Week Three of the NWHL season is in the books, with some head-turning results already. Is Minnesota seriously this good? Will the Beauts ever allow a goal? What is up with the Riveters?
With four of the five teams in action this upcoming weekend, let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not, and who to keep your eye on in Week Four.
Trending up: Jonna Curtis, MIN | 2 goals, 3 assists in 2 games vs MET
Of all the names featured on the Minnesota Whitecaps’ roster for their inaugural NWHL season, Jonna Curtis’ would likely not have been the one most would expect to be sitting atop the league leader board in scoring.
Nevertheless, there she sits, leading the league with seven points through four games, ahead of star teammates Hannah Brandt and Lee Stecklein. The diminutive rookie from the University of New Hampshire has notched a point in all four contests, including a pair of multi-point performances this weekend in New Jersey against the Riveters.
As an encore, she reeled in the NWHL VEDA Player of the Week Award.
How does she do it? Quick, quiet wrists. Opening weekend she received a pass between the hashmarks and from point-blank range lifted it over the outstretched glove of Katie Fitzgerald. This Sunday, she tormented Fitzgerald again, this time stripping the puck away shorthanded and beating her with a dangle down low.
With Minnesota hosting the Beauts this weekend, Curtis’ point streak is definitely something worth tuning in to witness.
Trending down: Katie Fitzgerald, MET | 0-2, 10 goals allowed on 45 SOG, 2 games vs MIN
It is well established just how good Katie Fitzgerald can be when she is locked in. That said, the Riveters have looked as discombobulated defensively as they ever have since their first season, and Fitzgerald is suffering for it.
After not allowing a goal from above the top of the face-off circles the entirety of last year, Fitzgerald has allowed four in five games, three in this past weekend alone. Minnesota finished off a season sweep of the Riveters, averaging four goals a game on Fitzgerald.
The tumultuous weekend was capped off by Fitzgerald getting pulled for backup Kimberly Sass with nine minutes remaining in Sunday’s 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Whitecaps. It marked the first time since Fitzgerald’s rookie season that she was given the hook.
She allowed 28 goals all of last season and has already surrendered 21 this year.
If you own Katie Fitzgerald in a Fantasy NWHL league, it might be wise to pursue other options as the embattled Rivs venture up to Boston to take on the Pride this Saturday.
Trending up: Haley Skarupa, BOS | 1 assist, 6 SOG vs CTW
Haley Skarupa averaged the most shots-on-goal per game of all NWHL skaters in her brief stint with the Boston Pride last season. The US Women’s National team came calling, cutting her season in Beantown short. But Skarupa is picking up right where she left off, registering six shots in both games played so far this season.
Against Connecticut, she did what she does best: get pucks to the net. Skarupa has always excelled in shooting from high-danger areas, but she has been particularly good at getting to the house this season. All 12 registered shots on goal off her stick have come from the face-off circle or below and between the dots. It’s one thing to have shot quantity, but it’s another to have shot quality as well. Skarupa has both.
Skarupa skated away with an assist against the Whale this weekend. She could do some real damage against a slumping Riveters team at home. She had a goal and an assist in their first meeting.
Trending down: Randy Velischek, MET | Winless weekend, 0-5 on the season
It’s unfortunately a week to beat up on the Riveters. It is warranted when the defending champs start 0-5 and have looked scrambled doing so.
Let’s cut new head coach Randy Velischek just a bit of slack first. Being assigned a head coaching position two weeks before the start of the regular season is an uphill battle to fight. Missing top defender Courtney Burke to injury is rotten. Key players Miye D’Oench and Erika Lawler being out of the lineup naturally detracts from production.
But hooooo boy, have the Riveters looked shaky as the San Andreas Fault. Only the Rock isn’t coming to bail Velischek out in this movie. He’s left to his own devices to right the ship.
Metro has had an uncharacteristic number of defensive-zone turnovers. Their positioning has left the middle of the ice wide open for high-danger chances. Scoring chances are coming at a premium.
Curiously, Velischek was quoted by our own Erica Ayala as saying the Riveters are “not a good scoring team...we’re not going to score a lot of goals, from what I can tell.”
The Riveters led the league in shots-per-game with 31.89 last season, and averaged four goals per game along the way. They have since added Olympian Amanda Kessel, speedster Kristin Lewicki and a plethora of talented rookies. The personnel to succeed is in place. Unfortunately, they have looked systemically broken to start the year.
I wrote at the beginning of the season in my Riveters season preview that Velischek’s biggest test would be cohesion as a unit. One would imagine at this point he’d like a make-up exam.
One more loss ties the franchise record for longest losing streak, set in the then-New York Riveters’ first season under Chad Wiseman.
Trending up: Katerina Mrázová, CTW | 1 power play goal, 1 assist, 5 SOG vs BOS
Let’s exact some positives from a winless team this time. The Connecticut Whale put up a good fight against the Boston Pride this past weekend, fighting back to tie the game before eventually falling 4-2. Meeri Räisänen stopped 28 of 31 shots on goal.
The Whale’s two-goal comeback was staged by Katerina Mrázová, who scored on the powerplay and assisted Emily Fluke’s tying goal.
On top of that, Mrázová was 18-7 in the face-off circle and registered five shots on goal.
The Whale have the weekend off, but Mrázová could be budding into one of the most valuable members of the Whale before our eyes.