Resplendent Riveters Run Rampant on Russians, or, The Riveters Preseason Series

Editor’s note: I know what the title of the site is, but with how the Blackhawks handled the Patrick Kane situation, I don’t feel like writing about them, so enjoy this post about the Riveters.

The NWHL is back! Amanda Kessel be praised!  I was fortunately able to make it to the two Riveters preseason games, and I thought I’d type out some quick observations I had from them.

-Amanda Kessel is the fifth horseman of the apocalypse.  The mythical destroyer of worlds.  Death incarnate.  Everything she was promised to be and more.  Riveters fans should be very, very excited.  Almost every time she had the puck she created a scoring chance, and when she didn’t have the puck she was usually taking it away from the opposing team.  It was an absolute joy watching her do everything right, from impeccable skating, always finding the right spot to be, to placing her stick perfectly to direct a pass from her teammates.  She had two goals in two games and easily could have had more.  Amanda Kessel is the best player to ever put on a Riveters sweater, and it will be fun watching her.

-Rebecca Russo, one of many additions to the Riveters roster, has shown immense promise with this new Riveters team.  She is incredibly fast with soft hands and is difficult to take the puck away from. She had the only assist on D’Oench’s goal in game one.  Her combination of speed and tenacity will fit in well with the Riveters, as will her big personality that seems to shine through no matter what.  She is sure to be a fan favorite before long! Plus, she went to BU.  Everyone loves people who went to BU! 😉

-Ashley Johnston had an incredible two games, seemingly back to her pre-injury form from last season.  The unparalleled positioning, shot, and awareness that that made her such an effective blue-liner last year are back.  Look out NWHL.

-Michelle Picard, former US Olympian, was impressive with her skill and aggressiveness.  She has no qualms about jumping up into the offensive zone, and was effective doing so.  Picard was also strong with the puck, showing excellent vision and distributing the puck well.

-The biggest question mark with the Riveters right now is their goaltending, after signing and then losing the leagues previous best goaltender, Jamie Leonoff.  Rookie goaltenders Sojung Shin and Katie Fitzgerald have large shoes to fill, but looked good in the first two games.  Fitzgerald showcased some considerable athleticism, while Shin was impressive playing an excellent positional game and showcasing a lightning-like glove.  At the moment, I believe Shin should and will be the starting goaltender, as she showed a more complete game than Fitzgerald did.  Both showed some difficulties with rebound control, but once the team gels more that should be worked out.  It is a small sample size, but Riveters fans should be hopeful about their goaltending tandem.

-So the Riveters the first few games have been, wait for it, good at zone entries and exits.

I’ll give you a minute to process that.

GOOD ZONE ENTRIES AND EXITS! Last season twitter was constantly screaming about their absence and the difficulties that they were causing for the Riveters.  But if these two games are any indication, it will no longer be a problem for the Rivs.  The improved defense is a big part of this.  As Jen LC (who in my mind is the best analyst around) on twitter says, having D that can dig the puck out, turn, and quickly move it out of the zone is incredibly important to a team’s success.  She says if forwards have to come back and help dig the puck out, they can’t participate fully in the breakout the way they should.  The D on this Riveters team don’t need help getting the puck, and can look to move it up ice quickly. Combining that with a faster and more skilled forward corp, and this team can move the puck in and out of zones fast and efficiently.

-The Riveters game could still use some more structure, particularly on the back end, but this wasn’t surprising.  They were playing for the first time with each other, and I for one was very impressed with how far their play had come from last year.  The structure will come.  This is a team that will be able to compete with any team in the NWHL, and in my mind is second only to the stacked Pride roster.  This should be a fun year for Riveters fans, so enjoy the ride!

Riveters Thoughts: Thinking About Next Season

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 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: So I was writing this as part of a larger post on where the Riveters stand, but I was having fun thinking about next season and it got long fast, so here it is on its own!)
It is time to think about next season. This is of course assuming the NWHL gets a next season.  In my mind, there are 3 priorities.
1. Sign all the draftees. The 2015 Riveters draft class of Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, Erin Ambrose, Dana Trivigno and Kimberly Newell are all having FANTASTIC years. There is an enormous amount of talent there, and all of it needs to be signed. Young talent is good no matter what sport you are playing, and this is really, really excellent young talent. All of it needs to be on the team next year, and hopefully many more to come.
2. Steal talent from other NWHL teams. In a league as small as the NWHL, talent that you take from another team is doubly effective because a. you get that talent and b. the other team loses it. The NWHL is rife with talent that is being underpaid because of the salary cap (to be clear, I think every single player in the NWHL is underpaid, but I’m talking in a relative sense) and that is what should be targeted. Would I love to see the Riveters get a player like Emily Pfalzer, Gigi Marvin, Briana Decker, or Blake Bolden? Of course! But until the league can pay a living wage (cross your fingers) I don’t see that happening. However, players like Jordan Brickner, Danielle Ward, Jillian Dempsey, and Rachel Llanes are all making less than 11,000 dollars a year. The Riveters could surely find a way to beat that. Of particular interest to me are players like Dempsey and Llanes of the Pride. With all the national team members on the Pride, they would not be able to afford to give players like Dempsey and Llanes a raise. That’s where the Riveters come in!
3. Resign important players. So here’s the thing, in my mind the Riveters don’t really have a lot of weak spots, players who are well below their teammates. The Riveters are a very balanced team, and more importantly all the players are incredible young women. But unfortunately, the Riveters need an infusion of high end talent, which they can get through the draft and free agency, so unless the rosters expand there will be players who cannot stay. Dani Rylan (or the next GM, but Rylan should already be thinking about this) need to identify players who the Riveters can’t lose, resign them first, then resign other players as needed. Off the top of my head (and quickly so I can finish writing this and go to work) Johnston, Fujimoto, Ketchum, Packer, Ammerman, Weber, Belyakova, Holze, Dosdall, and Kidd are all lock-ins to get a second year with the Riveters. A lot of other players will hopefully be back as well, but these ten need to be priorities.

Also, one last note. Thought the Riveters are struggling right now, I would rather watch them lose than pretty much any other team I support win. For years many of us have been complaining about the complicity we feel while following pro sports that enable drunk drivers, rapists, and murderers. Then the NWHL came along, and is doing something unbelievably positive in sports.

Riveters Thoughts: The State of the Riveters

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!