Defending NWHL champions give 800+ home fans something to cheer about

NEWARK, N.J — It was standing room only last night as the 3-12-0 Metropolitan Riveters looked to match their 2015-2016 wins tally in the final regular season game of the 2018-19 season. One more win at the Riveters would tie their franchise-low of four wins. However, with the addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps this season, securing just one point Sunday would keep the Riveters from a first-to-worst finish.

The defending champions did one better and won the game in a shootout. The Riveters took the Beauts to a shootout in their final win of the 2015-16 regular season. Current alternate captain Kiira Dosdall beat Brianne McLaughlin to earn the 4-3 win.

Much like that last game for the inaugural season, the Riveters played to a roaring crowd on-hand to celebrate their team, win or lose. A fantastic bobble head giveaway for Fan Appreciation Day certainly didn’t hurt.

With under five minutes left, the Riveters erased a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead with under five minutes left in regulation. Rebecca Russo, who missed practice all week as she recovered from the flu, banked a puck off the Beauts netminder Shannon Szabados to take the lead, causing hundreds of Rosie’s to bob in celebration in the stands.

The Riveters would concede one more goal, but held on to take the game to overtime, ensuring the sold out crowd of 800 plus standing room would have one more chance to see their team live at the Barnabas Health Hockey House.

By sending the game to an extra frame, the Riveters earned the right to host the first-ever play-in game in NWHL history. With five teams now in the league, the Riveters and the fifth seeded Connecticut Whale will open up the playoffs for a win-and-move-on game Thursday in New Jersey. The victor will travel to St. Paul and face the top seeded Minnesota Whitecaps with a trip to the 2019 Isobel Cup Final on the line.

The game eventually headed to the shootout where four-year Riveter Madison Packer and soon-to-be retired Riveter Miye D’Oench scored on Szabados to secure a 4-3 win for the Riveters.

“We won as a team today,” said Riveters forward Rebecca Russo in the game recap by Dan Rice. “We were all together, 100 percent. We’re going to play Thursday against Connecticut. We’re going to win that game and go to Minnesota.”

Statement wins in the pros are rare, but it’s hard not to think something magical happened in Newark last night. “We needed that. It doesn’t matter how we got the points, and now we’re playing at home next week,” Packer told Rice post game. “It’s the first time in a long time I think everyone had fun from start to finish.”

The last time might have been a 6-3 victory over the Connecticut Whale on the road back in January. The Riveters will no doubt look to bottle up some of the energy their game against the Whale Thursday. The teams split the regular season series at two wins a side. Bragging rights and a trip to the State of Hockey go to the winner of the opening Isobel Cup Playoffs game.

The determination of the team was inspiring, especially after a frustrating year under new head coach Randy Velischek. Nevertheless, the team persisted. After a brutal 8-1 loss to the Boston Pride at home, the team held a series of team meetings and even a players-only practice. Changes were also made as the team brought on a new coach and a new player in hopes of reviving the season.

While the changes seemed to bear fruit for Sunday, there is still a long road ahead for the Riveters to even get the chance to defend their 2018 Isobel Cup title. Firstly, the Whitecaps outscored the Riveters 6:1 in four games, all played in October.

However, should the Riveters advance past the Whale and the Whitecaps, they will play the winner of the Boston Pride (3) and Buffalo Beauts (2). The latter three teams played to a three-way tie for first place that was finally decided by a Whitecaps weekend sweep of the Pride and the Whale.

Needless to say, seeing the Riveters in the final game of the 2018-19 season is a long shot by all statistical measures. However, when your team has an iconic mascot with her own equally iconic slogan, what can’t this Riveters team do?

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