The Riveters rewarded stands full of loyal fans at Aviator with a shootout win 4-3 over the Buffalo Beauts on Sunday afternoon. The close game showcased the team's awareness of their weak spots in previous meetings with the relentless Beauts, and while they didn't solve all their problems completely, they looked like what they need to be: a team that can make a difference in the playoffs.
Nana Fujimoto had an epic game in net, denying the Beauts again and again, even on breakaways and in shorthanded situations. But goaltending alone can't win games, and it was the Riveters' puck movement that made the difference this time. A team that has been haunted by possession woes, they kept their heads up and made smart passes instead of relying on their skating (and wearing themselves out in the process). Zone exits were cleaner and more productive, and they spent more time forechecking instead of rushing to change as soon as the puck left their zone.
Meghann Fardelmann started it off for the Riveters less than two minutes in, finding room between Brianne McLaughlin and the post. Soon after, she went off for cross-checking, but a spectacular series of saves from Nana heped the Riveters hold onto the lead for the rest of the first period, even though the Beauts led the Rivs in shots, 16-5.
Unfortunately, the Rivs started the 2nd on the PK, and the Beauts were able to tie it up quickly, with Erin Zach tipping in a bomb from Megan Bozek. Things started to look bleak when the Beauts followed that with a goal from Shelby Bram off a behind-the-net pass (and yes, she DID dab right after). A promising Rivs 2 on 1 was broken up by Lindsey Griggs, who went off for hooking, and then Kelley Steadman pinged a blast off the crossbar. At the end of the 2nd, it was 2-1 Beauts, who continued to outshoot the Riveters, 27-12.
Third periods are rarely the Riveters' finest hour, but they reversed that curse in this game, coming back with a Bozek-like blast from Bray Ketchum, fresh from the face-off on the power play. After that, it was Nana, stonewalling a breakaway from Steadman and getting the game to OT.
The Riveters leaned on Nana in OT, too, in 5 minutes that looked a lot like a Beauts powerplay. Luckily for them, Kelley Steadman went off for roughing after a fracas in front of Nana's net, which evened up the ice and, in some interesting NWHL karma, left the Beauts' best shooter ineligible to participate in the shootout.
But somehow, even though they were outshot by the Beauts, it just felt like the Riveters' game. The fans were howling, chanting, and clanging the cowbell. The team answered every Beauts surge with a rush of their own. And so we ended up in a skills competition, in which Brooke Ammerman scored with a neat deke and defender Kiira Dosdall went high, roofing it off the crossbar and winning the game.
Coach Chad Wiseman, who avoided media after the last few losses, was pleased with both the result, and the lift it gives his squad. "It was a real gritty third period for our team, I'm real happy with them." He also acknowledged that the power play goals made a big difference. "I think we have the best penalty kill in the league right now, if we get our power play clicking more often, going into the playoffs, it will better our odds of winning games."
Asked what made the difference in the team's third period play, he replied: "We seemed to have a little more confidence in the third. e've had 3 goal leads and sometimes we sit back. We didn't have the luxury to sit back, we had to go get them."
Brooke Ammerman agreed. "We came back twice today. We're resilient. This was awesome to get a win, be proud, be excited ... that was a great win for us."
So did Bray Ketchum. "We're trying to spread out a little, not skate as much but move the puck more. Things were clicking and people had their heads up, making good passes." Asked about her goal, she laughed. "I don't usually take one-timers, but it felt pretty good."
Ammerman also praised the officiating, which has been up and down, to say the least, over the course of the season. In its level of physicality, she remarked, "That [game]was perfect ... every girl out here has played high-level hockey, whether the national team or high-level D1, so we should be allowed to throw our bodies around, and when it gets out of hand they should call penalties."
All the Riveters we talked to praised a dedicated fan base that stuck with them throughout a tough season. Ammerman observed that "our fans respect that we work full time and then we come and work our hardest. There's not a fan base like this. " Ketchum added: "They are so much fun to play for and I'm so glad that we finally got to please them and win for them."