After three years, 47 regular season games, five postseason games, four surgeries, and an Isobel Cup Championship Ashley Johnston has decided to hang up her skates.
For the last three years Johnston, the only captain the franchise has ever known, has been the heart and soul of the Riveters. On the ice the woman known as “Stretch” established herself as one of the league’s premier shutdown defenders. Off the ice Johnston earned a reputation for her intelligence, sincerity, and her profound dedication to the league and to the game itself.
The 2015-16 season was something of a crucible for the then New York Riveters. Johnston battled every night on the top defensive pair of a team that frequently found itself buried in its own zone. The Riveters went 4-12-2 that year, but Johnston was always ready to speak with the media and greet fans with her trademark smile regardless of how many bumps and bruises she was carrying with her.
In her second NWHL season the Union College alumna spoke passionately about the league cutting its players’ salaries. In retrospect, her speech on Nov. 18, 2016 was a turning point for the league. Johnston’s words were like medicine to the NWHL’s anxious and angry fans.
“This is the place where we want to play,” Johnston told the media through tears. “We are all invested in this league. We all want to see it succeed. The easy thing right now would be for everyone to pack up their bags and go home. But I’m never one to really think that the easy thing is the right thing to do. It’s just going to be figuring out next steps and where we go as a team, as a league, as a family from here.”
As we all know, Johnston chose to stay. Later that season she went on to play in her first NWHL All-Star Game. She also played a pivotal role in the Riveters transformation into a winning team.
In her third NWHL season Johnston was the backbone of the best group of defenders the NWHL has ever seen. The team-first mentality and work ethic that Johnston and others established back in 2015 was essential to the Riveters success this year. The collective character of that group, and their bond, carried the team to the 2018 Isobel Cup Final where together they made history.
Johnston’s farewell letter:
I can confidently say over the past three years I have felt every emotion possible on the feelings scale of life – from the absolute best of winning the Cup to the absolute worst of having the fourth surgery in three years and everything in between. The past three years have been a roller coaster of a ride that I couldn’t be happier to have been a part of. Unfortunately though, it is time for my ride to stop and I will be retiring from the NWHL.
I frequently have been asked for the past three years, “Why do you do it?” The first year, at Aviator, it would take me four hours one way to get to the rink. I would turn around at 1am and drive back to Albany, to then go into work at 8am (I learned there’s always traffic in NYC regardless of the time!). The second year, I would stay overnight in Jersey City, with the best roomies around – Fitz, Meats, and Tat – then leave the house at 4:30am to arrive at work for 8am. The third year, I was lucky. Wash and I would drive down and back together, getting in around 1:30am then I’d go into work for 7am. Most of the time I would fall asleep on the way back and she’d autopilot us back to Albany. Wash helped me power through during the ugly times: the over-tired, stressed beyond belief. Thank you, Wash.
Why do I do it? Because I believe the NWHL offers the highest level of hockey available to female athletes. The league offers a platform for females to be valued as professional athletes. It provides a different narrative, not the one that dominates news outlets where a female athlete is identified for who they’re dating or married to, for what they’re wearing or what they ate for breakfast. Instead the NWHL provides the space and opportunity for female athletes to not only tell their own narrative, but set the foundation for what the narrative surrounding female professional hockey will be. Every day we get to shape the future of women’s hockey. This opportunity is why, for the past three years, I dedicated myself to the NWHL and the Riveters organization.
I couldn’t be more proud of it, but now it is time to hang the skates up. Thank you to my employers during that three-year period – Precision Valve and Automation as well as CH2M / Jacobs for allowing me to balance work and hockey. Thank you to all the fans for your unwavering support of me, the Riveters and the NWHL. I can’t wait to see it continue throughout season four when the Riveters defend the Cup. To the volunteers and league staff, thank you for all your behind the scenes work – I know it isn’t always noticed, but please know, without you, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
To the Riveters, both past and present, thank you – you helped me fall in love with hockey again and will forever be one big family to me. To the coaching staff, thank you for teaching me more than I ever thought possible about hockey, life, and myself. Lastly, to my friends (especially the Albany Sirens!), my girlfriend and family, thank you for following me around from rink to rink cheering me on and being the best support network I could ever ask for.
Ashley “Stretch” Johnston
Johnston retires as a true NWHL icon and an Isobel Cup Champion. She will forever be a Riveter.