A car trip from Branchburg, a township in Somerset County New Jersey, to Brooklyn will take you about an hour and fifteen minutes. That is the distance between where Gabie Figueroa of the New York Riveters grew up and where she will be one of the first women in North America to be paid for playing professional hockey.
Gabie Figueroa had a standout career playing on the blue line for the Tiger Lilies. She was a four-time ECAC All-Academic team selectee and co-captained her team in her senior year at Princeton, a Division I hockey school. From Princeton's blue line Figueroa, a truly gifted skater, scored 36 points in 116 games, including a 13 point in 30 game performance as a senior.
Before playing her college hockey career, Figueroa skated for USA Hockey's U-18 Team in the 2009 IIHF U-18 World Championships were she won silver. with USA Figueroa's skating and work ethic have been lauded wherever she has played hockey by her coaches and teammates and it's for good reason. On the ice Figueroa moves about effortlessly and is as nimble as a human being can be with skates on their feet and a hockey stick in their hands. Her exceptional skating is a key factor in what makes her such a staunch defender. With her quick feet Figueroa will very rarely be caught out of position and if she is, she can quickly recover and put herself and/or her stick in passing and shooting lanes to disrupt the attack of the opposing team.
Figueroa also has great instincts when she's on the attack. She's quick to get to the boards and get the puck back in deep where it belongs to keep the attack going. Her shot is low, hard, and has eyes and is the kind of point shot that begs to be deflected which it will frequently be with net-front presences like Madison Packer on the team. She scored a big overtime goal in a demonstration of the extra period in the Riveters' first preseason game against the FDNY hockey club.
A bad day to be a hockey puck. Figueroa after the team's first practice at Aviator.
Without any further adieu, let's get to know #21 from the New York Riveters a little bit better.
Growing up in Jersey and picking one team is tough because of all the options. My first favorite team was the St. Louis Blues... because my favorite color was blue. I mostly grew up as a Devils fan because that was my family's team (our golden retriever growing up was named Brodey after Martin Brodeur). I now also root for the Rangers and Islanders because either of them winning the cup would be good for NYC hockey!
MM: What does it mean to you as someone born in Branchburg, New Jersey and living and working in Manhattan to play with the New York Riveters for the NWHL's inaugural season?
I'm really fortunate that the NWHL came to NYC because my family and fans from NJ are nearby and I wasn't uprooted from my apartment, career, and friends here.
Figueroa on the ice at Aviator for the Riveters' first practice.
MM: Off the ice you work for Gilbane Building Company and are working on the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx. Can you talk about what it means to you to be building what will be the world's largest ice complex in New York City?
It's a dream. All I did in my basement as a young girl was play mini-stick hockey and build things with blocks. I then played Division 1 hockey at Princeton and studied structural engineering. And now I'm playing professional hockey and building the world's largest ice complex that the Riveters will hopefully play out of one day. I couldn't script my life and the connection between hockey and my building career any better.
MM: Even with the recent signing of Sydney Kidd the Riveters have just five defensemen. Are you looking forward to the challenge of eating up a lot of minutes and trying to shut down the top players on the NWHL's other three teams?
Of course. I can't wait for the challenge. I'm used to eating up a lot of minutes from my time at Princeton because we had a short D bench there as well.
MM: How have you felt skating with Kiira Dosdall during practice and in the preseason? Do you think you two make a good pair on the ice?
Bray Ketchum, Gabie Figueroa, and Kiira Dosdall with their new helmets. Courtesy: Gabie Figueroa
I've really enjoyed playing with Kiira. She's a great skater and handles and moves the puck very well. She's a couple of years older than me and played professionally in Austria after she graduated from Colgate, so she has been a good role model for me.
MM: Your skating ability has really made you a standout in the preseason, how would you describe your game and playing style? Are there any players that you modeled your game after?
My skating and work ethic are my biggest strengths. I'm also strong on the puck and move the puck well. I always liked the way Scott Neidermeyer played.
Figueroa on the ice against the Minnesota Whitecaps, transitioning to the attack.
MM: How good did it feel scoring that overtime goal in the first preseason game against FDNY?
It was rewarding to capitalize on the low glove opening I saw from the slot. It's hard to find openings and score directly from the point because there's usually too much traffic in front.
