An unexpected injury to free agent acquisition Jaimie Leonoff left the New York Riveters without a starting goalie to begin the season. By the time the severity of Leonoff’s injury was officially announced, Riveters fans already got a taste of both rostered goalies, as Sojung Shin and Katie Fitzgerald each played a complete game against Team Russia during the preseason. The two will now be given the chance to earn the starting spot for the Riveters.
“It was unfortunate [to lose Leonoff], but a good opportunity for these two goalies,” said coach Chad Wiseman. “They’ll get a chance to battle it out on a daily basis, some healthy competition, and see who takes the reins and will play a few more games for us. Sojung is quick, she reads the plays well and anticipates well. Fitzgerald has a great work ethic, battles, competes everyday and... she looks big in net.”
Early in the season, here is what we know about Sojung Shin and Katie Fitzgerald.
Sojung Shin and Katie Fitzgerald come from two very different programs. Shin tended net for St. Francis Xavier of the CIS for three seasons. St. Francis Xavier has nine titles in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference. Shin helped the X-Women to the most recent championship, posting a 1.19 goals against average (GAA) and collecting AUS All-Star first team honors. The team went 14-2-0 en route to the 2014-15 conference title, and Shin finished her college career with a 29-16-0 record and a final GAA of 1.50 in 2,678 minutes.
Fitzgerald minded net at St. Cloud State University of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). Unlike Shin, neither Fitzgerald nor St. Cloud State have won a conference title. The WCHA is a conference of eight teams, but is dominated by three: Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin and Minnesota. No other team has won a WCHA title. In four NCAA seasons, Fitzgerald earned a 18-48-6 record and a career GAA of 3.06. Fitzgerald logged almost double the time in net as Shin, and made a whopping 2,209 saves for a .908 save percentage.
However, Shin also brings her international experience. She has been with the South Korean national team since she was 14. During the IIHF Division II-B tournament in April, she recorded a .960 save percentage, second only to Nicole Jackson of Team Great Britain. Shin was selected as the Best Player for Team Korea, as voted by the coaches.
Goalie coach Rebecca Ruegsegger Baker has worked with both Shin and Fitzgerald prior to this season. She shared with The Ice Garden some of the qualities each brings to the position. “I’ve seen [Katie] grow exponentially over her college career... she’s always had great reads and great vision.” Baker noted that Shin brings a keen eye and anticipation to net. “She has great reads and... just really understands the game well. I think that contributes to her success.”
Now, it’s a matter of refining the little things. “All the goalies in this league are good, so now it’s all about the details.” When Baker was asked how she coaches her keepers through adversity, she noted the discipline and resilience Shin and Fitzgerald bring to their role. “They make my job easy because they work so hard and understand the game so well.”
In times where things may not be clicking, Baker will rely on her familiarity with the goalies to overcome challenges. “Goalie coaching is about relationships,” said Baker. With her time at St. Cloud with Katie, and the South Korean national team with Shin, Baker can work on small adjustments, as opposed to major changes. “Now it’s just refining the details... and [reminding them] there’s a reason why they’re here.”
With the Riveters
Both Shin and Fitzgerald played complete games for the Riveters against Team Russia in the preseason. Shin recorded 19 saves and allowed one goal in a 2-1 win on September 25, while Fitzgerald recorded 20 saves and allowed three goals in a 4-1 loss on September 26.
Additionally, both women have started already in the regular season. Shin got the start against Boston on October 8 and recorded an .808 save percentage in two periods, letting in five goals. Fitzgerald completed the game, letting in one goal and recording a .875 save percentage in the 6-3 loss. Fitzgerald then got the start against Connecticut on October 16, where she recorded an .895 save percentage in the 4-2 loss. In the most recent game against Boston, Shin got the start, logging 30 saves in the 5-1 loss.
The women have combined for 92 saves and 15 goals allowed.
Wiseman is content to give both players time to settle into the new league and compete for the starting spot. For the next two games against Buffalo, it will be interesting to see if Wiseman gives Fitzgerald first crack, or gives Shin the start.
Whoever starts, the defense will need to prepare for the different styles between the two. From the small sample size thus far, Shin cuts down angles regularly. However, her effective anticipation often causes her drifting away from the pipes. If Shin is unable to make the first save cleanly, the far post is often left wide open. The Riveters will need to ensure a defensive player is in position to protect the post.
Fitzgerald, likely because of her size in net, does a much better job of covering the face of the goal completely. Katie likes to stay close to home, but has shown that she can get aggressive to cover a stray puck. With Fitzgerald in net, the defense can rely on their keeper to cover up the frame, but they should eliminate one-on-one opportunities that allow opponents to attack Katie uncontested with velocity and enough time and space to take quality shots.
This early in the season, both Sojung and Katie are capable of a solid start. What the two bring together, however, might be just what New York needs to contain the high scoring offenses of the other three teams. As was the case last year, the Rivs rely on the women between the pipes to keep the team in the game. Like Fujimoto and Scrivens in the inaugural season, Shin and Fitzgerald are important to the momentum of New York.
The Riveters offense has not quite clicked as expected just yet. Perhaps splitting time to benefit from the strengths of each – Shin’s sharp vision and Fitzgerald’s size – will be the advantage the Riveters need to secure a win, if not two, in Buffalo.