Metropolitan Riveters head coach Chad Wiseman was excited to add 2010 Olympic silver medalist Erika Lawler to his roster in September. The Riveters had lost their leading point scorer, Janine Weber, in free agency to the Boston Pride in early June. As a result there was a pressing need to add another skilled center to the mix, and Lawler fit the bill.
There was never any question that Lawler had the skill to play in the NWHL, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old knew that the beginning of the season would have its rough spots. Before signing with the Riveters she had been away from the game for four years. ON learning that she was no longer a part of Team USA’s plans after the 2012 Women’s World Championships, Lawler’s passion for the game waned. She played one game during the 2012-13 CWHL season and then stepped off the ice.
In the NWHL’s inaugural season, Lawler attended every Riveters home game. It appears that being close to elite women’s hockey again made a real impact on the former director of the NWHLPA, because the passion is back. Erika Lawler is back.
Matt Falkenbury, the voice of the Metropolitan Riveters, has taken notice of Lawler’s play since the preseason.
“Above all else I would say her tenacity is what stands out to me,” Falkenbury told The Ice Garden. “She is someone with speed and grit who wins plenty of faceoffs. Her energy speaks for itself as well.”
Lawler has been a key contributor to the Riveters’ runaway success this year. However, she was scoreless through the first three games of the season. She was also none too pleased with her play in the preseason series against Team Russia. Lawler readily told the media that her game was not where she wanted it to be. Four months later, that is starting to change.
”Relative to where I was at the start of the season I think I’ve made quite a few strides and improvements — no pun intended,” Lawler told The Ice Garden through laughter. “It was more challenging than I thought it would be to get back into the sport. It’s not just like riding a bike. Hockey is a very technical game, there’s so many different elements to the game — and my game — that got lost over four years of time.”
Lawler feels like her body is finally starting to catch up with her mind, but knows that there is still room for improvement. Hockey is a complex sport. It requires quickness and agility in both thought and action. And four years away from any sport is a long time.
On Nov. 18, Lawler picked up her first NWHL point, an assist on a Jenny Ryan goal. Since that first point Lawler has added four more in six games, including her first NWHL goal on Dec. 16. The work ethic has been there since day one. Now the points are finally starting to come for the veteran center.
Lawler believes that there’s a lot more to being a good forward than scoring, but that didn’t stop her from thinking about getting in the box score.
”There was a monkey on my back,” Lawler told The Ice Garden. “It did feel nice to get on the scoreboard, but I did think that it was just a matter of time. Clicking with your linemates is such a big thing. My line and I hit a turning point where we really started to connect. Things are looking good for the second half.”
For the majority of the season Lawler has centered Metropolitan’s second line with Rebecca Russo and Harrison Browne on her wings. Lawler brings a lot more than experience to the trio. She excels at reading the game and knowing where she needs to be in all three zones. She also is a dogged puck retriever with a knack for making crafty passes.
”I’ve always been heavy on assists and light on goals — I know I’m not a goal scorer.” Lawler explained. “[Passing the puck] is where I’ve always excelled; three-fourths of my points in college were assists. I played with Hilary Knight, one of the best goal scorers in the women’s game, and anytime you put the puck on her stick it’s going in the back of the net.
“I get the puck out of the corners and I feed my teammates in front of the net — that’s my style,” Lawler continued. “I’m not going to be the person in front of the net who outmuscles someone and scores the goal. I’m the person who is going to do the work and move [the puck] to somebody else.”
It seems that with each game Lawler’s game is getting closer to where she wants it to be. But because of her competitive spirit it’s unlikely she’s going to be satisfied with anything less than an Isobel Cup Championship. The good news for Lawler is that the Riveters are 10-0-0 and have already clinched home ice in the playoffs.
Like her coach, Lawler believes that the Riveters’ greatest strength is the team’s depth. Metropolitan has three strong lines that can all score. But Lawler is convinced that what sets the Riveters apart is the team’s defense and the reigning NWHL Goaltender of the Year.
“Our D line is so incredibly strong, and so is our goaltending,” Lawler told The Ice Garden. “I’m so impressed by Fitzy both in practice and in games. She’s made some unbelievable saves this year. There’s a lot of moments in games when we’re up 2-0 and that’s the most dangerous lead to have in hockey. That next goal is huge. Fitzy always makes those big saves, and we’re able to capitalize in the other direction and steal the momentum.”
Because of Fitzgerald and a stacked blue line the Riveters are early favorites to win the 2018 Isobel Cup. But the team’s center depth has also been crucial to the team’s success, and Lawler has been a big part of that. She kills penalties, wins puck battles, wins faceoffs, and is pivotal to the Riveters’ ability to move the puck through the neutral zone and go on the attack.
Lawler’s resume speaks for itself. She won three national championships at Wisconsin, two golds and two silvers in the Women’s World Championships, and a silver medal in the Vancouver Olympic Games. Lawler has played in and won more big games than most hockey players ever have. She has nothing left to prove to anyone — except, perhaps, herself.