New York Riveters captain Ashley Johnston shared a poignant message prior to yesterday's game against the Connecticut Whale in Newark, New Jersey.
In the face of adversity we learn the most about who we are.— Ashley Johnston (@strettyit) November 20, 2016
Love this team, love this family.
4:00pm vs. CT pic.twitter.com/0mBUAKtVqs
In the hours that followed that tweet, we learned a lot about Ashley Johnston, the New York Riveters, and women's hockey as a whole. Perhaps the most simple lesson from yesterday's game is that the Riveters are a damn good hockey team, as the scoreboard readily indicated. However, the beautiful simplicity of the scoreboard reflected only the basics of the game at hand: the score, the shots, the time. This game went beyond that. It featured emotions and events which could not be neatly quantified and categorized into one of those three boxes. Blueshirt Banter will delve into the depths of the off-ice issues in the upcoming hours, days, and beyond. For now though, let us embrace that sweet simplicity and relive what likely was the most meaningful win in franchise history.
It was an evening of milestones. New York finally caught their white whale, skating away with a victory over the Connecticut Whale for the first time in the eight meetings between the clubs in league history. The team has recorded a point in three consecutive games (2-0-1) for the first time. Katie Fitzgerald stopped all 28 shots she faced on her way to the first shutout in team history. The team also recorded their first win at their new home arena in Newark, New Jersey. I guess you could say it was kind of a big deal.
The first period proved to be a bit of a struggle with the majority of the play in the Riveters defensive zone. Despite the imbalance in puck possession and pressure, New York took the early lead thanks to yet another goal from leading scorer and rookie Miye D'Oench. Her fourth goal of the season came off of a sweeping forehand below the left circle that slid past the leg of former Riveter Shenae Lundberg in net. Michelle Picard and Janine Weber picked up assists on the lone goal of the period. Fitzgerald showed glimpses of what was to come in the game with the types of saves that all goalies can appreciate: economy of movement, sound positioning, and swallowing the puck to prevent rebounds.
The second period was a different story with a similar ending. The Riveters started to apply more pressure and balance out the chances, but the Whale weathered the storm. It was not until after half the period had elapsed that New York found the back of the net again. Luckily for the home fans, lightning struck twice in rapid succession from the hands of Rebecca Russo. The diminutive forward continued her hot streak of late with her third and fourth goals of the season in a span of four minutes.
Russo was the beneficiary of two superb passing plays by Madison Packer, who has been on a hot streak herself recently, dishing out primary assists in bunches. Milica McMillen and Michelle Picard picked up the secondary assists on Russo's tallies. The chemistry developing between the forwards throughout the lineup has been key to the team's recent success and the Packer-Russo connection has been at the heart of that improvement.
While the Riveters forwards were lighting the lamp above Shenae Lundberg, rookie goalie Katie Fitzgerald was shining even brighter. She has looked more composed with each passing performance and the culmination of her efforts in the team's first shutout was justice served to a true competitor in the net. The third period turned into an onslaught from Connecticut, but Fitzgerald turned aside every puck with little, if any, duress. Her positioning and telescoping of angles was solid all game long. Her lateral movement was spectacular, particularly in the few instances when things got out of hand in front of her.
Janine Weber added an empty net goal with an assist from Miye D'Oench to seal the game. The Riveters swarmed their goalie at the final buzzer with an explosive exultation of hands in the air. The team has endured a lot in the past few days off the ice, but that did not matter as they gathered in the impenetrable crease of Katie Fitzgerald. If for only the moment, they shed themselves of so many doubts. They won in historic fashion. They rallied around each other and delivered a show to their fans, the league, and fans of hockey everywhere. Off-ice issues be damned. They left everything they had on the ice that night, except for their skates that leaped from it in celebration. The scoreboard glowed 4-0. There was so much more to it than that. But for now, just revel in the sweet simplicity of that naive scoreboard.