After a disappointing inaugural season, the New York Riveters were hoping for a statement win in front of a sellout crowd at Barnabas Hockey House in Newark against the Connecticut Whale. It proved to be a difficult task for a New York team skating without key forwards Amanda Kessel and Janine Weber who were scratched due to undisclosed minor injuries. The Riveters came out to a strong start but the Whale weathered the storm and turned the tide, handing the home team a 4-2 loss in front of their fans.
Despite the loss, the fans in Newark made their presence known. The Riveters played in front of what likely was the largest home crowd they have seen and the players clearly appreciated it. "I love coming into a rink where the place is packed" noted defender Kaleigh Fratkin with a smile. "That really gets you into the game too and gets you going so that's a huge positive and really exciting. I can't wait for our next home game."
Miye D'Oench (2) and Courtney Burke (1) each scored in the first period for New York while Katie Fitzgerald got the start over Sojung Shin between the pipes following the former's solid relief performance last week against the Boston Pride. Fitzgerald was barraged by pucks, finishing the game with 34 saves on 38 shot attempts by the Whale. Nicole Connery (1), Nicole Kosta (1), Molly Engstrom (1), and Kelly Babstock (2) found the back of the net for Connecticut and the solid goaltending from Nicole Stock, who posted 33 saves on 35 shots, proved to be enough to spoil the party in Newark.
The Riveters got on the board and brought their fans to their feet early in the game thanks to a goal from emerging star Miye D'Oench. The New York native and avid Rangers fan finished off a passing play on a zone entry from team leaders Ashley Johnston and Madison Packer. D'Oench has shown a lot of potential and has proven to be a valuable asset in all three zones for New York.
Connecticut scored twice in less than three minutes in the late stages of the first period to quiet the crowd. With Madison Packer sitting in the box for a hooking infraction, Nicole Connery banged home a loose rebound behind Fitzgerald for the equalizing goal on the powerplay. Shortly after tying the game, Nicole Kosta added to her assist on Connery's goal with a goal of her own right in front of the net on a rebound.
With under two minutes remaining in the first period, New York was able to come back and tie the game up thanks to a beautiful play by Rebecca Russo. Building off of a clean defensive zone breakout by Courtney Burke, Russo retrieved a dump in near the corner boards, wheeled around to her forehand, and centered a perfect pass to a waiting Burke right at the top of the crease. Burke pivoted and swept the puck beyond the reach of defenseman Ivana Bilic and past the right pad of Stock, beating the goalie far post and restoring an even scoreboard at the end of the period.
The momentum would be short-lived. With teams skating 4-on-4 to start the second period due to carry-over coincidental slashing minors from Packer and Whale forward Dana Trivigno, a defensive lapse left captain Molly Engstrom wide open in the slot to fire a shot over the blocker of Fitzgerald. The Whale seized the lead for the second time in the game and would not surrender it again, even with a golden opportunity for the Riveters.
Gabie Figueroa was tripped up on a breakway and awarded a penalty shot halfway through the second period. Figueroa, a regular player last season for New York, re-signed with the Riveters as a practice player and was making her season debut. She opted for a wrist shot from the high slot which sailed into the glass wide of the net and kept the score at 3-2 in favor of Connecticut. Babstock added a goal late in the second period with a teed up blast that beat Fitzgerald over her blocker for the last goal of the game.
Special teams played a pivotal role in the game. The Riveters failed to capitalize on any of their three powerplay opportunities and their penalty kill surrendered the first Whale goal which took away momentum from D'Oench's tally and quieted a packed arena. The uninspired powerplay desperately missed the dynamic play of Kessel and Weber whose importance to the overall offensive production of the team is difficult to overstate. When asked what he thought about the power play, coach Chad Wiseman noted the absence of Kessel. "Obviously it hurts not having Amanda [Kessel] on that one side and she kind of runs that unit. We gotta score on the powerplay, it's huge." The return of the injured stars cannot be soon enough for New York, especially with next week's matchup against powerhouse Boston.
The severity of the Kessel and Weber injuries were undisclosed and now two more have been added to the list following the home opener. Alternate captain Madison Packer was shaken up after blocking a shot with her hand in the third period and was seen with taped up fingers following the game. Along the same lines but far more grisly, captain Ashley Johnston also sustained a finger injury... or rather a missing finger injury.
The Riveters and their fans have plenty of positives to dwell upon despite the 0-2-0 start to the season before they hope to break the trend against the Pride. New York outplayed Connecticut in the third period and narrowly missed on several scoring chances which could have changed the game. The team's young players, especially D'Oench and Russo, have jumped out of the gate to provide well-rounded talent in the lineup. The Riveters are also showing the potential for a far more balanced scoring distribution which has been catalyzed with the infusion of new players in key roles.
Through the first two Riveters games:— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) October 17, 2016
D'Oench 2 goals. Russo 2 primary assists. 2 goals from D. All 5 goals scored by offseason additions.
Now New York must look ahead to their matchup against the Boston Pride next weekend in Boston. The Pride are a star-studded team featuring the likes of Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and New York Riveters 2015 #1 overall pick Alex Carpenter. Some questions remain heading into that game, particularly regarding the goalie situation for New York and the health of the roster. The team was not happy with the effort they put forth against Connecticut, with several players noting the lack of consistent hard work throughout the full 60 minutes. Expect to see the Riveters come out next week with a fire under them to prove a point to themselves, their coach, and their fans. After all, if they need a reminder about hard work all they need to do is look at their sweaters and see Rosie staring back at them. That will get you moving.