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NWHL Top Rookies: Kelsey Koelzer

The 2016 first overall draft pick shined as an All-Star and Isobel Cup champion in her rookie season.

Kelsey Koelzer of the Metropolitan Riveters.
Mike Murphy

It didn’t take long for Kelsey Koelzer to validate her status as the highly-touted first overall selection of the 2016 NWHL Draft. The Metropolitan Riveters, then known as New York, knew they were drafting a special player with an impressive collegiate career at Princeton which included 31 goals and 69 assists in 128 games for the Tigers.

Koelzer can now add All-Star MVP and Isobel Cup Champion to that hockey résumé after a breakout rookie season in the NWHL.

Prior to the start of this season, the Pennsylvania native made her debut in the 2017 playoffs for the Riveters in a semifinal matchup against the eventual champion Buffalo Beauts. Although Koelzer was held off of the scoresheet in the 4-2 loss, she came away from the game with a taste for the NWHL and a fresh perspective on what it would take to make it in the league.

“I learned a lot in the brief time I spent with the Riveters last season,” she stated upon re-signing with Metropolitan in the offseason. “Having the experience now with the speed of the game will help me when we get back to work come October.”

It certainly did.

Koelzer finished the season with five goals and 14 points in 14 games. She consistently contributed to the offense at both even strength and on the power play, adding a single shorthanded assist on the season as well. Four of Koelzer’s seven even-strength points were primary points and a remarkable six of her seven power play points were primary points, indicating how integral she was to driving the offense with a direct impact on goals.

The rookie phenom was part of arguably the most impressive defense corps assembled in NWHL history. Accomplished blueliners Ashley Johnston, Michelle Picard, and Kiira Dosdall mentored the young Koelzer, fellow rookie Jenny Ryan, and 2018 NWHL Best Defender Courtney Burke. It can be difficult to stand out surrounded by so many star players, but at times Koelzer was the most electrifying defender on the ice despite being just 22 years old.

Koelzer’s brilliant play earned her a spot in the NWHL All-Star game in St. Paul, Minnesota alongside fellow Riveter blueliners Burke, Picard, and Ryan. As a part of Team Leveille at the weekend festivities, the budding superstar stole headlines with highlight performances. First, Koelzer won the hardest shot competition with an 81-mph slapshot. As an encore, she set an NWHL All-Star record with four goals in her team’s 8-6 loss. Fans in Minnesota were treated to her dazzling skill and cheered as she was named co-MVP with Hayley Scamurra.

In fact, fans from across the country noticed Koelzer. One little fan in particular, Rayla, latched on to her new role model despite living over 500 miles away in North Carolina. Fortunately, NWHL fans banded together and helped get Rayla up to New Jersey to watch Koelzer and the Metropolitan Riveters play live. She had a pretty good seat too, especially with the perks of being the honorary captain for the game.

After a disappointing playoff debut in 2017, Koelzer returned to the NWHL postseason drawing on her past experience which helped her post a rookie season to remember. The 2018 playoffs would be the fireworks at the end of it all.

Koelzer registered an assist in the semifinal win over the Connecticut Whale and set the stage for a final showdown against the Buffalo Beauts, the team that gave the rookie her first glimpse of NWHL hockey a year before. This time, she emerged victorious. The final horn sounded on a 1-0 win against the Beauts in Newark, NJ. Koelzer celebrated with teammates and a swarm of ecstatic fans as she hoisted the Isobel Cup over her head. The season was over. She was a champion.

Not bad for a first year.