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2021 NWHL Season Preview: Metropolitan Riveters

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Riveters’ heart and grit will be the key to earning them a spot in the Isobel Cup Final

Michelle Jay

The Metropolitan Riveters had a bounceback season in 2019–20, but how will they fare with a handful of fresh faces on the ice in Lake Placid? Will they end up raising Izzy — or will they return home the same as they did in four other seasons: emptyhanded?

Five Factors

  • Rookies on D | Only three defenders from the 2019–20 season will join the Riveters in Lake Placid this season, plus a rover. With Rebecca Morse, Leila Kilduff, and Kiira Dosdall-Arena as the three returners, the Riveters are shaping up to have one of the youngest defensive corps in the league ... but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There might be a lot of pressure on newcomers Saroya Tinker, Brigette Prentiss, and Sammy Kolowrat, but I don’t doubt they’ll be able to rise to the occasion.
  • Russo’s Return | After taking the 2019–20 season off to support and care for her mother, who was fighting breast cancer, Rebecca Russo makes her long-awaited return to the ice in a Riveters uniform. Through three seasons in the league, Russo has consistently been a force at forward, finishing in the team’s top five in scoring each year. While there’s no shortage of offensive firepower on this year’s Riveters roster, Russo is definitely going to make an impact from the moment she sets foot on the ice to her very last shift this season.
  • Power Play Blues | Last season, the Riveters were one of the worst teams with the player advantage, second only to the Connecticut Whale. The team had 96 power play opportunities over the course of the regular season, and only managed to convert on 14 of those occasions for about a 14.6% success rate. That being said, league leader in PPGs Madison Packer is making her return to the team for her sixth season, and there’s no question that she’ll be able to carry some that energy into Lake Placid.
  • Bench Boss Stretch | Ashley “Stretch” Johnston will return to the Riveters in a slightly different fashion this year, suiting up not on the ice but behind the bench. Johnston was well-loved and respected by fans, coaching staff, and teammates alike during her tenure as a player, and I fully expect this respect to translate through her transition to coach. While the on-ice performance is undoubtedly what matters the most, it’s the team culture and the locker room environment that can be the difference maker when it comes to determining who’s a championship team — and who’s a team that gets sent home early.
  • Tendy Troubles? | With the loss of starter Sam Walther to retirement, and Dana DeMartino’s departure to the PWHPA, the Riveters will be heading into Lake Placid with a pretty significant question mark in net. Rookie Tera Hofmann is coming off of an outstanding, if under-the-radar, career at Yale, while league sophomore Sonjia Shelly will be looking to make a splash on a new squad. Shelly made her professional debut last season with the Connecticut Whale, recording a .894 save percentage in 13 games. With the new format for the regular season and the playoffs this year, it’s likely that we’ll see goaltenders utilized more as a tandem than in the typical starter-backup roles, which could be a great way for both net minders to gain experience.

Why the Riveters Can Win It All

The Riveters have never quite been a true underdog, but they’ve opened the season on the wrong foot for a couple of years now. We don’t need to relive the history, but getting outscored 13–4 in the first two games of the season is likely not where the Riveters want to be this year.

But the start of a new season brings a clean slate for every team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Riveters to come out with all cylinders firing in Lake Placid. They’ve made some significant additions to their offense and have built up a remarkably talented, if young, defensive corps. The team has two strong, reliable options in net, and will likely return Zoe Zisis on an emergency basis.

For all intents and purposes, on paper, the Riveters look pretty solid. Championship teams usually need something else, though, beyond just “solid.”

And for the Riveters, that extra factor is going to be their heart and their grit.

The Jersey-based team has long since been one of the strongest and biggest teams on the ice, and they aren’t afraid to use their power to their advantage. This will be key for the Riveters as they look to tackle an abbreviated schedule.

Prediction

I have high hopes for the Riveters this season. While I don’t think they’ll end up as one of the top two seeds heading into the semifinals, there’s no doubt that they have the capacity to snag one of the lower seeds. After all — they came really close in last year’s semifinal game, holding the defending champions and Cup Final-bound Whitecaps to just one goal through regulation.

Like I said before: the Riveters have heart, they have grit, and they have offensive firepower. Who says that’s not enough for a trip to the semifinals?