Alexa Gruschow of the Metropolitan Riveters is not your typical NWHL star.
She did not go to an elite college hockey program in the WCHA or Hockey East — as a matter of fact, she wasn’t even drafted by an NWHL franchise. Gruschow was also never a Patty Kazmaier nominee and she’s never played for her country.
But none of that stopped her from scoring the game-winning goal of the 2018 Isobel Cup Final or being the first player not named Brianna Decker to win the NWHL’s MVP.
Gruschow is three games into her third NWHL season, and thus far she and the Riveters have yet to taste their first victory. This is a new challenge for the RPI alumna and her teammates after last year.
In 2017-18, the Riveters were nearly unbeatable in the regular season and they closed the door on their opponents in the playoffs with back-to-back shutouts to claim the Isobel Cup.
Thus far, this season has been drastically different. The Riveters have just two goals in three games and have already matched the number of regulation losses that they had last year. It’s not the start to the season that the defending champions wanted.
“I think we are still going through a period of adjustment,” Gruschow explained to The Ice Garden. “Granted, we have had a lot of changes: a full coaching staff, the retiring of veterans, and the new players coming in — which you usually get every year — and then also the part-time players or players who have other obligations. So things are a little mixed up right now, but its just a little bit of adversity in the beginning of the season.
“Bringing the rookies on board and having the coach and the players get familiar with each other, there’s always an adjustment period,” she continued. “I think we’re just in that right now, and that’s totally fine. Everyone is being really positive about it and helping the younger girls.”
Gruschow and her teammates aren’t getting disheartened by their 0-3-0 start to the season. She knows that it’s a long season and that there’s a lot of talent in the league this year. For Gruschow, the focus right now is
Last year Gruschow seemed to find another level in her game. She scored nine goals and picked up 13 assists in 16 games to lead the NWHL in points and primary points. She more than doubled her production from her rookie season in 2016-17.
Last year, when the Riveters needed a big play, Gruschow came through again and again for her team. She made big plays, scored momentum-shifting goals, won crucial faceoffs, and proved to be a relentless shutdown center when the team was protecting a lead. Despite the excellence she displayed on the ice in 2017-18, Gruschow isn’t placing too much pressure on herself this year. As always, she’s keeping things in perspective.
“I wouldn’t say that I feel any added pressure, that’s not really something that I focus on too much.” Gruschow shared. “I just want to do what I can and do it the best that I can in order for our team to be successful and that’s how all players are on the Riveters. We want to defend our title. If that means me doing the same thing as last year, then I am going to try to do that. If that means my role will change this year with the new coach — if he sees something different and switches things around — then I’m going to embrace that role, whatever it may be.”
Gruschow prides herself on her special teams play, her ability to win faceoffs, and her malleability. But she’s not checking the box score every night to make sure that she’s picking up assists and points. Gruschow knows there’s a lot more to helping your team win hockey games than scoring and setting up goals.
“If the points come, then they come,” she shared.
One added challenge for Gruschow this year is that she will miss miss Tuesday night practices with the team for the first half of the year. The graduate student has a class for her masters program that overlaps with the Riveters schedule. It was a big letdown. She’s making up for that missed time by getting on the ice more on her own and skating with her some of her teammates on non-practice days.
That kind of dedication to her craft is what made Gruschow RPI’s leading scorer for four straight years. It’s also what helped her emerge as one of the NWHL’s brightest stars last year. It might take Gruschow a little longer to find her scoring touch this year, but there’s little doubt that it will come. Last year was no fluke. Gruschow is a star.
Today, Gruschow and her teammates will be playing in an NHL rink for the second straight season. The Riveters started their unforgettable 2017-18 game with a win at the Prudential Center.
With any luck, the Rivs will be able to start a new chapter to their 2018-19 season in their home opener. After all, watching a championship banner being raised to the rafters seems like the perfect way for the Riveters to turn the page to the next part of their story.
“Yes we are in a new season, but it is something amazing to look back on,” Gruschow told The Ice Garden. “Just to think about how that was us, and to see us being honored in the Devils’ arena. It’s going to be a special feeling ... It will get everyone’s blood pumping and everyone’s adrenaline will be up after that. It will give us a little pep in our step and we’ll know that we’re a great hockey team — help us put this slow start to the season behind us.”