You really couldn’t ask for a better Isobel Cup Final this year. On Sunday at 3 p.m. in Newark, New Jersey, the Metropolitan Riveters will host the Buffalo Beauts for the final NWHL game of the 2017-2018 season. The winner of Sunday’s game will lift the Isobel Cup in what has proven to be the most significant year in the league’s brief history.
The regular season standings reveal how closely matched the Metropolitan Riveters and the Buffalo Beauts are. The Riveters had the edge in wins and points in the regular season, but the rivals split their six-game regular season series. The Beauts won the last three meetings between the rivals, including a victory on February 3 that spoiled the Riveters’ undefeated season. Still, the Riveters had the clear upper hand in the first half of the year.
One of the biggest storylines heading into the Isobel Cup Final is how heated this rivalry has become.
It’s no secret that these two teams have a gift for infuriating each other. Many NWHL fans remember Jess Jones grabbing Jenny Ryan’s facemask and earning a game misconduct and a one-game suspension back on November 4. There were 28 penalties called in that first meeting. The after-the-whistle antics have settled down since then, but all year long the games between the Rivs and Beauts were defined by their physicality, intensity, and drama. Sunday will be no different.
“[We need to play] a disciplined style hockey game — and not even just staying out of the box ‘disciplined’ — discipline in your structure and your play and sticking true to who you are as a team, and just not getting wrapped up in their style of play — which is what [the Beauts] want,” Riveters’ head coach Chad Wiseman told The Ice Garden. “They’re a gritty, hard-nosed hockey team. They want to wrap you up in their style. We just have to worry about ourselves.”
The players on the ice know that the Final will almost certainly be filled with chirping, pushing, and shoving. It’s all part of the game. It’s all part of the Riveters-Beauts rivalry.
“They’ve got instigators and agitators and so do we,” Madison Packer told the media after the Riveters’ playoff victory over the Whale last Sunday. “Maybe we haven’t activated to the same level that they have, but everyone can play that kind of game. They key is going to be not giving in to what they’re doing. They’ve got a couple of kids — once they get under your skin, they’re under your skin. That’s what their job is. They go out there and they irritate you. I do it — I go out and get under people’s skin, and they’re all focused on slashing, whacking, hitting me, and they get penalties and we go on the power play.
“We’re a better team on paper,” Packer continued. “We’re a better team when we move the puck, when we play our game, when we don’t let the crap between the whistles, the shenanigans, and the antics distract us from what we’re here to do ... If it was up to me there wouldn’t be any of it. I think some of the stuff that goes on is embarrassing, but it’s not up to me.”
Winning Sunday’s game might mean a little bit more to former Beauts players Harrison Browne and Tatiana Rafter. Both forwards signed with the Riveters for a chance to play in a bigger role and they have found both individual and team success with Rosie the Riveter on the front of their jerseys. Browne is the only Riveter who has already won an Isobel Cup, but the Newark-based hockey team has no shortage of experience.
Riveters’ captain Ashley Johnston, Packer, Kiira Dosdall, and Bray Ketchum have all been with the franchise since the 2015-16 season. Olympians Michelle Picard and Erika Lawler have both won silver medals with Team USA and know all about performing under pressure.
The Beauts’ identity was re-shaped this year by a trio of CWHL imports and an impressive rookie class featuring the 2018 Rookie of the Year Hayley Scamurra. But the Beauts have their own exceptional core of leaders. Beauts’ captain Corinne Buie is the only player to win the Isobel Cup twice and Kourtney Kunichika has been with the team since the league’s inaugural season. The Beauts also have an Olympic silver medalist of their own in Lisa Chesson; the 31-year-old defender will be the oldest player on the ice on Sunday.
There’s no denying that the Beauts are riding a tidal wave of confidence into the Isobel Cup Final. Buffalo has won 11 games in a row, including a 3-2 overtime victory over the Pride last Saturday in the Isobel Cup Semifinals. It’s worth stating again that the Beauts have had the Riveters’ number as of late. Anything can happen in a one-game series, but both teams are going into Sunday’s game with the knowledge that Buffalo has won the last three meetings.
The Beauts have also won their last three postseason games, including last year’s unforgettable upset over the Boston Pride for the Cup. This will be the third straight year that the Queen City’s team has played in the Isobel Cup Final. The Beauts have done this before and won this before.
The Riveters finished the regular season with a 4-1 victory over the Pride (that scoreline included an empty net goal) and followed that performance with a dominant 5-0 win over the Connecticut Whale in the Semifinals. Coach Wiseman has been pleased with the play of his team in the last few weeks, including the Riveters’ 2-1 loss to the Beauts in the penultimate game of the regular season.
The Riveters are healthy, and they will have home ice advantage in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd at the Barnabas Health Hockey House. Will they be able to feed off the energy of the crowd in Newark? Or will we see a similar performance to the 2017 Isobel Cup Semifinal when the Riveters struggled to get their game going against the Beauts? We’ll soon find out.
The stage is set for an unforgettable 2018 Isobel Cup Final. There has been and will be a great deal said and written about the two NWHL teams with NHL team partnerships playing in the Isobel Cup Final this year, but there is no question that these teams belong here. The Beauts and Riveters have been exceptional all season long.