Full transparency - I didn’t know much about Ivo Mocek prior to last season when he was announced as the third head coach in the history of the Metropolitan Riveters. But almost immediately when I saw him at practices before the season started a few things were evident — he was passionate, engaging, and the players seemed to really respond to him and enjoy his coaching style. He genuinely cares about the league, the game, and it oozes out of his pores when you start talking hockey with him.
I can’t think of any player that didn’t light up and immediately praise him during an interview or off-the-record chat. In the NWHL’s infancy, Chad Wiseman laid the groundwork and the foundation of the Riveters franchise and when he left following the Isobel Cup championship in Season 3 there was certainly a void.
But after what we’ll call a ‘bizarro’ Season 4, that void began to be filled up by Mocek, as well as returning players and Isobel Cup champions Madison Packer and Rebecca Morse. Now the Rivs have re-found their hardworking identity, their team mojo, and are a tough team to play against every time they step onto the ice.
“Ivo is extremely passionate about the Riveters. It’s part of what makes him such a great motivator and an advocate for us as players,” Morse told me via text message this past weekend. “He consistently brings energy to the rink day in and day out. And it’s contagious. At this level, continuity is important when it comes to coaching.”
“The fact that he has an NWHL season under his belt will prove to be beneficial for the returning players and new players alike. We had something special last season, and took a giant leap forward as an organization,” she added. “Ivo certainly played a large role in that, and I’m looking forward to building off of the culture we established.”
I realized recently that a lot of NWHL fans maybe haven’t had the chance to get to know Coach Ivo as the players and I have over the past year and I wanted to bridge that gap if I could. So I reached out to the Rivs bench boss and we spoke this weekend about why and how he became the head coach, his outlook on the upcoming season and the roster as presently constructed, and some other topics as well.
How did you become the Rivs coach and why did you want the job?
I’ve been a big fan of the NWHL since day one and I’m lucky enough that Dani Rylan - I hope I can say she’s my friend (laughs)! Every now and then we would run into each other at a rink somewhere in New York City. Early in the summer last year she texted me and said that the Riveters were looking for a coach, and asked if I would be interested or if I knew of someone who would be interested.
I thought about it for a few days and told her that if it made sense it would be something I would be interested in. After that, she put me in touch with our GM Kate [Whitman Annis] and it took off from there.
The reason why I wanted this is because - number 1 I love hockey. It’s been my life since I was a kid and after I retired from my playing career, I fell in love with coaching. I didn’t expect that to be honest, I would be that so much into it. Just being a part of the NWHL is a very exciting thing and I’m really happy with getting the chance to be the coach of the Riveters.
Do you approach this season differently from the way you did last season?
You definitely will see the same passion and enthusiasm behind the bench, that’s for sure! With the players and our overall team, there are definitely things that I have learned over the year and would do differently. For example, I know these players, despite the fact that most of them were coming from college - they are adults. They don’t need me on their backs after every shift. Raising my voice or being that intense, sometimes I caught myself and dialed it back.
Overall, I want to say we want to have and we should have more options. Especially on our power-play for example. Last season part of the problem was some of the players who were on our power-play units were not at every practice. This year that is going to change. Kate and I agreed and went into the off-season wanting to only sign players who will be able to be at every practice.
One of our players who I really liked last season, and really would like to come back, she will not be. I can’t say who it is right now. It makes a huge difference to be together as a group at every practice. Sometimes we had 12 players there or sometimes we had only 10 (last season). I’m hoping having everyone there consistently is really going to make a big difference for all of us.
With 11 players announced already, and others signed but not yet announced, how do you see your roster for the upcoming season thus far?
There are a couple of other players that we do have signed but haven’t been announced yet. Overall, I’m very happy with our roster. I would say defensively we are getting stronger, and offensively the goal was to kind of keep most of the players together and just add a little bit more defensive depth - which I believe we have done. We’re going to have a more balanced roster than last season, meaning balance and deeper as well; we aren’t going to be relying on just a few players.
(The current Riveters roster includes: Goaltenders Tera Hofmann, Sonjia Shelly; Defenders Rebecca Morse, Saroya Tinker, Leila Kilduff; Forwards Madison Packer, Kendall Cornine, Cailey Hutchison, Mallory Rushton, Kate Leary, and Sammy Kolowrat)
A few weeks ago the Rivs signed someone who you are very familiar with, Sammy Kolowrat, who’s from your home country. Did you have a bigger hand in that signing than most because you already knew her?
It definitely helped, I actually was talking to her before last season and was trying to convince her to come (to the Rivs) then. She was finishing school and wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do yet. Her being a part of the Czech National Team is a big thing as well, they’ll be playing for Olympic qualification in February. That’s a big opportunity for those players and I think they are really close to making it. I reached out again (after the season) and when we spoke I told her that I talked to the Czech National Team’s coach and we worked things out. She’s happy to be joining us.
Usually in February, our league has a little bit of a break so I don’t think she’ll miss any games then. Maybe one weekend, like Lovisa Selander did last season to play for the Swedish National Team.
Does signing Sonjia Shelly mean that Sam Walther is out of the picture for your team in goal?
As hard as it is to say, yes. These two are the goalies we want to start the season with. Our GM Kate Whitman Annis and I had a conversation with Sam and obviously it wasn’t an easy one because she was huge for us in a lot of games last season. Unfortunately, there are other things we have to consider like - what’s best for the organization and there is a salary cap we have to work with. It was a very hard decision, but we are happy and excited about the goalies that we have signed.
Any chance you add a third goalie or will you just roll with the two for now?
If we do add another one it will be later on in the season like we did last year. So it’s still a possibility.
Your team almost beat Boston opening night last year. I mean, it was 2-2 with 8 or 9 minutes left, do you think about that at all?
Not necessarily about that one game, but more about during the season there were games like that where maybe the score didn’t represent that - but games I felt could have gone either way. There are some games that kind of haunt me still, games that we lost but maybe we shouldn’t have. Those games are a valuable lesson for us to be better next season.
Having said all that, the playoff loss in Minnesota, you have to be proud of the way your team played that day, right?
I totally agree. That game totally could have gone either way. I could not be more proud of the way our players presented themselves and stuck with the game plan. That was our best game all season. They literally did every single thing we asked them to and followed the game plan. We definitely had plenty of opportunities to score a goal to win that game. But at the end of the day, it’s Minnesota, it’s the defending champs - and they definitely had a more experienced team. It was just one unfortunate situation for us and then, it was over. Overall, it was a great game from all of our players.
Obviously the team will be a little bit different this upcoming season, but can the players who are returning use that as fuel or motivation to take that next step?
Absolutely; and when I talk to the players we talk about that and they know it. For some of them, their first season was a big learning experience and I know that coming into next season they will be way different players, in a good way. Better players.
For example, Mal Rushton - she was really consistent for us during the season. Obviously it took her a while to score that first goal (in the last regular-season game) and she was super happy. And I was so happy and excited for her that she finally got it done. I believe that she will be one of our key players and will have a way different season than she did last year. She has a great shot and despite the fact that she’s not one of the taller players - that’s why she was on our second power-play unit on the blue line. She can really rip it. It was just a matter of time until she scored (laughs) and unfortunately, it took the whole season! She’s not necessarily a sniper; she likes to create, she likes to look for her teammates, but sometimes she was just waiting or hesitating too long.”
I think that’s all I have for you unless you want to tell me who the next player you are signing is?
Ahh. I will not tell you the name but I know that it will be announced early this coming week and it is a player who was very high on our list. I’m very excited that we were able to get her to join us.
Returning or new player?
A new player to the Riveters organization.