With five points (2g-3a) in seven career NWHL playoff games Metropolitan Riveters captain Madison Packer, who is an Isobel Cup champion (2018) and an NCAA champion (2011), knows what it takes to succeed with everything on the line. The rest of her teammates will only have a combined four NWHL playoff points, but that does not mean that they won’t be playoff-ready when the puck drops on Semifinal Sunday, March 8 in Minnesota. This team has grown by leaps and bounds from the beginning of the season when Packer and defender Rebecca Morse were the only two remaining players with games of experience playing for the franchise.
Since then the Rivs were able to add a few more familiar faces (Kiira Dosdall-Arena, Kelly Nash, Ashley Johnston) and the new kids on the block have found their groove, become difference-makers, and settled into their roles. Last season the Riveters were beaten by the Minnesota Whitecaps seven times (once in the postseason), but this season has been a much different story - the two teams won three times each. This season Packer and the Rivs know they can hang with the Whitecaps if they stick to their game plan and play together as a team.
I caught up with the always-insightful Packer following Tuesday night’s spirited and up-tempo Riveters practice to gauge where the team is as they prepare for a chance to dethrone the reigning Isobel Cup champions.
The Ice Garden: What is the team’s mindset a few days away from your playoff game against the Minnesota Whitecaps?
Madison Packer: I think we’re in a good headspace. Last weekend [against Buffalo] we were hoping to get two wins, we didn’t, but we saw some good things and we also saw some things that we know we have to work on - namely the power play. We’ll have a full crew here on Thursday [for practice] which will be the first time we’ll actually have everybody here [on the ice] to work on it. We know the things that we have to do and we’ve been heading in the right direction, we just haven’t put it all together yet. But now it’s do or die.
TIG: Last year was obviously a very different Riveters team, but for yourself, it has to be a good feeling that you beat Minnesota three times this season, twice in their building, right?
MP: Yeah. I said it in the locker room and was telling my dad if I ever had a feeling that a team could do it [win it all], it’s this team. We’ve had games, where we’re down, we’re ahead - this team just doesn’t quit. The 5-0 loss we had against Boston a couple of weekends ago, an unbiased person watching that game probably didn’t think it was a 5-0 game. We have a good group who is willing to work hard, and we know we can beat the Whitecaps, we just have to get everyone clicking and on the same page to do it.
TIG: As the captain of the Riveters will you say anything to the group prior to the game just to make sure everyone is where they need to be mentally, or is that not needed with this team?
MP: I don’t have to. I think the only time I really had to hold people accountable or got upset was when we blatantly blew a big lead in Buffalo. I think that was good for the group to see that, but ever since then, we’ve been good. We have a good group with a ton of leaders in this locker room, and it doesn’t matter if you have a letter on your chest. Stretch [Ashley Johnston] is a good leader for us. We know what we have to do. It’s cliche because we haven’t done it yet, but I believe in this group and believe that we are going to get it done.
TIG: Big relief for the team to see Sam [Walther] go through two full games this weekend?
MP: Yeah, huge. I think it gives her some confidence and I thought she made some big saves this past weekend, despite us not winning the second game. A couple of really big saves. She feels strong and it’s good to get her (back) in the net because I think we worried she wasn’t going to get a game under her belt before we got to Minnesota.
TIG: Is it a silver lining that you’ve known that you were playing Minnesota in this game for some time now? So you could start to focus on them and where their strengths and weaknesses are.
MP: I think we’ve known for a long time really. I think we were hopeful, yet confident that we’d end up in that third spot in the standings - despite the numbers not solidly being there. For a few weeks, we thought we might end up in the second spot so in a way we’ve been in a battle with them all season. Not that I don’t like playing at home but the Minnesota atmosphere is even fun when you’re not the home team, it’s almost more fun sometimes. We’re looking forward to it, and as far as away rinks go that is the most fun place to play.
TIG: Is being in the role of the underdog something that you like?
MP: Yeah it takes a little bit of pressure off of you, no one is expecting anything from you. I think our team has been there for a little while and this season we’ve clawed our way back to respectability. We had some injuries, we had some different things happen and maybe we didn’t finish the season where I think we are capable of. No one is expecting us to go there and win except for us and our coaching staff because we know that we are capable of doing it.
TIG: Has this season been the most fun you’ve had as Riveter?
MP: The off-season put things in perspective because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Last year I didn’t have a lot of fun. I played a game that I love with a lot of people that I love, but it was miserable. A lot of that was my fault, but I lost sight of why I was doing what I was doing. Being around the team this year, everything that we worked for in the off-season - we survived. Everyone that is here is doing it for the right reasons and those are the people you want to be with every day.
TIG: Being a part of this league from day one you’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth from the end of last season to the end of this season, right?
MP: Oh yeah. There were times over the summer where it was tough because it felt like there might be something getting taken away from us. But everyone banded together and I have a hell of a lot of respect for not only everybody in our locker room, but everyone around the league. It’s been a unique season, and really fun.