Hope for the best, expect the worst. That was my motto heading to the Hockey House on Sunday. Ultimately, Rivs Nation got one exciting game and a big win!
The lead up to Sunday wasn’t looking great. After the crushing home loss against Boston on President's Day, the Rivs traveled up to Buffalo. Where they, once again, lost 4-1. Earlier this week, the flu took out several players keeping them from practice, a new (last minute) addition was made to the coaching staff, and their abominable season record loomed over the Rivs. Would the sick players get better in time? Would the rest of the team get sick, too? Would the new blood on the coaching staff help? With one game left in the regular season, it was it too little, too late to salvage the season. But what about this game? Who knew if the Riveters would be able to overcome the red hot Buffalo Beauts. At the end of the day, the Rivs channeled a little of their S3 style of hockey, which was more than enough to tie with the Beauts and claim home ice advantage against the Whale in the play-in playoff game. While it may not have been a perfect game, it sure was memorable!
~ Penalties galore. Some that shouldn't have been taken, some that were definitely questionable calls by the refs, and just so many called between the two teams. Did we really expect anything less from a Beauts and Rivs matchup? However, if the Rivs want to make a push for the cup, they can’t spend half the game on the kill.
~ Period one was not that great. The Beauts scoring 22 seconds into the game felt unfortunately familiar, leaving spectators ready to watch the awful style of hockey we've seen all season. However, the Rivs managed to hold the Beauts at bay for the remainder of the first, and didn't allow any other goals in that period.
~ Early on in the game the Rivs had a lot of trouble transitioning out of their zone. However as the game went on, their defense and ability to block shots really improved and helped balance out their zone issues. So while I would like to see more offensive zone time, I'll happily accept being able to properly defend your zone.
~ The lines.
Packer - Lawler - Kessel
Russo - Gruschow - D’Oench
Nash - Lewicki - Richards
My only wish was that these lines were played all season! Whoever made the call on these combinations, I sincerely thank you.
~ Fitzy was on fire. Seriously. On. Fire. I know the goalies had extra practices this past week, and whether it was that or something else, Katie was focused. She handled the Beauts onslaught like it was nothing, and she looked so confident in net. It was a treat to watch. I'm extremely happy for her as well. After being a healthy scratch during the President's Day game, there's nothing like putting on a clinic to prove to everyone why you're our starter. Congrats on being NWHL's Player of the Week (and Rivs Nation’s "Most Valuable Riveter" as voted by the fans!). Well deserved indeed.
~ Even though the Beauts mostly controlled the play, the Riveters woke up after going down by two goals. They didn't play defeated, they had pep in their step, and did a better job defensively. It wasn't perfect, but it was like watching a different team compared to the rest of the season. Also, their play visibly improved as the game went on. Very encouraging to see!
~ Special teams. Wow. They finally clicked. Hallelujah!! There were plenty of opportunities to use them. The power play resulted in multiple goals. (Finally!) And the penalty kill absolutely shut down the Beauts, leaving the crowd breathless several times during some rather intense moments, where Katie and the penalty kill teams were bombarded with what felt like never ending onslaughts.
~ I actually really enjoyed the shootout. Usually I'm not a big fan, but the shooters and goalies were outstanding on both sides. It was very exciting, and the shootout goals were definitely highlights. Also? Packer's salute towards the Beauts bench after her wickedly filthy goal was a nice touch from the Rivs veteran.
~ This was throwback Riveters Hockey, and it was very exhilarating! They played a full 65 minutes, didn't come across as mentally defeated at any point in the game (even when they were down 2 goals), and played really well. Going to the shootout I thought even if they lost, the Rivs should be proud of how they played. However after the SO concluded, the Rivs got to be proud of their game AND they came away as winners. It was a great note to end the season on! Wonderful job team!
Maybe it was the Rosie bobbleheads, maybe it was the new blood behind the bench, or maybe it was the sold out, hyped-up crowd, but whatever the explanation, there was a really great vibe in the Hockey House Sunday. It felt like the game we always knew the Riveters could play all season. Also it was damn nice to end the regular season on a high. I think the momentum from this game will definitely carry into Thursday. Dare I say I'm optimistic? While nothing is guaranteed, I have a good feeling.
Also, without going too deep into it, I think the addition of Terry Watt has helped stabilize a spiraling team with an absent coaching system. The Riveters needed direction and focus, and Watt seems to be providing some of that for now (after all, it's only been a week since he's joined the team so whether this lasts remains to be determined). While I don't know how he is inside the locker room, as an outside observer it seems he's taking his role seriously. I actually saw him at the Whale game on Saturday, clearly scouting the Beauts, and he stayed for the whole game. I don't think I've ever seen an NWHL coach do that, let alone a brand new one. I appreciate the dedication. There was also a moment from Sunday's game that was captured during the broadcast, they showed the team benches and Watt was coaching and actually engaging with the Riveters, and they were listening to him. Once again, very refreshing to see compared to the coaching we've had up to this point. Whether he fits with the team in the long run is to be decided, but at least in the short term it seems like he can help.
Now all that is left to do is win on Thursday. The Riveters need to play like they did on Sunday, and just take it one game at a time. With so much of the season squandered, they’re staring down a tough road. But like Rosie says ... "We Can Do It!"