The first couple games of the 2019-20 season did not bode well for the Riveters — first with a 4-2 loss to the Boston Pride on home ice, and then with a crushing 9-2 defeat in Minnesota against the reigning Isobel Cup champions.
The season’s not over ’til it’s over though, and the Riveters came back from the early disappointments to finish the regular season in third place. They finished the season with 23 points — 13 points back of the second place Minnesota Whitecaps, and 23 points behind the league-leading and record-breaking Boston Pride.
Accumulating just 10 wins in 24 games this season, the Riveters had a win percentage of just .416 over 24 games — a better percentage than their inaugural and previous seasons (.222 over 18 games in 2015-2016, and .250 over 16 games in 2018-2019), but still not quite up to par with this roster’s capability.
The pressure of the postseason seemed to be all it took for the Riveters to really shine. After 66 minutes of standing on her head in enemy territory, Sam Walther allowed the game’s only goal — the first ever playoff tally by 2019-20 NWHL Co-MVP, Allie Thunstrom. The outcome doesn’t diminish the fact that the Riveters’ postseason was a pretty good representation of the team as a whole this year: a team with no quit. Though they might not have always gotten the outcomes they wanted, they routinely played a whole sixty minutes, and that’s something fans and players alike should be proud of.
The Riveters’ MVP for this season is, without a doubt, captain Madison Packer. In her fifth season for the Riveters, she really upped her production, going from less than 20 points per season to 34 points (a whopping 13 goals and 21 assists) this year.
She also notched her second highest PPGA, with 1.4 — pretty impressive, considering the longer schedule and the pressure to maintain peak performance over the duration of the season. Packer ranked third on the team in shots on goal with 93, and had the second highest scoring percentage among players with over 40 shots.
The Riveters’ offense was pretty consistent this season, with the upper six generating most of the goals. The Leary-Hutchison-Packer line was a stroke of genius by head coach Ivo Mocek, and keeping them together for most of the season put both wingers at the top of the Riveters’ offensive leaderboard. Packer was tied for league lead in power play goals, but that was about the only place the Riveters really led the pack in terms of league-wide offense.
This year’s blue line was decidedly not exceptional, with the only bright spots really being the veteran presence of Rebecca Morse and Colleen Murphy to hold things down in the back end. The return of Ashley Johnston around the new year definitely proved beneficial, but it was still somewhat of a struggle to find the right pairings to rely on. The only real consistency in the Riveters’ defense was that they were consistently forcing starting goaltender Sam Walther to stand on her head, leading to some spectacular 40+ save games.
No one quite knew what to expect out of the Walther/Demartino tandem coming into this season, especially considering Walther only played eleven minutes for the Whale last season in her professional debut. While she proved herself between the pipes as a reliable last defense, she wasn’t always consistent — at the start of the season, she let in six goals on seventeen shots against the Whitecaps…then, three months later, against the same opponent, made 60 saves to preserve a 3-1 victory. Demartino was a little bit more regular with her stats, but she only played two full games the entire season.
- Sam Walther: .892 SV%, 3.74 GAA, 8 W in 21 GS
- Dana Demartino: .877 SV%, 3.56 GAA, 2 W in 3 GS
- Zoe Zisis: Late season acquisition, didn’t start, back-up for 3 GP/
Even if you don’t consider the disappointment that was last season’s coaching staff, NWHL newcomer Ivo Mocek did an incredible job with this year’s team. Hiring someone with actual coaching experience was definitely a step in the right direction, and the fact that Mocek actually deigned to learn his players’ names and numbers was definitely an improvement from last season. All in all, Mocek did a pretty remarkable job — and the players definitely loved him, which is a testament not only to his character, but to his success behind the bench as well.
Kate Whitman Annis had a very impressive first year as general manager. From her offseason acquisitions to the late NCAA signings that boosted the Riveters to an impressive semi-final to convincing several fan favorites to come out of retirement, she proved that she knew what the team needed to succeed from the very beginning. She made a couple of ingenious signings in Boston College grad and Blades alum Kate Leary, the RIT trio of Kendall Cornine, Mallory Rushton, and Brooke Baker, and California native Leila Kilduff, and somehow managed to entice fan favorites Ashley “Stretch” Johnston and Kelly Nash to strap the skates back on.
In comparison to last season, it’s undeniable that the Riveters showed improvement. Did they struggle in the beginning with a consistent, productive lineup? Sure — but as of Oct. 5, they had only two players returning from the previous season of Riveters hockey (Madison Packer and Rebecca Morse; Colleen Murphy would return for her third year in the league, but had yet to play with the Riveters). Considering the pieces they had at the beginning of the season — a roster mostly comprised of rookies straight out of college — the Riveters had a pretty decent season.