General manager and head coach Chad Wiseman made many off-season moves to revitalize the New York Riveters, who finished fourth in the NWHL last year. However, the team remains winless after two games and has already conceded ten goals. On Sunday, the Riveters lost to the Connecticut Whale 4-2. First-period goals by Miye D’Oench and Courtney Burke would be the only offensive productivity for New York. Starting goalie Katie Fitzgerald made 34 saves in the contest and recorded an .895 goals against average.
Last year, one could argue the Riveters lacked the ability to improve much. Therefore, sticking to the game plan might be the difference between a win and a loss. This season, New York has a great deal of talent, but momentary lapses in focus and discipline.
There were some missing pieces due to injury on Sunday, as Janine Weber and Amanda Kessel were both scratched from the lineup. Coach Wiseman expects both will return soon. “I don’t imagine either will be [out] for very long, I’m hopeful for next weekend,” he said.
As the team prepares for the remainder of the regular season, here are three things that will be key to the Riveters’ success:
“We didn’t have that many shots,” noted forward Rebecca Russo after Sunday’s game. “I can’t remember [when], but I remember coming out of the locker room and seeing [eight].” At the end of the second period shots on goal were 25-12 in favor of the Whale, who also had the 4-2 lead.
In order to keep up with the rest of the league, New York needs to shoot the puck. “A shot’s a shot, you gotta shoot on net,” said Russo. “It could go off a skate, it could go off a shin pad, you never know. A goal is a goal, it doesn’t matter how it’s scored.”
Taking more quality shots will also be important as the season goes on. Two games in, the Riveters have scored five goals on 58 attempts. Put another way, New York converts shot attempts into goals 8.6% of the time. All other teams have a shots on goal percentage (SOG%) of at least 10 percent. Additionally, opponents tally a 13.9 SOG% against New York.
Along with shots comes passing and overall possession. “When we played against Boston, we actually did a good job [moving the puck],” said defenseman Kaleigh Fratkin on Sunday. “You have games where things aren’t clicking. Today in the defensive zone … we got lazy.” Wiseman added that his defensemen needed to show better decision making. “We started getting too anxious when the puck wasn’t going in the net and we started making bad decisions,” he said. “We encourage them to jump into the play, we encourage them to pinch, but they’ve got to be responsible.”
Resilient goalies are another trend that has rolled over from the first season. In the first two games, Riveters goalies made 62 saves and let up 10 goals. In both games, several goals scored by both Boston and Connecticut were second-chance shots. While eliminating rebounds is something Fitzgerald and Sojung Shin will have to work on, position players must do a better job clearing the puck, and opposing players, from the front of the goal.
“[Our goalies] have made some unbelievable saves in both games, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in them,” said D’Oench. D’Oench, the top goal scorer for New York, also noted that position players must improve on defense: “We’ve got to be determined in front of our net. I know that I could have prevented some goals if I was (just) stronger on my stick, made better decisions on body position and whatnot …. We’ve got to get better, the goal should always be to have the next game be better than the last.”
This may not be something tracked on the stats sheet, but swagger is needed to play in the New York market. Hockey is a game, and games should be fun, and who isn’t having fun when they feel confident? New York had a faithful fan base last season, despite a last-place record. More scoring will keep things fun, but personality is important too.
The mere mention of Amanda Kessel makes women’s hockey fans excited. A big name in a big market will certainly gain fans for New York. Kessel’s swag is strong. I mean, she had her own limited edition shirts before her first practice in the league. Russo will also bring some swagger to the Riveters this season. She gets it done on the ice (2 assists), she likes to pump up the crowd and she’s excited to play for New York. Both can give the reigning swag captain a run for her money. You may ask, who is the reigning swag captain? That would be Madison Packer.
Last season, Packer dominated the fan vote for the NWHL All-Star game, gaining 13,397 votes. Madison also won four team awards issued by the fans, including “Best Hockey Tress,” naturally. To prove her swagger is still in good supply, Madison invited her youth team, the 16U New Jersey Rockets, to the Riveters home opener, providing her players matching Packer shirts … #SWAG