On Wednesday night associate coach and Hell's Kitchen native Mark DeSimone, head coach Chad Wiseman, and general manager of the Riveters Dani Rylan held a press conference during the New York Riveters' media day. The trio fielded questions from the media before their team took to the ice for their first practice sometime around 10:00 PM on Wednesday night. I was fortunate enough to be there for the event and ask a few questions about the team, the league, and the upcoming Riveters' season.
Mark DeSimone, Chad Wiseman, and Dani Rylan.
I asked Riveters' head coach and former New York Ranger Chad Wiseman about the makeup of his team and how his experience playing hockey across the globe might help him connect to his roster. Wiseman, just 34 years old, last played professional hockey with the Nippon Cranes in Japan.
Mike Murphy: Obviously you've played for the Rangers and in the local area both in the AHL and the NHL. The Riveters have the most internationally diverse team in the league, and you have, of course, played overseas. Do you think that will be a benefit to you in coaching players from all over the world?
Chad Wiseman: I think it will be more of a benefit for them where they may be in situations where- I don't want to say uncomfortable, or homesick, or just all the feelings and factors when you're far from home. I know what it's like. It can be really tough some days and easy on other days. I'm someone they can speak to, ask for advice, as any player can, but having that experience being away from home and my family and traveling all over the world is something that they can come to me with for help.
Wiseman's experience playing professional hockey in North America, Germany, Sweden, and Japan gives him a great deal of wisdom and experience with how the game is played throughout the world. The Riveters have three players from outside of North America, all of whom are big names in the world of women's hockey.
Nana Fujimoto is the starting goaltender for Japan's national team and is widely considered one of the best in the world at her position. Janine Weber is an Austrian-born and American-educated power forward that plays for Austria's national team and has a penchant for scoring big goals. Lyudmilia Belyakova is a young, goal-scoring forward from Russia who was the captain of Spartak Moscow's women's team before signing with the Riveters over the summer. Belyakova, now 21 years old, was representing her national team at just 15 years old back in 2009.
I next asked Dani Rylan, the general manager of the New York Riveters, about the decisions that went into signing and drafting the players that would play for New York in the NWHL's inaugural season.
The Riveters' coaches and Dani Rylan discussing the roster
MM: Both in the draft and in the free agency period was there a type of player you were pursuing? Did you have any idea of what the team's identity might be as you put together the roster?
Dani Rylan: We have an eighteen paid-player roster and four practice players and there were a lot of things that we were weighing in on when it came down to finalizing the roster. Everything from where the players were living, from position, to just the timing of everything. A lot of these players have other jobs or other commitments outside of just our team, so there were a lot of factors at play. I think I can speak for the whole coaching staff when we say we're so excited for the twenty-two that we picked and we're going to have a solid squad.
Kaitlin Cimini from Today's Slapshot asked Dani Rylan what player from the club was going to take everybody by surprise, and the founder and commissioner of the league didn't hesitate to highlight two young, hungry players.
Dani Rylan: I think there are a few players on the Riveters that are going to surprise a lot of people. I think one of them is going to be Madison Packer and another one is going to be Celeste Brown... they're really hard workers not only on the ice but off the ice. They add a lot to the team dynamic and knowing them both personally and they're really athletes that you want to build your team around. They may be names that the women's hockey world may not have been super familiar with before but they will be by the end of this world.
Both coach Wiseman and coach DeSimone added their own thoughts regarding the character and makeup of the club and what they are expecting from the women who will be wearing red, white, and blue in the NWHL's inaugural season.
Chad Wiseman: We're going to be a good hockey team, I think that will surprise everyone. We're going to be a good, hard-nosed team. It's going to be a fun team to watch.
Mark DeSimone: I think the compete level is going to be high every game, every practice. I think with the amount of games we play in the season I don't think there's a second to lose. I feel really strongly along with Chad and Dani that we're going to have a good blue collar bunch who will just pick up their lunch pails and work really hard. I think the two players Dani mentioned are excellent examples, but I think there are others that will probably surprise everyone.
Wiseman and DeSimone working with the Riveters during the team's first practice.
