One last time for Morgan Fritz-Ward

The NWHL All-Star discusses her decision to retire

On Sunday we say farewell to Morgan Fritz-Ward, the first casualty of a series of unfortunate circumstances. The NWHL released a statement on Friday announcing the retirement of the New York Riveters forward. The Ice Garden spoke with Fritz-Ward as she prepares to take her curtain call in back-to-back home games against Buffalo and Boston.

Charting a new course

Before the news of the salary cuts broke, Fritz-Ward knew a decision regarding her playing career was approaching. The Iowa native re-signed with New York in April and spent the summer taking anatomy classes back home. The plan was always to keep hockey first, for at least one more season. She applied to nursing school with an anticipated August 2017 start, making a third year with the NWHL dependent on her earnings. Could the alternate captain make enough money under her 2017-18 contract to justify playing another year? Or, would she have to retire after her sophomore season to focus on school?

Living in the New York-Metro area is a major expense; even with two additional jobs, Fritz-Ward was already having difficulty managing. Therefore, the devastating news of pay cuts last month acted as an accelerant to her original school plans.

Discussions with the league

The thought to leave entered her mind after initially hearing of the salary cuts two weeks ago. However, she decided to wait: “I wanted to give the league more time to get us more acquainted with what’s going on, and then ... make my decision,” said Fritz-Ward. Her teammates and family also factored into sticking it out.

“I didn’t want to just leave my teammates hanging,” she continued. “I wanted to give them a little bit of time to adjust to everything, and also I had family coming out prior to hearing the news.”

Despite meeting with the league last week, Fritz-Ward still felt more information was needed to commit: “For me, it’s just a different situation, because I don’t have the time to wait a couple of months for the fundraising or whatever to get where it needs to be for me to get what I was making. I made the decision to, I guess, call it quits earlier than I would have liked to based on that.”

After a team meeting with NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan last week, Fritz-Ward personally felt there were still some guarantees nobody could make: “There was [a dialogue], it’s just hard for even Dani to give an answer because we’re all in the same situation, we just don’t know,” she said.

Her final games

In light of her news, the next few days will be filled with questions about the state of the league, her decision to retire, and her emotions behind it all; however, for Fritz-Ward, the next days are simple. She plans to do what she’s done for the past 13 years of playing hockey: “Outwork every person and play like it’s my last game. For me, it’s really just another game.”

As for the Riveters, the weekend offers four potential points. New York looks to avenge an overtime loss to Buffalo on Saturday, and spoil the undefeated run of the Boston Pride on Sunday. Beyond the weekend, New York will be short benched due to injuries to Amanda Kessel and Courtney Burke, as well as Fritz-Ward’s retirement. With her departure, forward and second year practice player Taylor Holze, will likely assume the vacant roster spot.

Upon her return to Iowa, Fritz-Ward will play on men’s teams or in other recreational leagues to stay active. Once school is complete, she will still be well within her playing years. So, a return to professional hockey is not out of the question: “If the league continues and it grows,” reflected Fritz-Ward, “who knows? I could be back.”