The Metropolitan Riveters had the best blue line in professional women’s hockey this year. Veterans Michelle Picard, Ashley Johnston, and Kiira Dosdall were the shield; the defense-first defenders. Courtney Burke and rookies Kelsey Koelzer and Jenny Ryan were the sword.
Ryan and Burke, teammates at the University of Wisconsin, revealed they had chemistry as early as the 2017 preseason. Despite the Riveters’ abundance of talented blue liners, Ryan found herself skating on Burke’s right side on the team’s top pair. That top pair would stick together — both at even strength and on the power play — from October all the way to the Isobel Cup Final.
What Ryan lacks in size, she more than makes up for in confidence, quickness, and puck control. That two-way play is what earned her an invite to Team USA’s selection camp back in April 2017. It was also what made her a standout as a rookie during the 2017-18 NWHL season.
Ryan’s ability to attack the slot and find shooting lanes, both at even strength and on the power play, made the Riveters’ top defensive pair the most dangerous in the league. She was one of only 11 skaters to average three or more shots per game this year, and she led all defenders in shots on goal.
But Ryan’s real gift is her ability to draw defending forwards towards her and open up passing lanes. The Wisconsin alumna was a huge part of the Riveters’ power play because of her ability to move the puck and create space. She piled up nine of her 16 points this year when the Riveters were on the power play and finished second in the league in power play points.
That power play production helped Ryan finish fifth in the NWHL in her rookie year. She also finished second in points among all NWHL defenders; only Burke put up more points from the blue line. To put Ryan’s 16-point rookie year into some more context: Gigi Marvin led all NWHL defenders in points last season with the 14 she scored in 16 games.
At times Ryan was too aggressive in the offensive zone and, like many of her teammates, looked agitated when games turned too physical. But Ryan was rarely beaten one-on-one, and she took just five minor penalties in 22 total games this year — including the preseason, postseason, and two games with Team NWHL against Team USA in January.
Ryan wasn’t able to get on the score sheet during the 2018 Isobel Cup Playoffs, but there’s no denying that she played a crucial role in the Riveters’ Isobel Cup victory. She was one of five Riveters to register four or more shots in the postseason. She was also on the ice for Alexa Gruschow’s game-winning goal in the first period of the Isobel Cup Final.
Ryan may have been a rookie this year, but she certainly didn’t play like one. Don’t be surprised if we continue to hear her name discussed as an option for Team USA’s blue line moving forward. Whether or not Ryan cracks the U.S. women’s national team’s roster, she has the ability to be a dominant force in the NWHL for years to come.