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Best of the Nets: Metropolitan Riveters

As the date of the PHF Awards Show approaches, we’ll continue to examine the available public stats for each of the goaltenders who played in the Fed this year alongside the context of their seasons and analyze each player’s case for winning the Goaltender of the Year award.

Public stats utilized are provided by the PHF via fastRhockey, as well as the independent stats collected by Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) at his 2022 PHF Counting Stats spreadsheet. Some data insights are backed up by analysis work from Giants in the Crease. Embedded graphs not otherwise attributed were made by me, so if you see a mistake, please let me know in the comments!

Previously in this series I looked at the goaltenders for the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, and the Connecticut Whale. Let’s take a trip to the Metro!

Although the 2021-2022 PHF season was Brooke Wolejko’s first with the Metropolitan Riveters, she and her tandem partner, Sonjia Shelly, are far from strangers. They shared the net at St. Lawrence University for two years, and then again with the Connecticut Whale in the 2019-2020 season. In that season, Wolejko posted slightly better stats as they backstopped a team that won only 2 games out of 24. This year, Wolejko again posted slightly better stats than Shelly, but this time their efforts helped their team to a 7-12-1 record.

The Metropolitan Riveters’ goalie duo were perhaps the closest thing the PHF had to a 1A-1B tandem this year. Wolejko ended up with the lion’s share of the starts, playing 13 to Shelly’s 7. They didn’t have an easy task ahead of them, as the Riveters were a somewhat middling team this year, splitting 7 of their 10 series. On average, the team scored 2.7 goals per game. Brooke Wolejko allowed an average of 2.97 goals and had a save percentage of .915, and Sonjia Shelly allowed 3.36 goals on average with a .900 sv%.

This is not a situation where you can necessarily point the finger at any one person or part of the team. If you kept up with the Riveters this season, you’ll know that they had an almost entirely new defense squad, who made a lot of mistakes as they got to know each other early on, but got better over the course of the season and better again with the return of veteran Kiira Dosdall-Arena. The forward group also had issues, finding very little scoring outside the top two lines. That led to those lines spending a lot of time on the ice, and those lines included four of the ten most penalized players in the league. Wolejko and Shelly were in the middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed on the PK, which is not ideal for the most-penalized team in the league. This season’s Riveters showed they could be a great hockey team, but they struggled at times to put several good periods in a row. One has to wonder if that inconsistency affected their goalies, who may have faced different challenges in different periods within the same game.

In the end, the counting stats have the Riveter’s goaltenders in the middle of the pack this year on most metrics. Among goalies to play in at least three games, Wolejko and Shelly were around the middle third on save percentage, goals against average, goals saved above average, and quality starts. Generally speaking, Wolejko was towards the upper range of that third, while Shelly was on the lower end. Perhaps the most stand-out takeaways for the duo from public counting stats are that they faced 64 more shots than the league average, and the aforementioned pressure of having to defend the net for a team which, at times, seemed to love taking penalties.

Between the Riveters’ middling scoring and their middling stats in net, they played in a lot of close games. In close games, a goalie can be the difference for their team, by showing up at the important moments and making the necessary saves. The Riveters did not see that kind of team-carrying performance this year. The team played 15 games that were decided by either one goal, or one goal and an empty net goal. They won five of them.

Is it fair to expect a goalie to bail their team out all the time? If Brooke Wolejko had saved one more goal in each of her 13 games, her save percentage would have been .943, an elite number. If the Riveters needed an elite goalie to keep them from losing half of their games, goaltending is clearly not the only thing that needs to be improved.

The other consideration is that the counting stats alone don’t give much insight into the level of play the goalies were exposed to. As the Riveters’ defenders struggled to find chemistry, did they let through the kind of shots that are harder to save? Did their positioning make life harder for their goaltenders? How successful were they at clearing screens or preventing shots from the slot? Watching the games can give us insight into these questions, and stats can too!- only not for the PHF, and not right now.

As a team, the Riveters have their work cut out for them as they seek to improve for season 8, and indeed one of the team’s own press releases referred to next season as a ‘roster rebuild’. The pair of Brooke Wolejko and Sonjia Shelly each performed better on this year’s team than they did behind a weaker Connecticut team two seasons ago. Perhaps if the Riveters take a step forward, and both goalies stay in the Metro, their play will improve alongside the rest of the roster. For this season, it seems unlikely that Brooke Wolejko, the Riveters’ candidate for Goaltender of the Year, will pose a significant challenge for the other nominees.