Our third installment of the “Overlooked Performances” series was, by far, is the most difficult. Why? Well, to be blunt, we barely got to see the Metropolitan Riveters play.
The Rivs played three games in Lake Placid before being shut down by the outbreak of COVID-19. They went 2-1-0 playing the Toronto Six, the Connecticut Whale, and the Minnesota Whitecaps and lost their only game (to Minnesota) by a one-goal margin. And that goal was scored in the final minute of the game. So, it’s fair to say we don’t really know who or what the 2021 Riveters were. On paper, they were a team with a lot of potential but we were only able to catch a glimpse of it because of the pandemic.
The original NWHLer was playing special hockey in Lake Placid. She led the Riveters in average ice time (24:11 TOI/GP), shots on goal per game (4.0), and breakouts via pass (5.0). The Riveters were on the wrong end of the shot-share battle when Dosdall-Arena was on the ice but, looking at the big picture, that was true of the entire squad spare Kelly Babstock and Theresa Knutson. Saroya Tinker led all Rivs’ blueliners with a 48 CF%; Dosdall-Arena had a 41 CF%.
Those top pairing minutes meant that head coach Ivo Mocek trusted his veteran defender against the opposition’s top lines. Her role is made even more clear by the 1:58 TOI/GP she was on the ice to kill penalties. The only Riveters’ D who carried a heavier load while the team was shorthanded was Sammy Kolowrat (2:01 SH TOI/GP).
In my opinion, Dosdall-Arena is one of those players you come to appreciate the more you watch her — and I’ve been writing about her for more than half a decade now. She’s such a clever player and, when she wants to, she can be a punishing defender to play against.
One of the reasons I chose to write about Dosdall-Arena is because she entered the 2021 NWHL season with three points in her last 29 games of hockey — 32 games if we’re counting the playoffs. But she looked really great in Lake Placid. This is some of the best hockey we’ve seen from her in a few years. Yes, feel free to go ahead and sound the small sample size alarm.
Looking at the big picture, Dosdall-Arena proved (once again) that she was one of the two leaders on the Rivs’ blue line — the other being Rebecca Morse. She was reliable on and off the puck at even strength and on the penalty kill and put together a really impressive three-game performance. Per InStat’s data, she connected on 93% of her passes, which was level with Leila Kilduff for the best on the squad. It was also nice to see her pick up the primary assist on the Rivs’ lone power-play goal, scored by Rebecca Russo.
All things considered, Kelly Babstock was the Riveters’ most impactful forward. But the most surprising and overlooked forward was newcomer Theresa Knutson.
As a depth forward on the Riveters, Knutson averaged only 11:59 TOI/GP but was first among Rivs’ forwards in average shot attempts (5.3) and scoring chances (2.3) per game. She also led all Rivs’ skaters with a 57 CF%. Yes, feel free to sound the small sample size alarm again but her underlying numbers are definitely intriguing. Knutson made a few really nice plays in Lake Placid, including the read she made that led to her first NWHL goal against the Connecticut Whale.
The other thing that really stood out about Knutson’s game from Lake Placid was her penalty differential. She drew three penalties in three games. With her ice time, that is really impressive. There’s no way that would be sustainable over an 18 or 24 game season but it was one more way she contributed to her team and managed to stand out from the pack.
Knutson finished the 2020-21 season in Germany with Eisbären Juniors Berlin so it will be interesting to see if she comes back to the NWHL and the Riveters next year. After a three-game preview of her game as a pro in North America, I hope we get another look at the former UConn forward in the NWHL. She definitely has the ability to produce and contribute at this level, but that wasn’t a surprise given the gaudy numbers she put up in the Frauen-Bundesliga after graduating from UConn.
The 2021 Denna Laing Award winner received a lot of much-deserved praise for using her platform to speak out against racial injustice this year but, in my opinion, Saroya Tinker didn’t get nearly enough recognition for what she did on the ice.
In her first three games as a pro, Tinker looked like a really efficient defense-first defender with exceptional strength and positioning. She and fellow rookie Allie Olnowich made up the team’s third pair (at even strength) but there’s evidence that suggests she could step into a bigger role in her second season in the NWHL.
Two things about Tinker’s game really stood out to me: her strength and her stickwork. She won 76 percent — wow — of her puck battles in Lake Placid. She and Dosdall-Arena were the only Rivs above 70 percent in that category. She also led all Rivs’ D in CF% (48) and was a staple on the penalty kill, finishing third among Rivs’ D in average shorthanded ice time per game. Remember, we’re talking about a rookie defender here. A rookie who had to adjust to the pro game without a real training camp.
Tinker is 5-foot-9, so she can get jab her stick into passing lanes and onto pucks that smaller defenders with lesser wingspans just can’t. But having a tool isn’t enough, you need to know how to use it — and Tinker clearly knows how. She tipped a lot of passes and disrupted plays with her stickwork in her limited role at even strength and on the Rivs’ second PK unit. She also finished Lake Placid with five blocked shots, which was good for third on the team.
Overall, Tinker was a really solid defender for the Riveters. I think any team would be lucky to have her on its roster, particularly in a shutdown role and as a penalty killer. I think there’s work to be done with her puck management at this level but that can be said of a lot of the rookie defenders we saw in the NWHL this year, including her teammate Sammy Kolowrat. Tinker is only going to get better. I hope we see her back in a Riveters jersey next season.