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NWHL Announces 2016-2017 Season Awards: Riveters Claim Key Honors and Hardware

Connor Murphy

With the regular season wrapped up and the playoffs looming, the NWHL has announced the winners of the 2016-2017 NWHL Awards. Four different New York Riveters claimed awards, reflecting well-deserved recognition for their brilliant play on the ice in addition to tireless contributions off the ice.

New York Riveters Award Winners:

Best Goaltender - Katie Fitzgerald

Connor Murphy

Katie Fitzgerald has been a revelation for this year’s Riveters team, as I had noted during last Sunday’s thrilling season conclusion:

New York’s goaltending situation was in serious doubt heading into this season. Expected starter Jaimie Leonoff announced that she would miss the entire season due to injury. The off-season signing was expected to bolster the club and push them to the next level. With Leonoff out of the picture, eyes turned, perhaps with some understandable skepticism, towards Katie Fitzgerald and Sojung Shin.

The rookie goaltender from St. Cloud State emerged as the starter following a brief goalie duel with Shin at the onset of the season. Fitzgerald found her game as the season progressed and was arguably New York’s greatest asset during the prolonged absence of Amanda Kessel. Her efforts are not lost on coaching staff and teammates, as Riveter forward Taylor Holze so eloquently noted:

As per the NWHL’s official press release announcing the awards:

“Katie has been great for us all season,” said Riveters assistant coach Sis Paulsen. “I’d seen her play at St. Cloud State and knew what she was capable of. She’s a great person and always very supportive of our other goalies, Sojung Shin and Sarah Bryant. They push each other, and the result is that we’ve had strong goaltending all season. Katie has always had a strong worth ethic. Now her confidence is high.”

Fitzgerald finished the season with a 7-6-1 record, compiling a 3.01 GAA and a .901 SV% along with 2 shutouts.

She may not have been a household name for Riveters fans in October, but Fitzgerald may now be the key to the Rosies hoisting the Isobel Cup in March... and the league is paying attention.

Denna Laing Award - Ashley Johnston

Connor Murphy

Ashley Johnston can now claim as many titles as a high feudal lord, or at least a marquise. The All-Star captain of the New York Riveters has been the heart and soul of the team since its inception. Her commitment to her team, the league, its fans and her efforts to grow the game and share her time off the ice have been well-documented.

Now Johnston can add the Denna Laing Award to her impressive résumé. The Denna Laing Award reflects the strength and courage of its namesake and is given to the player who most exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to her sport.

“Ashley is our captain and leader on and off the ice,” said Riveters head coach Chad Wiseman. “When you see her commitment in getting from her day job hours away to our practices and games, it shows how dedicated she is not just to the Riveters, but women’s ice hockey. She’s a role model. We’re very proud of her.”

The award is voted on by the NWHLPA. Johnston has earned the respect of teammates and opponents alike, with praise of her character and defensive acumen stemming back to the league’s inaugural day over a year and a half ago.

Johnston continued her stalwart defensive play in her second season. A staple on the penalty kill and a calming force during harrowing games, she racked up only 6 PIMs on the season in addition to 2 goals and 1 assist in 17 games.

NWHL Fan’s Three Stars - Rebecca Russo (Along with Anya Battaglino of CTW & Harrison Browne of BUF)

Connor Murphy

Rebecca Russo took the NWHL by storm in her rookie season.

The diminutive forward has the technical skill set of a top-line winger with an engine that doesn’t downshift or shut off. Her enthusiasm and scoring touch instantly endeared her to fans of the Riveters.

Russo was part of a deadly one-two punch, alongside Madison Packer, that led the Riveters offensive outburst during the middle of the season. Russo has a knack for outworking everyone on the ice before sending the puck off to a teammate so they can lead the celebration back to the bench, as shown here in last Sunday’s upset of the Boston Pride.

The BU graduate finished her rookie season with 3 goals and 13 assists, good for fourth in the league in helpers between teammates Amanda Kessel and Janine Weber, who had 14 and 12 respectively. Perhaps most impressive? She spent the entire season without sitting a second in the penalty box. Russo plays like an explosion on skates, but apparently it’s a controlled burn.

NWHL Foundation Award - Michelle Picard (Along with Alyssa Gagliardi of BOS, Kelsey Neumann of BUF & Elena Orlando of CTW)

Connor Murphy

Michelle Picard was the New York Riveters most consistent and effective defender this year.

The US Olympian has won a silver medal in 2014 and 2016 gold medal in the World Championships. Yet, she is one of the most underrated New York Riveters, and perhaps defenders in the NWHL. Thankfully, Picard received some overdue recognition in the form of the NWHL Foundation Award.

The honor is given to the players most actively applying the core values of hockey to their community as well as growing the game and improving hockey culture, as selected by the league’s general managers. Picard fits that description perfectly.

Picard has shown a commitment to the community and growing the game through many ventures, whether they be Hockey Fights Hate or through coaching for Hockey in NJ clubs.

The shutdown defender has proven to be a paragon of leadership and exemplified her role as such while representing both her country on international ice as well as her NWHL team back home.

The Harvard graduate finished the season with 2 goals and 6 assists in 18 games while playing top-pair minutes and leading the penalty kill. Her addition to the blueline has been one of the unheralded assets to this New York team that is challenging for the Isobel Cup.

Around the NWHL:

Brianna Decker of the Boston Pride was chosen as the NWHL MVP by the NWHLPA, her second consecutive win of the award. Decker led the league in scoring, finishing with 14 goals and 17 assists in 17 games played.

Megan Bozek of the Buffalo Beauts was chosed as the winner of the Best Defender Award by the media. Bozek, renowned for her bomb of a slapshot, finished the year with 5 goals and 5 assists in 16 games.

The New York Riveters will be seeing Bozek and the rest of the Buffalo Beauts on Friday, March 17 in Newark, NJ for the opening round of the NWHL playoffs.