The Champions Cup between the Metropolitan Riveters and Luleå Hockey/MSSK is actually happening.
Despite the NWHL’s questionable handling of the situation including a trans-Atlantic relocation from Sweden to New Jersey and the initially-planned series being reduced to a single game, the event is going forward.
For the first time in either league’s history, the SDHL and NWHL reigning champions will face off on Sept. 29 in Princeton, NJ.
*cue battle royale music*
What North American Fans Can Expect from Luleå Hockey/MSSK
This roster is jammed with high-end skill. Solid defending, speed, all-but-impenetrable goaltending, and deadly scoring ability have Luleå/MSSK at the top of the SDHL with six straight wins this season and a staggering 28 GF:2 GA. They have yet to surrender a power-play goal this season and lead the league in faceoff wins.
Five nations are represented on the roster and 10 players from Finland, Sweden, and Japan played at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Three out of the SDHL’s top-five scorers last season play for Luleå/MSSK: forward Michelle Karvinen finished first with 68 points, forward Emma Nordin was third with 58 points, and defender Jenni Hiirikoski was fourth with 56 points.
Yes, you read that right. A defender cracked the league’s scoring ranks last year (and the year before that in her rookie SDHL season), and already has 13 points in the 2018-2019 season. In this house we respect and acknowledge the greatness of Jenni Hiirikoski, because she is...
The Best Defender on Earth
Hiirikoski sees the ice like no other. Her vision translates not only to stunning defensive prowess but also a valuable scoring touch.
She makes plays. She scores goals. She kills penalties. She does it all. The IIHF Best Defender Award might as well be re-named in her honor. She’s won it a record six times.
In addition to captaining Luleå/MSSK, Hiirikoski has led Team Finland since 2011. She’s a consummate leader with two Olympic bronze medals and six World Championship bronze medals as well as numerous awards from every league she’s ever played in.
She’s a lock for the IIHF Hall of Fame and should (assuming the selection committee ever deign to remember women exist as more than occasional window dressing) be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer in Toronto as soon as she’s eligible.
A Team Who Knows How To Win
This is a well-run and well-organized club. They retained 17 members of last year’s championship team and added pieces like veteran Team Sweden goaltender Sara Grahn and up-and-coming Finnish forward Petra Nieminen.
The larger Luleå Hockey organization took over the Munksund-Skuthamns SK women’s hockey club in 2015. As Luleå Hockey/MSSK, the team has won two SDHL championships in three years, in 2016 and again in 2018. Both came under the leadership of longtime head coach Fredrik Glader, who came to the organization after two years with MSSK.
The club’s stable bench, consistent systems, and set lines will provide a stark contrast to a Riveters team that spent almost their entire offseason without a head coach. Glader has years of successful women’s hockey coaching experience. Randy Velischek...does not.
Sources tell me new #NWHL Riveters coach Randy Velischek was fired from his most recent coaching job, at the boy’s high school level. His former #NJDevils teammate Bruce Driver coaches the girl’s team at the same school. Worth considering if Driver was offered the position first.— Meredith Foster (@fosterwrites) September 20, 2018
While the lack of transparency from the NWHL regarding the the event’s contraction and relocation put a damper on the initial buzz, North American fans have every reason to get excited.
The Riveters didn’t take their first Isobel Cup win without first putting in a season’s worth of hard work. Now, they get to test themselves against a formidable opponent.
Fans of both teams, buckle up. This matchup is going to be fun.