “We want to just work on our positioning, brush up on our special teams and everything like that, use it as practice — but we really want to win these games.”

As for Connecticut, although they are the one team the Beauts have not managed to beat this season, it should make for an interesting matchup. The competitiveness and intensity have been present in every game between these two teams, particularly after playing so many games against each other early in the year (and all the bad blood built up that implies). But the Beauts also seem to be turning a page at the right time, and it’s something that could possibly alter the course of events heading into the final.

“It’s just a matter of showing up, and what team shows up,” Mroz said. “When we worry about our game, we don’t have to worry about the other team, so basically if the Beauts that showed up today play, and we finish, I can say we’re going to be competitive no matter what.

“We’ve been competitive with Connecticut all throughout the season, so we’ve gotta go, and we’ve gotta go to win.”

The Beauts and Pride face off in their final regular season game Sunday, Feb. 28 at Harborcenter. Live streaming is available via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass, or buy tickets either at the door or on nwhl.co/buy-tickets.

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.

Buffalo Beauts Earn First Home Win, 4-2 vs. New York Riveters

The HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo witnessed a little bit of history long in the making as the Buffalo Beauts finally earned their first home win of the season, 4-2, against the New York Riveters Sunday afternoon.

Shelby Bram redirected a shot by Megan Bozek to break a 2-2 tie halfway through the third period, eventually allowing the Beauts to break their tie with New York in the standings as well. They take sole possession of third place with the regulation win (10 points overall).

“It feels really good,” Kourtney Kunichika said after the game. “We kinda got that monkey off our backs… We’re just happy our hard work paid off.”

All-Star MVP Kelley Steadman started the scoring off with two power-play goals in the first period, including one of them with just 3.3 seconds left in the frame. The Beauts dictated the play the entire period, outshooting the Riveters 18-5 and getting lots of looks in on Nana Fujimoto.

While New York had a few chances, it spent much of the opening frame in its own end, hemmed in by good plays in the neutral zone or along the blueline. The Riveters also spent a good chunk of time in the penalty box — in fact, Steadman’s first goal was on a 5 on 3 after first Gabie Figueroa and then Celeste Brown went off with minor infractions.

Then in the second, the Beauts got a “little overconfident” in head coach Shelley Looney’s words, leading to a number of chances going the other way for the Riveters. Beth Hanrahan cut the lead in half after a bad turnover on an attempted clear, putting the puck high over Brianne McLaughlin’s shoulder.

There were a few defensive breakdowns like this for Buffalo, whether failing to catch the Riveters on the rush or giving them too much space around the net. McLaughlin had a few juicy rebounds that just missed Riveters’ sticks as well. Overall, the period was much more evenly played, with the Riveters having the better of the chances.

Looney said she reminded her team during the second intermission to play defense first.

“I felt like we were always on the offensive side of the puck waiting to rush, rush, rush, because we knew when we get into their zone we’re going to have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “But you’ve got to take care of one job first, and that’s getting it out of the zone.”

Bray Ketchum took New York one step closer to completing the comeback with another high shot on McLaughlin at 6:10 of the third period to tie it. However, the Beauts were able to regroup, play defense, and get extended time in the offensive zone. It paid off soon enough; with Bram floating in the middle, Bozek threw a laser to the net that Bram didn’t miss.

“Bozek has the hardest shot in the league, so I knew I had to get in front of the net,” Bram said, joking that Bozek had told her she was the only one brave enough to get in front of Bozek’s shot (clocked at 88 mph at last Sunday’s All-Star Skills Competition).

“She’s an unbelievable player, a heads-up player… and just all around very smart, so playing with her is definitely an honor,” she went on about her teammate, with whom she also combined for both assists on Steadman’s second goal of the game.

Erin Zach added an empty net goal for insurance (her first of the season and in the league), and the Beauts came away with a crucial two points.

