Editor’s note: I know that this is a Blackhawks blog, but with how they have been handling the Patrick Kane situation of late, I am far more excited about the Riveters right now, so they may get more of my writing time this year, especially if this project I’m thinking about comes around. Basically, I like to write about what excites me, and right now that’s the Riveters.
So on Sunday I went to the Riveters preseason game, and I wanted to share my thoughts with y’all about it.
-First of all, it was an absolute blast. It was a small rink, but it was packed with fans of all shapes and sizes, all of whom were pumped for Riveters hockey. You had hard core Riveters nuts who already had gear, you had kids coming in from playing hockey next door, hell, there was even a girls hockey team there, fist bumping the players as they walked by! To me, this just represents what the NWHL can be, hockey for everyone. The NHL without the baggage. Do you like first class hockey, run by first class people that is open to all and accepting of all? That’s what I think the NWHL can be! Now, let’s get to the game…
-Right away my new favorite player, Nana Fujimoto, was amazing! Just the night before she had flown in from Japan, but still showed up and brought it! She is every bit as small as advertised, but also every bit the goalie that was advertised. She moves incredibly well in the crease, tracks the puck well, even though screens, and is dynamite with the pads. Also, she was a fierce competitor, clearly pissed when weird, fluky goals went in on her, and shoving larger players out of her crease when need be. I get that it’s a small sample size, but Nana Fujimoto is everything you want in a hockey player. I’m wildly excited!
-On defense, Ashley Johnston was very impressive. She is a very, very big blue liner, and is fast too. She is active in the play, and her stick was constantly causing trouble for the Whitecaps. She positioned herself well, and contributed in the offensive zone. She’s everything you want on the back end, and is a real joy to watch.
-Beth Hanrahan was a name that I didn’t really know going into the game, but that changed fast. She was involved in everything, and created offense every time she was on the ice. Hanrahan is active in the rush, and her head is always on a swivel. I was very impressed by her play, and look forward to watching more of it.
-Another forward who had the wow-factor was Bray Ketchum. She was fast, like, super-fast. She moves the puck very well, and her forecheck that lead to her goal was one of the prettiest plays I’ve seen in quite some time. Every time she was on the ice, she was making things happen.
-Janine Weber was an all-around beast. A forechecking monster who played amazing D and was awesome with the puck. She was another player who was very noticeable, and is a really excellent addition to the Riveters forward core.
-The Riveters lost, but they lost to an experienced team who has world class talent up and down the roster. A loss is ok. What was not ok was the lack of structure to their game. It was noticeable everywhere. The Riveters took a LOT of penalties, most of which were unnecessary. After they took the penalties, the PK lacked the structure that I usually associate with a good PK. They were reacting to the Whitecaps, not smothering them and dictating play. In the defensive zone, the Riveters forwards would often get sucked down below the faceoff dots, and any good work they did to stall offensive progress would be canceled out by a quick, uncontested pass to the point. This cost them at least one goal. And speaking of the point, the Riveters refused to use it. A number of times that the Rivs had the puck on the halfboards under pressure, and instead of making the easy pass to the D, which would then set up the pass to the other D and a good shot at the net, they would dump the puck in or pass it to a guarded forward on the goal line. And it never worked. Using your defense well in the offensive zone is essential when playing good teams, and the Riveters are going to play a few. Also, not to harp on the lack of structure, but the zone exits, neutral zone play, and zone entries were all sloppy. The good news is, all of this can be fixed. It’s a young team, with tons of exciting talent. I have no doubt they can bring it all together, and when they do it’ll be a sight to see!
-The Riveters excellent Russian forward, Lyudmila Belyakova, was not present at the game. Look for Belyakova to be an impact player with this team. She is an excellent 2-way forward, who handles the puck exceptionally well, is a beast in the slot, and has a killer shot. Belyakova is going to be an excellent addition to this team during the regular season, and will be fun to watch! If you want a preview, enjoy this video of her recent play.
One last thing, I was hoping to start a zone entry and exit tracking project with the Riveters this year. I was wondering, is there anything you all want to see in it? I was going to do it the way most tracking projects have been done recently, but maybe there is something that would be helpful to you. And maybe there are other fans tracking other teams you know. This is a new league, and things like this have a lot of potential to be new, fun, and useful!