When the team took to the ice for their first practice after the press conference it was clear that several of the women knew each other from playing with and against one another in the past. Some of them even had matching gloves, hockey pants, and helmets from their college playing careers. Three players on the Riveters played at Union College together, three are Cornell University graduates, and Brooke Ammerman and Madison Packer played college hockey together at the University of Wisconsin. It's safe to say that despite the noteworthy international diversity, including the lone Canadian Ashley Johnston, there is already a significant amount of chemistry waiting for the coaching staff to tap into.
MM: So many of the ladies have played together before at different levels of hockey, will you be looking to that for chemistry and line make-ups or will you be starting from scratch?
Chad Wiseman: Obviously that plays a factor, for sure. Having that information and knowing the success that some of the girls have had together at the college level, absolutely. Any coach the first thing they'd do is put them together and give them the first crack at it so it's something we'll take into consideration.
Despite the challenge of building a hockey team filled with versatile, ambitious athletes that can play in Brooklyn while also fitting the mold that Dani Rylan was looking for out of her club, and Rylan seemed very pleased with the young women who will take to the ice as the New York Riveters in just a month's time.
Rylan addressing the Riveters after their first practice.
The challenges that come with a new league and the NWHL's unique schedule presents all kinds of challenges for the coaching staff and the management team, but Rylan, Wiseman, and DeSimone seem utterly unfazed and eager for the season.
MM: Can you speak to the challenges inherent in the schedule? There's roughly a week between each game, some of these ladies have other jobs and professions. How hard does that it make it to set practices and a team schedule?
Dani Rylan: We have a pretty set schedule. Two practices a week and then the game on the weekend. There's definitely going to be an emphasis on off-ice team chemistry so that does roll through the week with only one game a weekend.
The regular season for the Riveters kicks off on October 11th against the Connecticut Whale on the road, but they'll be taking to the ice as a team a great deal earlier than that in their preseason. As it turns out, their first game will be against New York's Bravest. There will also be a very interesting adventure waiting for the Riveters in the middle of December that was announced during the press conference a day before the press release yesterday.
Dani Rylan: Our first preseason game is against the New York Fire Department. That's September, 27th at 3:30 PM. The second one will be at Chelsea Piers in New York at 11:30 AM against the Minnesota Whitecaps on Sunday October, 4th.
We just finalized an exhibition series in Japan between December 15th and December 20th. We'll playing the Japanese national team, 'Smile Japan' in a three game exhibition series in December.
When I asked what that meant for team Japan star Nana Fujimoto, Dani Rylan laughed and revealed, "We're not sure who she's going to play for!"
Assorted Notes from the Press Conference:
- The NWHL will be following USA Hockey concussion protocol.
- The Riveters and the other NWHL teams drafted players who had just finished their junior year of college in the NWHL's first draft. Those players will remain in the NCAA for their senior years and if they are unsigned by the time their senior year is completed they will become unrestricted free agents.
- The Riveters have four players from the local area. Two New Jerseyans- Brooke Ammerman and Gabie Figueroa and two Connecticuters- Kiira Dosdall and Bray Ketchum.
- Wiseman "hates labeling lines", especially with the Riveters just having three lines (18 paid players) to work with. He anticipates that most of the players to a look at every position. From the sounds of it, ice time and deployment will be earned through merit and consistent play. A few of the players are listed as both forwards and defensemen in their bios.
- All of the regular season games for the Riveters will be streamed online from the NWHL's forthcoming "Cross-Ice Pass" service. More details about the service will be announced soon according to Rylan.
And, finally, here is what Dani Rylan said when I asked her why the team chose Rosie the Riveter as their logo.
Dani Rylan: I think Rosie the Riveter really encompasses not only our team, but the whole league and the movement that we're doing here. She was such a strong icon in World War Two and obviously that was under difference circumstances, but she was still making a statement and helping her country and helping take things to the next level.
The rest of Dani Rylan's thoughts on the club's name and logo can be heard here.
After a historic and dramatic offseason the Riveters have eighteen players on their roster that are all looking forward to make history on October 11th against the Connecticut Whale when the NWHL's inaugural 2015-16 regular season gets underway. Until that first road game comes the Riveters will be doing what every other professional hockey club in North America is doing- they'll be competing with one another and working to be the best team they can be in practice and throughout the preseason. Thankfully, they'll finally be getting paid to do so.
Thank you for reading.
Let's go Riveters!