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How Babstock and Russo change the Riveters’ attack

The Rivs add depth with two veterans

Michelle Jay

The 2019-20 Riveters were an entertaining group but were far too dependent on production from Madison Packer, Kate Leary, and rookie Kendall Cornine. Together, that trio was responsible for 42 of the team’s 69 goals and 30 of the team’s 53 goals at even strength —that’s nearly 61 percent of the team’s total offense. When head coach Ivo Mocek moved Cornine up to center the top line for a spell, the rest of the lineup struggled to make its mark in the offensive zone.

The addition of Kelly Babstock and the return of Rebecca Russo directly addresses the Rivs’ lack of scoring depth in 2019-20.

Russo is a known commodity to Riveters fans. She’s a hornet on the ice; a speedster who excels at moving the puck, forechecking, and creating opportunities for her linemates. Per InStat, she had 22:33 TOI — third among all Rivs’ forwards — in the 2018 Isobel Cup Final. We know she has the goods to be a featured weapon. After all, she returns to the Riveters with 41 points — 34 of which are primary — in 50 games.

Babstock is more of a bulldozer than a hornet. Her game is equal parts strength and skill which allows her to get past defenders or, on occasion, simply go through them. Like Russo, she’s an established star in the NWHL with an impressive resume that includes 60 career points in 65 games. That’s a lot of offense.

In a recent interview with Dan Rice, Rebecca Russo revealed that she’s been practicing on Babstock’s wing. With that being the case, we can forecast the top two lines.

Leary - Cornine - Packer

Russo - Babstock - Rushton/Janiga

This is no longer a team that will depend on three players to generate all of its offense. Adding Babstock and Russo gives Mocek and the coaching staff two reliable scoring lines and the personnel to form an exceptional checking line that can chip in offensively centered by either Cailey Hutchison or Emily Janiga.

Babstock represents a proven top-six center which helps balance the team’s attack. Last year, we saw Cornine, Hutchison, and Tatiana Shatalova all line up at center on the top line — there was a lot of line juggling. With Babstock in the fold, the Rivs’ have that much more depth down the middle.

Riveters captain Madison Packer sees a lot of herself in Babstock’s game. She also acknowledges what the veteran Canadian center can bring to the Rivs.

“I think I speak for everyone when I say I appreciate Kelly a lot more as a teammate than an opponent,” Packer told The Ice Garden. “She plays unapologetically aggressively and she’s a good power forward. Surprisingly, she plays the same way she does in practice that she does in games, so there’s consistency. She’s going to be a strong forward for us.”

It should come as no surprise that Russo will fit comfortably into the team’s identity. After all, she helped shape it for three seasons before stepping away from the ice to help take care of her mother in her battle with breast cancer. But don’t overlook how well Babstock fits into the machine here.

“She’s a great center who works hard and gives 115 percent every time she’s on the ice,” Packer added. “She can score goals. I think it just adds to the depth that we had. I think when you look at our roster we have three or four really solid lines and we can compete with just about any other team. Babs certainly bolsters that depth as a high-energy player.”

Babstock’s ability to win draws will also make an impact on set plays from offensive zone draws, especially on the power play. The Rivs won 48.68 percent of their draws last year — placing them in the middle of the pack. In her NWHL career, Kelly Babstock has won 57.85 percent of her faceoffs. Can you say set plays on offensive zone draws? How about the power play?

In addition to balancing out the Riveters’ attack, Babstock and Russo could also be the second dynamic duo on the team. In many ways, their games complement each other. Its thunder and lightning; ferocity and finesse. It’s also just what the doctor ordered for a Riveters’ team that finished second-to-last in the league last year in scoring, averaging 2.88 GF/GP.

Russo’s speed and Babstock’s strength will make the Riveters’ offense a force to be reckoned with in Lake Placid. When we factor in a defense that looks much-improved, especially in regards to moving the puck, Rosie definitely has something worth flexing about.

Data courtesy of InStat, NWHL.zone, and Her Hockey Counts.