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The three best rivalries in the NWHL

AKA The Many Beefs of Madison Packer

Pat McCarthy

Rivalries are a necessity for younger leagues as they grow and expand. Fortunately, they are available in spades around the NWHL. Blood boils over quickly when there are only so many opponents to play in a given league. This has provided many a narrative to weave and many a game to circle on the calendar over the years. More animosity is likely on the way with the addition of the Toronto Six, given the city’s deep hockey ties to the city of Boston.

Here are the three best rivalries in the NWHL.

Boston Pride vs Buffalo Beauts

The Pride and Beauts squared off in the Isobel Cup Playoffs in the first four seasons of the NWHL. Twice that encounter came in the Isobel Cup Final. All four times were heavily laden with drama and remarkable heroics.

The 2016 Isobel Cup Final was won two-games-to-none by the Pride, highlighted by an overtime penalty-shot goal by Hilary Knight in the opening contest. The following season, goaltender Brianne McLaughlin exacted revenge for the Beauts by stopping 58 shots for Buffalo’s first professional sports title since the 2008 Buffalo Bandits (National Lacrosse League).

Buffalo once again edged the Pride in the 2018 Semi-Finals by way of a Sarah Casorso overtime goal on home ice. Finally in 2019, the Beauts once more rode hot goaltending to a playoff win over Boston as Shannon Szabados blanked the Pride en route to the franchise’s fourth consecutive Finals berth.

The two teams did not meet in the 2020 Isobel Cup Playoffs, but all eyes will be on the next time they do. As it stands, Buffalo is the only team capable of stopping the Pride from hoisting the Cup year-to-year.

Buffalo Beauts vs Metropolitan Riveters

Fighting earns you a five minutes plus a game misconduct in the NWHL. As it stands, six of the league’s eight suspensions over five seasons have come as a direct result of the Beauts-Rivs rivalry. There have been two instances of fighting majors being assessed in the league. Both have involved the Beauts and Riveters.

Fight #1: Packer def. Casorso. Madison Packer is never one to shy away from a challenge. Especially when it comes to Sarah Casorso. In the 2018 Isobel Cup Final, Casorso threw a hard hit that sent Packer careening head-long into the boards. Packer had to be helped off the ice by the training staff, and Casorso earned a two-and-ten...and Packer’s scorn.

The Riveters won that Final 1-0, but Packer put that incident in the back of her mind. Casorso announced beforehand that a home game against Metro on Jan. 12, 2019 would be her last. At 6:25 in the second period, the pair got tied up beside the Beauts’ net. Casorso sticked Packer up high, which was all the provocation Packer needed to drop the gloves and put Casorso in a headlock.

“I had her on her knees with her face at my waist,” Packer would tell Erica Ayala after the game. “I could have punched her in the face three or four times and I didn’t because I didn’t want to get suspended.”

Suspended she was, however. Packer was tagged with a one-game timeout, while Casorso skated off the ice and into retirement. Casorso would return to the Beauts this past season for a pair of games.

Fight #2: Shatalova def. Kirchberger. Post-whistle skirmishes are hardly uncommon. Things boiled over in a hurry, however, when Buffalo’s Nikki Kirchberger and Metropolitan’s Tatiana Shatalova mixed things up in front of netminder Kelsey Neumann.

Shatalova’s stick got caught underneath Neumann’s padding, which the dutiful defender Kirchberger decided to clear out. Shatalova took exception, throwing a gloved punch to Kirchberger’s neck, dropping her to the ice. Kirchberger pops back up looking for more, which Shatalova answers in turn by putting her assailant in a headlock and uppercutting her for good measure.

The one who gets the worst of it is Sara Bustad. Bustad (#88 for Buffalo) gets wrestled to the ice by (who else?) Madison Packer, who stiff-arms her for good measure to keep her down. Then, Kirchberger lands square on top of her in the midst of the fracas.

And who pulls the two apart when the officials step in? Peacekeeper Madison Packer, of course.

Madison Packer/Riveters vs Connecticut Whale

Madison Packer might be the best example of the “Me against the World” mentality in the NWHL. She is a physical force of nature with game-breaking skill, the ultimate power forward unafraid of mixing it up.

This has made her relationship with the Connecticut Whale franchise one of the funniest in the league. On the one hand, Packer could easily make adversaries with virtually anyone on the ice if she felt they stood between her and a victory.

On the other, it is the team her wife Anya Battaglino (now Packer) played on for three seasons.

The Whale have won four games over the last two seasons, all of them over the Riveters. They have met twice in the postseason, with the Riveters outscoring the Whale 10-2 in the process.

Oh, and there is that whole “line brawl” thing that happened in Season One. But no fighting majors were doled out so, bygones, eh?

Despite their entertaining regular season clashes, the Riveters will always hold the upper-hand until the Whale earn an Isobel Cup like the other four franchises in the league (excluding Toronto).

The true spice to this rivalry comes off the ice, though. Packer sported her wife’s jersey in a video tweet after Anya announced her retirement, playfully adding, “this will never happen.”

That is, until the 2020 All-Star Game.

Never change, Packers. Never change.