The 2017-18 NWHL season began on NHL ice in the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. On October 28th the home rink of the New Jersey Devils hosted approximately 2,100 fans of women’s hockey who were treated to a 4-1 victory by the re-branded Riveters.
It was all Pride early in the first period until Harrison Browne added another historic moment to his career highlight reel. He stole the puck from from Brittany Ott who had mishandled the puck outside of her crease and tucked it into the net for a wraparound shorthanded goal. It was the first NWHL goal scored in an NHL rink and was also the first time that an NWHL player had scored a shorthanded goal in three consecutive seasons.
The Riveters added another goal late in the first period when Miye D’Oench cashed in on a rebound created by former first overall pick Kelsey Koelzer. The primary assist was Koelzer’s first NWHL point. By the end of the first Boston’s early shot lead had disappeared and the Riveters had a two goal lead. The crowd roared its approval after the first 20 minutes.
The second period featured 20 minutes of even strength hockey that once again began with the Pride putting the pressure on early. Riveters head coach Chad Wiseman called a crucial time out after his team had iced the puck after being trapped in their own zone for what felt like eternity. The timeout proved to be just what the Riveters needed. The second half of the period belonged to the home team and eventually the Riveters slick passing put them ahead 3-0. Alexa Gruschow buried a pass from D’Oench into an open net after Browne worked the puck to her when his shot was blocked on the rush.
From the Pride’s first shot it was clear that reigning NWHL Goaltender of the Year Katie Fitzgerald was on her game. Her shutout bid was spoiled on Boston’s 31st shot of the game when Megan Mangene finally got Boston on the board in the middle of the third period. But before the final horn sounded the Riveters took back their three goal lead when speedy winger Rebecca Russo put the puck into an empty net after Boston head coach Thomas Poeck had pulled Ott for the extra skater.
The Riveters clearly enjoyed having home ice advantage in front of a massive regular season crowd. The Rosies out-shot Boston 32-31 thanks in large part to a 12 shot effort in the third period. If not for some steadfast goaltending from Ott, the scoreboard could have looked dramatically different. And that was with just one power play opportunity.
The Riveters found a variety of ways to put the pressure on and create scoring chances. They looked like a quick and played downhill hockey for the majority of the second half of the game; much to the delight of the Prudential Center crowd.
Most of Boston’s best looks came on the rush and on the power play. But for the most part the Pride simply didn’t look like the Pride of the previous two seasons. Haley Skarupa’s top line looked menacing for much of the game, but was unable to get on the board. It is worth mentioning that Skarupa peppered the net with 10 shots and picked up an assist in her debut with Boston. But outside of a few stretch passes and a dominant shift or two in the first and second period Boston just wasn’t clicking.
Boston’s biggest problem appeared to be allowing the Riveters to attack the slot and get to loose pucks around the net. The Pride added a lot of free agents before the 2017-18 season began, but its was hard to replace the talent that they lost on the blue line. All of that roster upheaval was evident in Boston’s inability to solve the puzzle that was the Riveters defense and goaltender. Most of Boston’s shots were low-danger and taken from the perimeter. It’s hard to beat a goalie like Fitzgerald if that is all you’re throwing at her.
Quote of the Game
“It was amazing. It was a really special day for the league and for women’s hockey in general. To get to actually play in it - I’m so grateful. It’s so exciting. My family was up there, I’m from New York, so a bunch of my friends from high school were up there and they got to be a part of it as well.” -Riveters forward Miye D’Oench
Play of the Game
The Riveters had to wait until the third period to see their first power play. And the defining moment of that PP was an Emily Field shorthanded breakaway; not exactly what Wiseman and company had in mind.
Alexa Gruschow, who had already scored a goal and picked up an assist in the game, hustled back and made a diving effort from behind Field to knock the puck off of her stick before the Pride forward was able to get a shot off. It was a picture perfect desperation play. Gruschow crashed hard into the net and earned an ovation from the Riveters bench for her effort. After the game she showed a nasty scrape on her forearm to the media, courtesy of Fitzgerald’s right post.