This week I ventured up to Terry Conners to watch the Riveters take on the Whale in their last regular-season matchup. Recently acquired Mariya Sorokina was slated to start against her old team, and I was curious to see how the Riveters would play. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t go into this game feeling very optimistic. The trade announcement late last week threw me for a loop, and I was genuinely upset that the Riveters established goalie trio were being essentially sidelined. However, the season must go on, and trades are part of the business. The Riveters needed a win, and I needed to be at the rink to cheer them on (cowbell anyone?) ... and oh boy did the Riveters give me something to cheer about!
But first, let's get out the Riv Rants!
~ This is more of an observation than a rant. With how small Terry Conners is, I couldn’t help but notice Coach Randy all over the rink. 15 minutes before the game he was standing in the lobby, and during intermissions he mostly stayed outside, away from the locker room. Even during the game, he was mostly quiet on the bench. I suspect the Riveters players officially took control of their game. Which, based on their play Sunday, is definitely for the better! They kicked ass.
~ Not sure how I feel about the four goalie situation. Sorokina did well in her start and it's awesome she got her first W against her old club. However, the team in front of her were playing like women possessed. They played like they had something to prove. I hope there are plans to rotate goalies. Fitzgerald especially deserves another chance to play. If the Riveters are going to play like champions again, you best put your championship goalie back in to strut her stuff.
~ 1-800-RIVS-ARE-ROLLING!! Most goals by the Rivs in a game all season!! Can't think of a better way to start off 2019! Five assists by Amanda Kessel! Seriously, wow. She's a play-maker and an assister, and Sunday's game showed exactly who she is. Two goals from the rookie, Richards! One goal and three assists by Packer! One goal for Gruschow, with one of the assists coming from D'Oench (who I should mention wasn't even on her line in Sunday's game, #keep11and19together)! Shout out to Russo and D'Oench with a goal apiece, and Burke and Ziadie also making the scoring summary with a pair of As.
~ The players had enough and coached themselves. And why not? This team is essentially the same one from last season. They know how they should and can and they are certainly capable of playing like that again. I’m glad they proved it to us this weekend!
~ Offensive defense. The best defense is a good offense, and the defenders were super involved this game. They didn’t stand there and block shots. They helped keep the puck in the offensive zone, did an excellent job clearing the puck out of the zone, and also did well protecting their new goalie. All while making it look easy.
~ Finally seeing a successful transition game!
~ THE POWER PLAY!!!!
~ Burke, Koelzer, Nash, Russo, Lewicki, and Lawler were all players I kept noticing whenever they came out for a shift. All of them having multiple small moments, shift after shift that helped the Riveters control the play.
~ First NWHL game to feature two European goalies starting in net. Räisänen from Finland for the Whale, and Sorokina from Russia for the Riveters! Love to see these sorts of things happening as the league grows.
~ The Rivs were focused in this game, had great energy, rallied themselves, and played a full 60 minutes of Riveters hockey. They opened up the scoring, and even when the Whale came within one goal, the Riveters kept their cool and didn't crumble. They played like the reigning champions they are. Next week will be a real test, as they take on the Beauts in Buffalo, and hopefully the Riveters keep rallying each other to bring out and play their best hockey.
The lead-up to this game was daunting. The team has been dealing with poor leadership with no solutions in sight. The league, who own the Riveters, has yet to take any action to address the situation. When it was announced the Riveters were not getting a new coach, but instead a fourth goalie, the reaction was one giant "What?!" Mariya Sorokina is an excellent goalie and did really well for the Riveters in her debut. But it needs to be said; goaltending has never been the Riveters problem. As bizarre as it may sound, one could argue this wacky trade is a result of Randy's inexperience as a women's hockey coach. Would this trade have even happened if the Riveters were competitive in the standings? Or if they had a few more wins under their belt? Inadvertently, he allowed this situation to happen. I'm proud of the Rivs players, who took this curve ball and rallied. Hands down, this was the best game played by the Riveters all season. Hopefully they keep it going. New Year, New Rivs!
Despite the strong response by the players, the whole situation begs another question. Why hasn't the league stepped in to replace the coach? They own the Riveters, so the league makes the personnel decisions. Are they worried about bad PR? Part of success is recognizing when there are breakdowns, trying to fix them, and learning from them. However, it's awfully quiet from that end, and if the league isn't going to help resolve the Riveters' coaching issues, someone else has to try. Game after game, visible frustration radiated off of the players. I wonder if there was anybody who was watching and could have helped troubleshoot sooner?
Perhaps the NWHL Player's Association could have stepped in to mediate between the front office and the team? We’ve heard very little from them since the contract announcement at the beginning of the season. While I understand people don’t want to stir the pot, it doesn’t excuse the fact the players need voices to speak for them. While us Rivs fans can do very little to change the player's situation, you can bet we're screaming as loud as we can. The Riveters deserve better. We are fans of the players first, and will always support them. And as fans, the total radio-silence on the matter is concerning. No matter what the reality of the situation, the optics read as either an unwillingness or inability to adapt. Where is the transparency we were promised?
The situation isn't all doom and gloom. This Sunday proved the players have still got it. They finally had enough and took control of their own destiny. They played good, winning hockey. If the Riveters go back to the quick-thinking, offensively creative hockey that we know them for, they will dominate. Their roster is built for it, and we all know what they're capable of. The players just need to stay focused on each other, and pool their hockey knowledge, skills, and energy together to bring out the best in themselves. And we the fans will be cheering them every step of the way.
You Can Do It, Rivs!