While it’s highly unlikely the Beauts will catch either Connecticut or Boston with four more games to go, the last few games of the season will determine which team will play host to them come playoff time. Being third or fourth is the difference between playing a team that has somehow escaped the loss column against them thus far, versus playing a team they’ve managed to beat. But either way, it’ll be a test Kunichika believes her team is equal to, provided everyone buys in.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but I think if we play our game, we’re focused, we play defense, and we just trust each other, I think we’ll have a good run,” she said.

The last stretch before playoffs continues with a road game next Sunday against Connecticut. Puck drop is listed as noon EST, and the venue is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more on that and more Beauts coverage throughout the week.

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.

Kunichika line shines, Buffalo Beauts top Riveters in shootout

A wild third period comeback led to a game-winner by captain Emily Pfalzer, as the Buffalo Beauts prevailed over the New York Riveters, 6-5 in the shootout.

Pfalzer threw in a couple of head fakes to move goaltender Jenny Scrivens before cutting to her left, putting a high backhand over Scrivens’ blocker side, for the winner.

The game had started out in Buffalo’s favor as they came flying out of the gate, dominating puck possession and peppering Scrivens with 13 shots to New York’s six. The line centered by Kourtney Kunichika especially shone, as Kunichika, Hailey Browne and Devon Skeats maintained possession heading into the zone and drove hard to the net, often including a trailer to pick up potential rebounds. It was Kunichika who tipped the puck past Scrivens to put the Beauts up 1-0 6:48 into the opening frame.

Lyudmila Belyakova potted a rebound by Beauts netminder Kim Sass to tie it midway through the period, but six minutes later, Megan Bozek aimed a bomb of a shot at the back of the net, making it 2-1 heading into the second.

That was when it all fell apart for Buffalo. A parade to the penalty box by the Beauts led to a slaughter on the skater-advantage for the Riveters, who scored four goals in the period (three of them on the power play). Bray Ketchum and Morgan Fritz-Ward tallied two apiece, taking advantage of the Beauts’ frustration and some key rebounds by Sass, who was replaced by Brianne McLaughlin before the period ended. The Riveters also had two goals in a row disallowed, one due to a high-stick, and the other to a quick whistle. Later in the period, the Beauts got a couple of looks in on Scrivens; Erin Zach in particular had a great chance, flying in on a breakaway, but was stopped by Scrivens’ blocker. The Riveters goalie finished with 21 saves.

But Buffalo slowly mounted a comeback over the final period. Pfalzer started things off, moving deep into the offensive zone and putting away a beautiful pass by Shelby Bram. Then Tatiana Rafter put the Beauts within one. Finally, Kunichika brought the regulation scoring full-circle on a net-crashing play (something her line thrives on). McLaughlin kept her team alive with some key saves, while Scrivens also tried her best to ensure at least one point for her squad.

After an exciting OT that saw a couple of chances on both sides, the game went to the skills competition. Brooke Ammerman drew first blood for the Riveters, but McLaughlin stopped the final two shooters for New York, while Shelby Bram tied the shootout score and Pfalzer put the game away.

This game highlighted the importance of the Beauts sticking to their game, which (despite their best intentions) is not overly physical. The longer they spend in the penalty box, the more flustered and less effective they seem to be, whereas by simply using their speed and being smart about their positioning, they succeed. This was not necessarily a game that needed a shootout to decide it, or at least it wouldn’t have if the Beauts kept their feet moving and their wits about them. However, they managed to regroup and get the extra point, and McLaughlin did an incredible job in relief (9 saves). Here’s to hoping it isn’t quite so hard to hang onto the two points next time.

Speaking of next time, it won’t be until two weekends from now. The NWHL All-Star Game is slated for next Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m. at HarborCenter. It will feature some of the best and biggest names in the league (including eight Beauts). Tickets are $25, and it will also be streamed via Cross-Ice Pass. Stay tuned for more All-Star coverage as the week progresses.

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.

Weekly News: CWHL & NWHL All-Star Game updates, and more!

If you’re pining for the CWHL All-Star Game, check out highlight’s from last year’s, including the ceremonial face off between Charline Labonté, captain of the Red Team, and Jessica Campbell, captain of the White Team.

