In the NWHL’s inaugural season, the New York Riveters finished last among the Founding Four teams with a record of 4-12-0-2. The team grinded out two early wins against the Boston Pride, but the Isobel Cup champions would eventually separate themselves from the rest of the league. By the time the two teams met in the opening round of the playoffs, Boston was on a seven-game winning streak. They disposed of the Riveters in two straight games before also sweeping Buffalo for the inaugural season title.
The Riveters struggled defensively and were overwhelmed by the speed and the skill of the top NWHL teams. New York was the only team without a single U.S. national team allocation. They relied on international talent, such as Janine Weber, Lyudmila Belyakova and Nana Fujimoto, for star power. The Riveters became known for a “blue collar” style of play that some believe helped woo fans. However, New York’s dedication to the grind was not enough to overcome the skill of the other three teams.
The Riveters did well to re-sign the team’s top scorer from last year, Bray Ketchum (10 goals). However, noticeably missing from the roster are the next three top goal-scorers. Brooke Ammerman (4 goals, 11 assists) and Meghan Fardelmann (6 goals, 1 assist) both decided to move on from the league and elite hockey.
However, one player Chad Wiseman could have signed (and didn’t) was Russian international Lyudmila Belyakova. She ranked third on the team in goals (5), assists (5) and points (10) last season. Belyakova might have ranked higher had she not missed three games to injury. In the 2016 preseason series against her former team, Belyakova led all scorers with two goals in her lone appearance. She also led in penalty minutes (6).
In addition to forwards, one cannot overlook the absence in net for the Riveters entering this season. Jenny Scrivens and Nana Fujimoto are key departures as well. Both women kept the Riveters in games that could have easily gotten out of hand. Scrivens faced a shot on goal every 1.2 minutes, earning a saves percentage of .895%. Fujimoto faced a shot on goal every 1.5 minutes, and earned a save percentage of .914%. As a comparison, the NWHL Best Goaltender winner Brittany Ott (Boston Pride) faced a shot on goal every 2.3 minutes.
The return of neither netminder from last season might raise more eyebrows if the Riveters returned a good deal of defenders. However, only Kiira Dosdall and captain Ashley Johnston return to the 2016-17 roster. Gabie Figueroa also returns, but as a practice player.
....does the name Amanda Kessel ring a bell for anyone? Maybe?
The Riveters got the biggest free agent of the summer when they snagged Kessel, signing her to a $26,000 contract. Until less than a year ago, many thought they’d never see Kessel play hockey again, and now she’s set to play her first pro game.
Joining Kessel on the Riveters are three new goaltenders Sojung Shin, Katie Fitzgerald and Sarah Bryant. It’s assumed for now that Shin will be the starter, but these rookies will have time to prove themselves and jostle for position.
Also worth keeping an eye on are the new defenders. New York returned Johnston, Dosdall and Figueroa, but they brought on new players including Milica McMillan, Courtney Burke, Kaleigh Fratkin and Michelle Picard, to name a few. It’s a talented bunch that should bring some much-needed stability to the group, spread out minutes more evenly, and contribute offensively.
And of course, young forwards like Rebecca Russo and Miye D’Oench are certainly going to make a splash on a revitalized offense.
Without a doubt, this team’s x-factor is its goaltending. It may originally have been its forward corps, which, though much improved, still have something to prove after a disappointing offensive campaign last year. But when it was announced that Jaimie Leonoff wouldn’t be playing this season because of a torn labrum, the spotlight turned to the goalies.
Shin, Bryant and Fitzgerald are all new to the league. They’re all talented in their own right, but until they get a few games under their belts, there’s a question mark hovering above them. Their performance might not make the Riveters’ season, but it certainly could break it.
Chad Wiseman worked hard to improve his defensive talent for the upcoming season. Kessel is a standout for offensive improvement, and players like Bray Ketchum and Janine Weber will benefit from more coordinated puck movement.
With the news of Leonoff, the Riveters will go into this season much as they did last season, with questions. Can Shin and Fitzgerald hold up against a highly skilled and cohesive Boston team? Will both goalies remain healthy enough to endure the full season?
On paper, the New York Riveters should be able to get out of the basement with an improved defense and more speedy players. A third place finish is well within reach, and a second place finish is possible with a standout performance from at least one more player, including the starting goalie.