We thought we’d do something a little bit different for our New York Riveters season preview. We reached out to some talented reporters and writers covering professional women’s hockey and had them answer some questions about the upcoming season. We also had our resident Riveters writers share their own thoughts on what the 2016-17 season holds.
The Riveters underwent dramatic changes in the offseason. The Riveters are young, talented, and eager to improve on their last place finish from last season. The talent level on the team has skyrocketed from where it was a year ago, but the trademark work ethic remains.
Departures: Brooke Ammerman, Nana Fujimoto, Lyudmila Belyakova, Beth Hanrahan, Meghan Fardelmann, Chelsea Laden, Jenny Scrivens, Sydney Kidd, Elena Orlando (CTW), Celeste Brown (CTW), Margot Scharfe, Cherie Stewart, Amber Moore, Erin Barley-Maloney
Arrivals: Amanda Kessel, Tatiana Rafter, Miye D’Oench, Rebecca Russo, Alexa Gruschow, Kaleigh Fratkin, Michelle Picard, Courtney Burke, Milica McMillen, Sojung Shin, Jaimie Leonoff, Rebecca Morse, Julia “Cheeky” Herr, Katie Fitzgerald, Sarah Bryant
And now, here is your Riveters season preview with insight from Kate Cimini, Hannah Bevis, Erica L. Ayala, Beth Machlan, and Connor and Mike Murphy.
Which second-year NWHL player on New York will have a breakout season?
Mike: Tatiana Rafter. Rafter’s speed and size fit very well into Wiseman’s system and approach to the game. I think a change of scenery and role will be a very good thing for her individual production.
Kate: Jaimie Leonoff, provided she plays. While she had the best save percentage in the NWHL as Whale's first-strong goalie, the team's quick exit in the postseason meant Leonoff did not get the attention she deserved for her performance. As a goalie on the flagship team, that same performance will earn her the accolades she missed out on last season.
Beth: Janine Weber. She’s going to rack up the points to match her skill and drive, this time around.
Erica: I’m going to keep my eye on Bray [Ketchum], there were some bright spots from her last year. Curious to see how she starts off with a season under her belt and a fair share of returning teammates.
Hannah: It might seem odd, but I’m interested to see what Ashley Johnston does this year. Even with her and Kiira Dosdall carrying the defense for the majority of last season, Johnston finished with seven points (1 g, 6 a). I’m very interested to see how she does without the pressure of all those minutes and tough matchups on a deeper defense- especially with some new offensive talents up front.
Which player from last season's roster will the Riveters miss the most?
Mike: Brooke Ammerman. Ammerman wasn’t the fastest skater but she and Bray Ketchum carried the Riveters’ offense last season. Her vision with the puck was as entertaining as it was effective, especially on the power play.
Kate: Ditto. Her skating and conditioning definitely limited her ability to contribute at times, but her ability to think three passes ahead of her opponents (and her teammates at times) regularly made her the most dynamic player on the Riveters last season.
Connor: Lyudmila Belyakova’s raw talent and offensive prowess will be missed in the 2016-2017 season. She displayed her elite skill, particularly her dangerous wrist shot, despite early struggles and questionable utilization in the lineup.
Beth: I second Belyakova. I think she would have found her niche this season.
Erica: I agree with Belyakova and Ammerman. Would have liked to see Fardelmann back for another season, too. However, I don’t think you can deny the importance of Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens. Despite their last place finish, those two women were a spark for the team and the fans.
Hannah: Belyakova will be missed, but when you replace her with Amanda Kessel, you’re doing all right. The Riveters will miss Ammermann most as she could’ve given them some extra offensive depth and consistency with the offense.
What grade would you give general manager Chad Wiseman’s offseason?
Mike: B+. Failing to sign Hannah Brandt after trading for her rights was a huge deal. But Wiseman’s other moves were, for the most part, outstanding. The Riveters have a greatly improved roster and tons of cap space leftover.
Kate: I refuse to participate in this until you give me a rubric and/or explain how I am supposed to assign points constructively. Grading is not subjective, it is quantitative. (But he deserves better than a B+, come on.)
Connor: Wiseman earns a B grade. He made some promising improvements in the offensive potency of a team which struggled to find the back of the net in their inaugural season. Failing to sign Alex Carpenter and Hannah Brandt detract from an otherwise savvy offseason which saw the addition of Amanda Kessel. Kaleigh Fratkin, and Tatiana Rafter to bolster the top-end of the roster.
Beth: I have to say B+/A-. This is a new team in many important ways, and he showed a sense of strategy/planning many of us thought he lacked behind the bench.
Erica: B+. Agree with Beth, although I’m still curious to see if Wiseman can bring things together on the ice. Wiseman drafted a solid team on paper, but can he be a coach willing to lead with the right balance of conviction and adaptability.
Hannah: B+. I think most people were happier with Wiseman as a GM than Wiseman as a coach last season. Amanda Kessel’s signing was arguably the biggest splash of free agency and the defense is much improved, but losing Hannah Brandt to the Whitecaps and the murky goalie situation with Katie Fitzgerald mars an otherwise excellent offseason.
Which Riveters’ rookie not named Amanda Kessel are you most excited about?
Mike: Miye D’Oench. I think there is a lot riding on the rookie forwards and D’Oench appears to have the most offensive potential after Kessel. D’Oench is a great fit with the Riveters- NYC kid with an outstanding work ethic and great skating ability.
