Editor’s note: I know that this is a Blackhawks blog, but with how they handled the Patrick Kane situation, I am far more excited about the Riveters right now, so they may get more of my writing time this year. I like to write about what excites me, and right now that’s the Riveters.
Editor’s note 2: The zone entry tracking posts I do for the Riveters take a lot of time to write, and are better with larger sample sizes. As such, I’ll be filling in the blanks with Riveters Thoughts every week or so. These posts will draw from my tracking, as well as all the games I see, both as a season ticket holder and any I watch on the computer. Enjoy!
The New York Riveters are six games into their season, and currently sit at 2-4. In the NHL, this would be chalked up to small sample size and not many conclusions would be drawn from it. However, this is 1/3 of the NWHL season, so let’s what we can do with it.
Aside from a rough start the first two games, the Riveters goaltending has been exceptional. Nana Fujimoto has shown to be everything that was advertised. She moves in the crease with blinding speed and tracks the puck well. Kate Cimini of Todays Slapshot wrote a wonderful post about how Fujimoto’s work with goaltending coach Jonathan de Castro has simplified and improved her game. Very few of the goals against her early on were her fault, most coming on rushes or defensive breakdowns, and as the defense has tightened up, so has she. The last four games have seen her on a tear, moving fast in the crease, showing excellent rebound control, and being tough to beat low or high. If she continues to develop, look out. Nana Fujimoto has all the raw skills to be the best goaltender in the NWHL. (I feel like I should mention here that I am a Fujimoto Fanboy and she’s my favorite player in the world, but I stand by what I say nonetheless)
Last night however, Fujimoto was seemingly injured, and had to be helped off the ice at the end of the game as she was seemingly in a great deal of pain. If she is out for any amount of time, it has to hurt the Riveters chances. While Shenae Lundberg and Jenny Scrivens have both looked good in small samples we have seen, you never want to lose a goaltender who has been performing like Nana has.
It has also been wonderful to see the growth of the Riveters defense. At the start of the year, when the Riveters were really only rolling 4 defensemen, things were a little shaky. The additions of Amber Moore and Sydney Kidd to Elena Orlando, Gabie Figueroa, Kiira Dosdall, and Ashley Johnston have stabilized the defense. It’s a good group of defenders, with Dosdall and Kidd really contributing of late. The story of the group though, is the brilliance of Ashley Johnston. She was not anywhere on my radar as the season started, but that changed fast. Johnston is a defensive force, displaying unrivaled size and positional awareness on the ice. Her hockey IQ is off the charts, allowing her to take risks other defenders couldn’t and still always be in the right place. Combine that with good puck moving abilities, and a heavy, heavy shot, and in my mind she is one of the 3 best defenders in the NWHL right now along with Gigi Marvin and Blake Bolden of the Boston Pride. Moreover, Johnston has filled her role of captain extremely well. She is constantly providing encouragement, and leadership to her team. On the ice, she is constantly supporting her teammates, be it by always being there with a fist bump, helping Fujimoto off the ice when she is hurt, or this adorable moment. The Riveters players made the right choice giving her the C. Also, she’s a tall, engineer hockey player like myself, so what’s there not to be a fan of???
Coach Wiseman promised that as the players bought into the system, a offense would be generated, which has come to fruition the last few games. The Riveters are looking more comfortable with each other, and their passing and movement have shown it (more on their zone entries and exits in a few posts coming soon!). However, I have one worry. In the last game against the Beauts the Riveters were looking to pass rather than shoot more often than not on the rush. On 1 on 1s, this would usually take the form of swinging out to the half boards and trying to hit the trailer with a pass. On 2 on 2 situations, the players are looking pass more than they are looking to shoot. This might be a system problem, or a problem with player mindset, or it might be an aberration, but it needs to be fixed. Modern hockey analysis has shown that generating shots is the key to winning games, so offensive systems that suppress shots need to be corrected.
That being said, players like Madison Packer (who has been on a tear!), Bray Ketchum, Beth Hanrahan, Janine Weber, Taylor Holze (go BU!), and Brooke Ammerman have shown that they can bring it in the offensive zone as well as the defensive zone. While the Riveters may not have the raw offensive firepower of the Pride or the Whale, it is an extremely balanced team, with every player being able to contribute in every zone. It is also worth mentioning that Lyudmila Belyakova has missed half the season, and she is the most gifted offensive player on the team. She has a good shot, great vision, and a high hockey IQ. Her return to the roster will surely be a great addition to the team and help take it to the next level.
More importantly than the hockey, the players on the Riveters make being a hockey fan fun. Be it is their big personalities shining through on social media, interactions with their young fans, their charity work, or Janine Weber pounding a burger, the Riveters players are excellent role models for the next generation of hockey players. With the NHL showing every day that it cares more about money than people, the Riveters and the NWHL have been a refreshing change in the hockey world, and I don’t know how someone could not support them!