Sunday was an emotional night for players and fans alike. After the news broke that the NWHL would be cutting players salaries, effective immediately, there were more questions than answers leading to the home opener rematch between the Connecticut Whale (2-2-0) and the New York Riveters (1-3-1). However, prior to on-ice warm ups, both teams were laughing, listening to music and getting taped up just as though this were any other game day.
#BrickWallFitzy gets the shutout
After splitting the weekend series with Buffalo, Katie Fitzgerald appears to be the starting goalie for the Riveters. “With experience [I am] definitely gaining confidence ... so far it’s been going well for me, but you never know in a league like this,” said Fitzgerald post game. She stopped 28 shots over the weekend, improving her save percentage to .921%.
She described her relationship with Sojung Shin as healthy competition, as well as supportive, “that goalie relationship is so important because, no one else on the team knows what it’s like to quite be in that situation [laughs]. She’s been my rock, she’s been incredible, so supportive. I do the same thing for her.”
Riveters offense beginning to click
Janine Weber, Madison Packer, and Rebecca Russo continued to be playmakers for New York. With Amanda Kessel still out with an injury, the trio have been consistent ingredients to the team’s scoring chances. The trio, along with Michelle Picard and Miye D’Oench, recorded two points each on Sunday.
“We all bring something to the table,” said Packer of her, Russo, and linemate Alexa Gruschow. “They both see the ice really well. Russo’s got some speed, I’m not the fastest player in the world, but I think I see the ice well and move the puck well ... Lex wins faceoffs, she grinds, she works hard.” On Sunday, their line contributed four of the Riveters 11 points.
Chad Wiseman noted Kessel is skating in practice and might be back after the Thanksgiving break. Kiira Dosdall is also expected back at that time.
Whale feeling beached?
Head coach of the Whale, Heather Linstad, felt her team was playing as if they were “snakebitten”. Sunday’s loss to New York makes two consecutive games where the Whale have failed to score. Linstad felt the team was playing tight, aiming the puck as opposed to shooting, and overall not playing their brand of hockey.
Former Boston College forward Haley Skarupa entered the game as the league leader in goals (5), points (9) and tied for first in assists (4). However, she was held to only two shots on goal by the Riveters.
Linstad and the Whale hope to get back to what they do well.
“Our success has been that we’ve been quick to the puck, we’ve been aggressive and we’re created turnovers offensively.”
The Whale will play one more weekend on the road before hosting the Buffalo Beauts for the December 10th home opener at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
Where does the league go from here?
With Sunday’s games leading into a holiday break, may wonder what will happen to the league, and to certain players. Does the league have enough revenue to survive the season? Will players agree to the pay cuts, or will they decided to leave the league? We spoke to both coaches and a few Riveters players about the next steps.
“I’ve been in women’s hockey since the 70s,” said Linstad. “I can’t tell players how to feel. However, if we persevere like so many others have done before them to be [at the point] where we can even have professional women’s hockey league ... if we all forge forward and we keep it positive, then people will be here for us. The fans will be here, and maybe we do get the investors we need to get back and support the game.”
As for the Riveters, the team is in constant discussions about the next steps. “The girls are putting their heads together for different ideas to move forward with the league. Our team wants to play and wants this league to succeed,” commented Wiseman.
In addition to Ashley Johnston’s emotional message to the media, Russo and Packer also weighed in on the financial burdens of the league.
“The last couple of days have been hard. Getting that news on Thursday was heartbreaking,” said Russo. “I cried. I cried my eyes out ... money is one thing, and yes we all love money, but this is bigger than money. I don’t really care about the money when it comes to [pauses] I wanna do this for the little girls that are all standing out there waiting for our autographs.”
“Dani [Rylan] responded [to the players’ statement] and [the league] is open to talking about it,” said Packer, “I think she’s willing to work with the league and recognize that players have certain things that we need to move forward.”
For now, the New York Riveters will go into the holiday break with a win and second place in the standings. The players and fans of the league are no doubt thankful for the creation of another women’s professional hockey league.
However, when will women have the opportunity to be thankful for the chance to play for a living wage?