MM: Has it been challenging getting your conditioning back to where you want it to be after a year away from playing hockey at Princeton?
I stayed in pretty good off-ice shape since graduating, so it hasn't been too bad getting back in shape. The most challenging part is that we only have two practices and one game a week. In an ideal world we'd be skating together more often.
MM: Coach Chad Wiseman has made it clear that he wants the Riveters to be a blue-collar team with a focus on work ethic, hustle, and sound defensive play. Do you feel like a good fit with the Riveters' system and style of play?
I'm a perfect fit for Coach Chad's style. I was never the type of player who was able to depend on my skill, so I'm used to being a coachable and disciplined player that will do whatever the team asks of me.
MM: Are there any forwards on the team that you particularly enjoy battling in practice?
I started typing names and realized I wrote down all the forwards. Everyone is very talented and even more valuable - hardworking. They're all aggressive and know how to drive to the net hard making each 1v1, 2v1, and 3v2 a challenge in practice.
Figueroa lining up with Brooke Ammerman and Taylor Holze for the national anthem.
MM: As a defender, is it nice knowing that the Riveters will have Nana Fujimoto, Shenae Lundberg, and Jenny Scrivens between the pipes this season?
They're all great goaltenders so I feel safe having any one of them between the pipes for us. It's a good problem not to have a clear number one goalie because they're each working hard and pushing each other in practice.
MM: Communication is a big part of the game, especially between goaltenders and their defense. Are you starting to get comfortable with Nana Fujimoto after the preseason game against the Whitecaps and the practices since then?
Nana is a great person and an ideal teammate who works hard and is always striving to be better. Her English is better than I thought it would be and she's trying her best to learn English hockey lingo. In between periods during the Whitecaps game Shenae was very helpful teaching Nana words like "backdoor" so that the D would know if someone was open behind them.
MM: Are there any particular games you have circled on the calendar for the 18 game regular season schedule?
I'm excited for all the games! Girls hockey is a very small community, so I know a lot of the girls in the league. The home games will be the best because of the local crowd that will include my family, friends, and fans. I look forward to the Whale games because my brother will be able to come from Fairfield U. in CT. In the Pride games I'll be playing against my former Princeton teammates Denna Laing and Kelly Cooke and in the Beauts games I'll be playing against my former youth hockey coach Shelley Looney.
Figueroa talking to an official in the Riveters' preseason tilt against the Minnesota Whitecaps.
MM: What does Gabie Figueroa do when she's not playing hockey at Aviator with the New York Riveters?
Working! I don't relax or watch TV much because I'm always working hard trying to reach goals I set. At Gilbane (my full-time job), I'm working towards becoming a Project Manager. I'm also really interested in real estate, so another goal of mine is buying a property to flip when the time is right and I have enough money to do so. I have my real estate license and work as a real estate agent on the side in order to better understand the market and make extra money. Email me (gabiefigueroa[at]yahoo.com) if you would like me to represent you as your real estate agent!
When I do get a break from hockey and work, I hang out with my family, my boyfriend Greg, my four roommates, and my friends.
MM: Is there anything you'd like to say to Riveters fans?
Thank you!!!!!! The fans are going to be the ones keeping this league going year in and year out, so thank you for following us and giving us this opportunity!
Real estate agent, engineer, and a professional hockey player playing for the New York Riveters, the many hats that Gabie Figueroa wears at 23 years of age makes her a perfect embodiment of what it means to be a Riveter. Her work ethic, skill, and energy will make her a fan favorite at Aviator and throughout the NWHL. You can grab Gabie's jersey here at NWHL shop.
Figueroa is going to see plenty of ice as a trusted defenseman on the Riveters' roster that carries four listed defenseman and two versatile skaters that will likely skate as both forwards and defensemen (Sydney Kidd and Erin Barley-Maloney).
Don't miss Gabie Figueroa and the Riveters make history today at 1:30 PM EST on the road against the Connecticut Whale for the Riveters' season opener.
You can follow Gabie on twitter at @GabieFigueroa and keep track of her season on her player profile page. A big thank you to her for taking the time to do this interview with her unbelievably busy schedule.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Riveters!
Note: All uncredited photos are courtesy of Mike Murphy and free to use for all Riveters and NWHL fans.