The New York Riveters recently completed a comeback of epic proportions to defeat the Connecticut Whale 6-5 in overtime.
The Riveters allowed four quick goals to begin the game, but posted five unanswered goals to earn their first overtime victory this year. Since the inaugural season, the Riveters have been classified as a gritty, hard-working, blue-collar type team. However, Sunday’s win revealed the makings of a team ready to make a strong playoff run.
Coming into the game, it would have been dangerous for New York to assume they would win against the Whale. Although the fourth place team was on a six-game slump, Connecticut is known for generating goals, and generating them quickly. Last time the two teams met, it took Connecticut two minutes to post a 2-0 lead. On Sunday, it took the Whale less than three minutes to post a 3-0 lead on the road. Before the halfway point of the first period, the Whale were up 4-0. Connecticut’s trade acquisition Zoe Hickel accounted for two of the four Whale goals.
Flashback to October
Nearly four months ago to the day, Fratkin spoke to the media after a 4-2 loss to the Whale. It was the second game of the season, and Amanda Kessel and Janine Weber were out of the lineup with injuries. Fratkin and others were disappointed in how the team started the game, but saw promise in how they finished. “When you lose a 4-2 game, but the third period is your best period in the entire game ... That’s something to build off for sure.”
Fratkin added that the play of rookies like Miye D’Oench and Courtney Burke in that first game against Connecticut were signs of things to come
“We have nothing to lose,” said Fratkin after the first home game of the season. She added, “Especially after the season New York had last year, really we just have a lot to prove and show everyone that we are a good team and that we are competitive.”
Riveters finding their stride
Just like that first game against Connecticut in October, D’Oench and Burke came up big for the Riveters. Fratkin and D’Oench connected to tie the game at five with seven minutes left in the third period, forcing overtime. The game-tying goal from D’Oench was her first since the November 20th shutout win against the Whale. With just over a minute into a 4v3 power play overtime opportunity, Burke slid a shot past Nicole Stock to win the game.
Sunday’s comeback victory was the first overtime win for the Riveters this season. “The Riveters last year...were just fighting to win hockey games,” said Fratkin when asked to reflect on her comments from October. “This year, with the players coming in, we knew the expectation was to win every game.” However, the Riveters needed time to learn how to win as a team, and finding a team identity has been steady work.
With only five returning Riveters and only seven total who competed in the league last season, growth and improvement were inevitable. However, could the team also win? Could the team crawl out of the last place finish from last season?
The Riveters posted a good deal of franchise firsts this season. Katie Fitzgerald (2) and Sojung Shin (1) earned the first three shutout for the New York franchise. On January 29th - with their fifth win of the season - New York surpassed the 2015-16 season wins total (4). As it would turn out, that win over Connecticut was the beginning of the current Riveters winning streak. Three consecutive wins is the longest in franchise history. So, how have the Riveters done it?
“This year - I think everybody would agree - has been a trying year, both on and off the ice,” shared captain Ashley Johnston. Where the Riveters might have tightened up in the past, or looked to be productive individually, the team has learned to buy into the team identity. The players focused on the process, and bought into their role in that process. “We went into the the locker room and talked about ... this is a time to show if we are a good team or a great team.
Johnston continued, “That was the biggest thing, for me at least, making sure everyone was focusing on what they can do ... we’ve been talking about this all season; owning your role.”
Jack of all trades
For Fratkin, owning her role has meant expanding her role.
About a month ago, the defenseman started a game against Buffalo at forward. Even with Amanda Kessel back and the addition of Lauren Wash, she has continued to play forward for the Riveters. The switch was unexpected once injured players returned returned to the lineup, Fratkin’s ultimate opinion is, “Coach asks you to play somewhere, you go and play.” The defenseman continues to play shifts on forward, while running the point on the power play. However, she has bounced around on special teams too.
“I like to be a power play player, I like to be a power play specialist,” shared Fratkin. Power play units shifted when Kessel was reinserted to the lineup. Fratkin spent some time on first the unit with Kessel and Burke. However, she saw something in her arsenal that might work better on the unit with Rebecca Russo, Bray Ketchum, Kiira Dosdall and D’Oench. After a chat with head coach Chad Wiseman, a few more switches were made. Now, whether it’s Fratkin’s line, or former college pairings like Kessel and Milica McMillen (Minnesota) and Burke and Madison Packer (Wisconsin), the Riveters have developed an effective power play. The final three goals for New York on Sunday were generated from the power play units.
The Riveters will have the weekend off before traveling to Boston March 4th. New York returns to the Barnabas Health Hockey House the following week to face Boston again for the final time (at least in the regular season). Time off in the middle of a winning streak, and right before back-to-back games with Boston, is less than ideal.
However, Fratkin and the Riveters are focused on the ultimate goal, “We want to win the Isobel Cup,” asserted Fratkin. “Now with this shortened season, we’re really starting to come together as a team ... we’re here to play hockey and we can win this thing. No doubt about it.”