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2019-20 NWHL Season Preview: Metropolitan Riveters

The Riveters will look to bounce back after a less than stellar season.

Al Saniuk

Roster

Forwards: Tatiana Shatalova, Madison Packer, Cailey Hutchison, Kendall Cornine, Bulbul Kartanbay, Brooke Baker, Brooke Avery, Mallory Rushton (D/F), Kate Leary

Defenders: Nicole Arnold (D/F), Lexi Slattery, Rebecca Morse, Colleen Murphy, Nichelle Simon, Cassie Dunne, Leila Kilduff

Goalies: Sam Walther, Dana DeMartino

Space: 18/25 spots filled.

Home Ice: ProSkate Ice Arena in Monmouth Junction, NJ.

How Last Season Went

To put it kindly, not great. The 2018 championship Riveters squad we knew and loved was expected to make a return last season with just a few roster changes, and of course a new head coach, Randy Velischek. Piecing it all together, the Riveters had a devistangly bad season. All three goaltenders rotated around trying to find what fit, and really couldn’t ever get it together. Katie Fitzgerald posted a career low .886 save percentage, and suffered some of the worst games she has seen.

Offensively they had some bright spots in Madison Packer and Amanda Kessel, but still in total the two only racked up 30 points on the season. Beauts forward, Hayley Scamurra led the league alone with 20 for perspective. Despite their struggles, the Riveters seemed to come alive in the postseason, truly giving hope to fans that they could make it to the championship game once again.

The Riveters finished last season 4-12 which matches their season one record and ties for the worst they’ve had. The only saving grace may come in the fact that they weren’t last in the standings despite having sat there for a few weeks during the season. The Whale ultimately claimed that spot.

Offseason Moves

There have been quite a few changes to every NWHL roster this offseason, but the Riveters will head into the 2019-20 season drastically different. It’s no question one goal of the offseason would be to fix the coaching situation and they did just that. The Riveters hired Czech Republic native Ivo Mocek who has already gotten fans and players excited about the future.

As far as the player roster goes, a big change is the complete turnover of goaltenders. All three Riveters goalies we’ve come to know and love over the years will not be returning. While Katie Fitzgerald may not have had the best 2018-19 season, she returned to true form in the postseason and without a doubt will be a big position to fill. Presumably the new starting goalie will be Sam Walther, former Connecticut Whale player returning to the NWHL.

The biggest returning name was Madison Packer, the first to sign with the team this offseason and really shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. My guess would be that she wants to claim that all-time goal record before she goes anywhere. She is joined by Lexi Slattery and Rebecca Morse as Riveters returning players.

A big shock to the Riveters was the loss of Audra Richards who originally stated on social media she was with #ForTheGame but then signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps, her hometown team. This is a huge blow to what small success the Riveters’ offense had last season. Looking to fill that gap, the Rivs’ sought out a handful of University of Maine as well as RIT players. Forwards Kendall Cornine, Cailey Hutchison, and Brooke Avery are players likely to rack up points on the board quickly for the team.

Three Players to Watch

Bulbul Kartanbay | F

Kartanbay is one of the most anticipated players in the NWHL this season. She is the first Kazakh player to ever sign in the NWHL, after years of determination to play hockey in North America, and now she’s finally here. Hockey ability aside, I’m a sucker for a story about someone making history and that is what we’re going to get to watch with her this season.

Noted for international junior success, Kartanbay got her feet wet in the North American hockey scene by playing in the Southern Alberta Women’s Hockey Association (SAWHA), and keeping up with many former CWHL players.

Madison Packer | F

Whether she is dropping the gloves or dangling her way to a OT goal, Madison Packer has made a lot of noise on this Riveters team over the years and is quite always someone to watch. Packer has been on the team since the NWHL started, and currently sits tied with Boston Pride captain Jillian Dempsey in most league goals of all time with 29 a piece. The chase between the two to claim that title is something to watch in its own right.

The unofficial captain of the team, Packer brings the heart, the grit, and the skill that represents everything we love about this team. If you’re not highlighting her in your watch, you’re missing out on something big.

Nichelle Simon | D

This is going to be one of the coolest stories to watch throughout the season no matter what team you root for. College hockey player turned American Ninja Warrior turned breast cancer survivor and all the way back to professional hockey player at 37. How can you not be entertained?

On top of that amazing story, Simon should be a strong traditional presence on the blue line which is something the Riveters were lacking last season.

Three Games to Watch

Opening Whitecaps Series | Oct. 12, 3:00 p.m. ET at Tria Rink

Even though this will be their second game of the season, I think this series will be what sets the tone early for the Riveters. Last year, they played their first four games against the Whitecaps and fell into a 0-4 hole quickly. While they struggled all season, these games were crucial in showcasing just exactly what shape the team was in and had they gone differently, I don’t think the Riveters would have had the season they did. They get a chance here to take two games in Minnesota early in the season which would absolutely make a statement to the rest of the league.

This will also be the first time the Riveters see Audra Richards as an opponent in the NWHL. A player that was lethal for them will now be working against them, and surely they’ll want to prevent another hat trick from the forward in her sophomore season.

Buffalo Believes Classic | Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m. ET at RiverWorks

Regardless of who was actually playing in this game, it would be one any hockey fan does not want to miss. This is the NWHL’s first outdoor game ever, as well as the first time the Beauts and the Riveters will meet this season. I anticipate this being one of the best matchups throughout the course of the season, with the added bonus of a Beauts signature beer to make an appearance if you can make the trip to RiverWorks in Buffalo.

Conclusion of Beauts Season Series | March 1, 4:30 p.m. ET at ProSkate

The Riveters won’t get a look at the Buffalo Beauts until the previously mentioned game late in December. Judging by previous years and roster changes this offseason, both the Riveter and the Beauts will probably fall to be middle of the pack teams, not quite as dominant as Boston or Minnesota but not falling to the bottom of the standings like the Whale. Because of this, playing each other twice in December and then four times in late February/ early March are likely going to be very important games for both teams, solidifying their spots in the standings. I would look to this final game of the season as something that makes or breaks it for either of these teams, and definitely one to watch.

Prediction

With just how different every NWHL roster is looking at this point, it is very hard to predict what will happen. I’m sure all of us are on the edge of our seat to see how this season goes, but also to laugh at just how wrong our predictions end up being. Still, I have a lot of hope for the Riveters only going up from where they were last year. The beginning of the season will be brutal for the Metropolitan team that only plays two home games within the first three months of the season, but if they can post a decent road record in that time, they will be in great shape for the playoffs.

There’s a lot to factor in when predicting a season like this, however I would estimate a third place finish for the Riveters, with a 12-11-1 record. Despite how the team struggled last season, the Riveters still dominated the Whale and were able to keep up with the Beauts. If that only amplifies this season, I think they can add a few late season home wins against the Pride to their work this year too. Just like last year, I think their struggles (as well as most of the leagues struggles) will come in their away games in Minnesota. It’s a lot of traveling to an intimidating home rink against a phenomenally stacked team. If the Riveters could even take one win from their four games in Minnesota, I would consider it a good deal.