The Riveters lost a heartbreaking home opener 4-2 to the Connecticut Whale on Sunday evening. After ending the first period 2-2, they went scoreless for the rest of the game, peppering Whale tender Nicole Stock with pucks in the third but unable to put one over the line. Some in the sellout crowd, already disappointed that a minor injury had scratched star Amanda Kessel, may have wondered if Riveters history was going to continue by repeating itself.
It is way too soon to predict how the season will end.
For now, let’s focus on the upside: both Riveters goals were scored by rookies. Defenseman Courtney Burke made a beautiful turnaround shot off a perfect pass by Rebecca Russo, also a newbie, and forward Miye D’Oench was assisted by Madison Packer. After the game, Russo and D’Oench shared their thoughts about their new team and the season ahead.
Russo came to the Riveters from Boston University, where she holds the program’s record for fastest goal ever scored, 12 seconds into a game. She has two assists in two games, but she’s looking for more, from both herself and her team.
“I saw a lot of good things [tonight], but I also saw way too many bad things,” Russo revealed. “We gave up the first and second period, we weren’t battling, we weren’t winning one-on-one battles, in our D zone we fell apart, and if you fall apart like that, they’re going to capitalize. They’re a great team.”
So what were the good things? “We played great in the third period, I thought, that last 20 minutes, and if we play those 20 minutes for the full 60, then we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.” Still, for Russo, the lack of shots on goal was a problem. “A lot of things fell apart, defensively and offensively. We didn’t have that many shots; I remember coming out of the locker room and seeing eight. A shot’s a shot, you’ve got to shoot on net ... It all starts from the defensive zone, making the right plays, breaking out, and then moving it wider. We just had to get that puck over that goal line, and tonight we didn’t really do that. We did a lot of great things, but we’ve just to get that puck in and go work hard to go get it back.”
When playing the Whale, a lot of that hard work involves physical play, but Russo seemed to take that in stride.
“These are all of the greatest players in, I guess you could say the world, and there’s not a day off here. You’re going out, you’re battling. You know, the Olympic team players, you’re battling the top NCAA players, you both play each other once or twice, you can’t slack, or they’ll take the opportunity and score.”
Asked how she felt about chippy play, Russo laughed and shrugged. “It’s always going to be chippy. And you know this whole NWHL thing, we want to win that Isobel Cup, everyone wants to win, so you got to do what you got to do. So it’s a little chippy, but that’s hockey for you.”
So what’s the plan? “We need to come back to practice on Tuesday and settle down and get back to the drawing board because we need to start winning some hockey games. It stinks to lose, but it’s the beginning of the season, so … We had some great opportunities, we just couldn’t bury it today. We’ll get it going here, so I’m excited to start winning some games.”
Miye D’Oench leads the Riveters in scoring with two goals in two games on seven shots. Like Russo, D’Oench is a college record holder: she is one of only 25 players in Harvard’s history to score over 100 career points. We also learned that D’Oench and Russo played on their first girls’ team, the Mid-Fairfield Lady Blues, together when they were 12-years-old. D’oench would later play for the New Jersey Rockets, a girls youth team that skated during intermission in the home opener.
“Rockets are forever,” laughed D’Oench. But she likes being a professional, too. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot faster, the competition’s higher, the crowds are better, so it’s a lot of fun in that sense.”
Even though D’Oench has been one of her new team’s most outstanding players, she focused mostly on how she needs to improve.
“I personally have a laundry list of things to get better at, I think. I’m not really livid with myself for how I played, but I definitely have some places and areas I want to improve a lot, and I’m hoping to do that this season, help us win some games.”
Luckily, she feels that the Riveters are the right team with which to do that. “The nice thing is there are a lot of rookies on the team. You want to have a lot of support from the leadership on the team, the coach and all that, and Chad and everyone have been great, easing with the growing pains, expecting a lot but not coming down too hard, and understanding that mistakes are going to be made, and also knowing that we’re going to get a lot better.”
While the Kessel signing won the most attention, the Riveters are rich with rookie players who will shape the character and success of the team, hopefully for years to come. Like Russo, D’Oench acknowledged not only the work that lies ahead, but also the promise.
“We’re young and we have a lot of talent, we’re just still working on it.”