Kate: Courtney Burke. Kid can skate.
Hannah: I am VERY excited to see Michelle Picard on the ice. She has a lot of international experience with Team USA, performing at multiple IIHF World Championships, and even cracking the 2014 Olympic roster. Picard joins players like Fratkin and Johnston on a defense that looks to be one of the Riveters strengths. If Wiseman gives her ice time, I think we could see some solid play from her.
Which New York Riveter would benefit the most if body checking was legalized?
Mike: Last season I would have said Elena Orlando, but Orlando is now with Connecticut. I’ll go with rookie defender Milica McMillen.
Connor: The legalization of body checking would take Ashley Johnston’s game to a higher level. Her imposing size and style of play would be devastating to other teams trying to gain controlled entries in the offensive zone.
Beth: Ha … I would have said Orlando too. She came really far last season, and never lost that dogged physicality.
Erica: Co-sign on Orlando and Johnston. I think Fritz-Ward might get in on the action as well.
Which practice squad player do you think is the most important to the team's success?
Mike: Taylor Holze. There’s not a ton of offense in her game but she plays responsible hockey and is a great player to plug in if there’s an injury.
Kate: It's a toss-up for me between Cheeky Herr and Taylor Holze. Holze's skating is cream of the crop, but her performance can be erratic (something that was likely exacerbated last season by her infrequent appearances in games and serious injuries). Herr, on the other hand, is not as talented a skater as Holze but she displayed pretty strong scoring instincts at Trinity. Tough call.
Hannah: Gabie Figeuroa. New York’s defense is excellent, but if there’s an injury or two, the Riveters need a reliable player who knows the team and who can fill their shoes until they return. As a veteran not only to the NWHL, but to New York, Figueroa should be looked to first.
What do you think is the team’s biggest weakness heading into the season?
Kate: Well, their four-goalie situation right now is a little screwy, so why not go with that.
Beth: Figuring out who they are, really. The blue-collar grind-it-out style won fans, but not games. What machine do these pieces make, and how long will it take Wiseman and Paulsen to figure it out?
Erica: I agree with Beth. I’d like to see a system that fits the team. It appears that the speed of the team has improved, looking forward to see how that will transpire. Hopefully, it will create an exciting and efficient offensive presence.
Hannah: Agree with Beth and Erica, but also *glances at goalies* uh, unless they can figure out the situation with their goalies (particularly, if Jaimie Leonoff will actually be with the team or not) I’d be concerned with that until I see Sojung Shin play a few games.
The team’s greatest strength?
Mike: The depth on the blue line. I think that the Riveters might have the best defense in professional women’s hockey.
Hannah: Co-sign on the defense. I know everyone’s excited that the Riveters got #BestKessel, but their blue line is tough to match anywhere. I think we’ll see the defense racking up some points but also stifling other teams’ top lines.
Which Riveters’ player would do the best in a zombie apocalypse?
Mike: It has to be Packer.
Beth: Maddy Pack, hands down.
Hannah: Co-sign Madison Packer.
Kate: Jaimie Leonoff. Never underestimate a goalie.
Who would you put on the Riveters’ top power play unit?
Mike: Ketchum-Weber-Kessel, Burke-Fratkin.
Kate: Packer-Fritz-Ward-Kessel, Picard-Burke.
Last season the Riveters finished fourth (last) in the regular season standings. Where do they finish this season?
Mike: The Boston Pride only got better over the offseason. With their outstanding defense I think the Riveters can take second.
Kate: First or second. Looking just at the rosters at the moment, I'd lay money down on first.
Erica: With the Riveters picking up two core players from the Whale, I think they can finish at least third. If the Riveters can find their form early, I think they have the opportunity to build on last year. I think Wiseman and his staff will be the difference, along with a breakout performance from at least one rookie.
Hannah: Boston’s the clear favorite here, but based on all the movement this offseason, I think they could go as high as second. It’s going to depend on their goaltending and how the offense gels, but the Riveters finish no lower than third.
Even with question marks surrounding the team’s goaltending situation the Riveters are in a much better position than they were last fall. The Riveters’ first line and blue line are sure to lead the team to a winning season.
The Riveters preseason kicks off this weekend in Newark, New Jersey against the Russian Women’s National Team and former Riveters forward Lyudmila Belyakova. The Riveters will meet the Russians again on Monday night at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ.
Where you can read the contributing writers
Hannah Bevis: Hannah is the site manager of SB Nation’s new women’s hockey blog. You can follow her on twitter here.
Erica L. Ayala: Erica will be covering the Riveters for SB Nation’s new women’s hockey blog. She also covers the NWHL for MyWSports. You can follow her on twitter here.
Kate Cimini: Kate is a freelance writer and the lead NWHL and CWHL reporter at Today’s Slapshot. You can follow her on twitter here.
Beth Machlan: Covers the Riveters on Blueshirt Banter. She loves bacon and teaches at NYU. You can follow her on twitter here.
Connor Murphy: Connor covers the Riveters on Blueshirt Banter. You can follow him on twitter here.
Mike Murphy: Mike is the Riveters beat reporter on Today’s Slapshot. He covers the Riveters on Blueshirt Banter and will be a contributor for SB Nation’s new women’s hockey blog. You can follow him on twitter here.