By David F. Pendrys
NEWARK, NJ – The result had been the same as last year, but yet everything was very different. The New York Riveters had been bounced in the first round of the Isobel Cup Playoffs again. Last year North of Boston, the Pride had dispatched the Rivs in two games despite the valiant efforts of the beloved goaltending tandem of Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens. It was a result that most had expected in a tough first year for New York.
This year the Riveters weren’t supposed to lose this game. They were at home at Barnabas Health Hockey House, the team had been rebuilt masterfully by GM/Coach Chad Wiseman into the only team at the time to have defeated the Pride. The Beauts were talented but had struggled. But Buffalo got the win, and eventually would surprise the Pride too on their way to an Isobel Cup, but no one knew that was going to happen on Friday. The turnaround season had come to an end for New York.
Still there were positives that shined through that could be seen in the mood of the post game pressers. Could the Riveters be happy with the result, of course not, but there was still a goal of being upbeat of looking back at what they had done and the team that had been put together.
Riveters Captain Ashley Johnston, who a year before was standing representing the team and looking for positives amidst a sad defeat, again stood before the media, but showed the leadership expected in talking about how things had gone.
Tatiana Rafter, who had nearly been on a plane to play hockey in Europe only to be brought back into the fold by Wiseman to become an integral part of the Riveters offense interrupted her presser for a second to note she was being waved at by her best friend, Johnston, and showed off a picture a fan had drawn as she leaned on a stick talking about how things had went.
When goalie Katie Fitzgerald had been signed, it seemed like a basic roster move to add depth, but soon it became apparent that star goaltender Jaimie Leonoff wouldn’t be available for the Riveters and she was thrust into the fold sharing time with South Korean netminder Sojung Shin. Both goalies played well but Fitzgerald emerged as the number one on her way to an All-Star Game appearance and the NWHL Goaltender of the Year award. She was naturally not enthused about the loss, but reflected the new spirit of the team as her performance had been an important part of the resurgence of the Rivs.
Amanda Kessel’s signing had sent shock waves through the NWHL followers as the talented Forward was expected to make a major difference and she did. Though out with injury for part of the season her influence on the game was pronounced when she returned to the lineup.
Rebecca Russo had worked her way into the NWHL through Free Agent camp. She earned a spot on the Riveters and in her first game versus Russia was already showing a giant level of enthusiasm. The fast forward’s dangerous speed was recognized quickly as she contributed to a the offense and partly helped offset Kessel’s production when she was out. Russo, still reeling from the loss was in full uniform skates and all for the interview, but had quite a lot to say on a variety of topics.
While it is hard to know how the Riveters will look next year, already losing one of their critical players in Madison Packer to retirement after the loss and possibly others, this year’s team got to benefit from the vastly improved results, and being as they were described by several players a “family.” Several noted the great fan support and were appreciative noting in detail some of the efforts the fans had made to support them and keep out. The fans were there last season, they expanded their efforts the following season to build the Riveters up and the team noticed.
This was a season with its turmoil. The NWHL salary cuts had many questioning the league’s future not just next year but in some cases in the next week after they were announced, but the season was finished. Meanwhile the dispute between the U.S. National Team and USA Hockey, in which the NWHL entirely aligns with the national team players flared up just as the Isobel Cup began. Nonetheless, the players persisted.
It should not be forgotten just how well the Riveters played this season, as they also look forward to what the next season will bring.
Editor’s note: The majority of questions were asked by Erica Ayala of The Ice Garden, Mike Murphy of The Ice Garden and Blueshirt Banter, Connor Murphy of Blueshirt Banter, and Dan Rice of The Hockey Writers.