NYR @ BOS: Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott Face Off in Boston

Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott in goal (two photos placed in opposition in black and white)
Jenny Scrivens in warmups before NYR @ BOS on 12/6; Brittany Ott midgame during CTW @ BOS on 11/29.

Saturday night’s game for the Boston Pride against the visiting Buffalo Beauts was a high-scoring, rollercoaster ride: 13 goals, four goalies, and a hat trick from Devon Skeats that still didn’t net the Beauts a win. Sunday’s match against the Riveters had a different tone altogether. Scoreless through the first two periods, this was the first NWHL game to go without a goal for this long. The Pride’s Jillian Dempsey was the first to put to get the puck in the net nearly 50 minutes into the game. While Saturday saw a stellar offensive effort from both the Pride and the Beauts, it was the Pride and the Riveters’ goaltending that shone on Sunday. Specifically, Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott.

When Jenny Scrivens joined the Riveters roster as the third goalie in their lineup behind Nana Fujimoto and Shenae Lundberg, more was made of her dual role in the NWHL organization (PR) and her marriage to Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens than her goaltending skills. With Fujimoto the clear forerunner when it came to ice time, it seemed unlikely that Scrivens would spend much time in net; she was the last NWHL goaltender to make her debut, with six minutes to go in the Riveters’ game against the Beauts on November 29th. Sunday’s game was Scrivens’ first start in net after Fujimoto and Lundberg were both sidelined by injury. Since the NWHL requires two goaltenders to dress for each game, Boston College veteran Corinne Boyles was called up to serve as Scrivens’ backup for the game. Scrivens’ debut was awaited eagerly by many. How would she do against the Pride, arguably the strongest offensive force in the league? This seems an intimidating prospect for any opposing goaltender’s starting debut, let alone one coming back into the game after five years off the ice.

Coincidentally, Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center is the last place where Scrivens started in goal, then playing for Cornell in the 2009 playoffs. “That was the last time I’ve actually played a game,” Scrivens confirmed post-game. You wouldn’t know it from her composure on the ice. Scrivens seemed confident and composed throughout the game, fending off 30 shots from the Pride, sometimes with dramatic saves. Most of the excitement of this game was watching Scrivens dazzle in net. Scrivens credited some off her command in net to her play last Sunday. “I think the six minutes I got last week really helped, because I wasn’t as nervous as I expect I would be, and I was able to settle right into my game and try my best to give our team a chance.” While the final score was 4-1 Boston, two of those were empty net goals from Hilary Knight (Scrivens was pulled twice by the Riveters in an effort to even the score). Scrivens added, “I see it as a one-goal game. I don’t see it as a four-goal game.”

Even Pride coach Bobby Jay praised her play. He had more to say, though, about the other goaltender on the ice on Sunday: the Pride’s Ott, who allowed only one of the Riveters’ 22 shots in the net. Ott has struggled in her past few games at home, including during the Pride’s three-loss streak, and Lauren Slebodnick started in goal against the Beauts the previous day before being replaced by Ott in the third period. While Scrivens’ stellar success was unanticipated and dramatic, Ott’s improvement was just as notable. “I’m so happy for her – both of them – all three of them have worked tremendously hard. We hit a little rough spot – I know her and Lauren haven’t played as good as I know they could and they know they can recently,” Bobby Jay said. “Even for established veterans with a lot of experience and success, everyone goes through it from time to time, so I give her a lot of credit mentally for fighting through it and putting in a great performance today.” Hopefully, Sunday’s game is a return to the stellar goaltending Ott has delivered in the past for the Boston Blades and the University of Maine.

Stalwart goaltending might not be as exciting to watch as the firestorm of the Pride’s game against Buffalo on Saturday night, but it’s a crucial component of both the Riveters’ and the Prides’ future success that has been a recent struggle for the Pride. I’m looking forward to seeing Ott continue to shine on the ice, as well as the new, personal struggle of whether to root for the Pride as a whole or just Jenny Scrivens.

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!