When Morgan Fritz-Ward signed with the Riveters for the franchise's first season she joined Scott Clemmensen as the only professional hockey players to come from the state of Iowa. As you might know, Iowa is not exactly a hot bed of hockey like Minnesota, its neighbor to the north, is. Being born in Mason City wasn't the most convenient hometown for a budding hockey star, but the dedication and sacrifice of her family allowed Fritz-Ward, who was in love with hockey the moment she discovered it, to follow her dream and move so she could play on a travel team in Minnesota after her freshman year of high school in northern Iowa.
After a stand out high school hockey career Fritz-Ward joined the Quinnipiac Bobcats and served as the team's captain for their Championship run in her senior season. With each season at Quinnipiac Fritz-Ward's game improved despite a tearing her ACL before her freshman season and having a serious shoulder injury in her sophomore season. Neither major injury was enough to keep Fritz-Ward from getting back to the game she loved or stop her from playing it her way.
After recovering from her injuries and getting her legs under her, Fritz-Ward played 75 games in her final two seasons at Quinnipiac and scored 34 points as a standout two-way forward with the Bobcats. The defensively-minded Fritz-Ward might not pile up points, but she does have a knack for scoring big goals. In her sophomore and senior seasons at Quinnipiac Fritz-Ward scored a crucial five game-winning goals for her team. When the pressure was on, Fritz-Ward rose to the occassion which is something that has been on display during the start of her NWHL career.
The former captain of the Quinnipiac Bobcats has brought energy, an unparalleled work ethic, and exceptional two-way hockey to the New York Riveters. Her style of play makes her a perfect fit for what fans of the team have come to recognize as "New York Riveters hockey". In the Riveters' last two wins she has been playing wing opposite of fellow alternate captain Madison Packer on a hard-nosed line centered by Celeste Brown. That line of rough and tumble players who excel in the neutral zone and on the forecheck has served as the Riveters second line with Lyudmila Belyakova out of the lineup, and it has proven to be instrumental to the Riveters' first and second wins of the NWHL's inaugural season. Fritz-Ward works hard on and off the ice to do whatever she can to help her team win, which makes her an outstanding penalty killer.
Fritz-Ward making a big play on the penalty kill.
Morgan Fritz-Ward doesn't hesitate to call herself a grinder, but it's also clear that she takes great pride in playing a hard, straightforward game. She puts pucks on net, she excels at setting up her teammates, and she doesn't take shifts off. The Iowa-born forward is one of those players that is easy to notice thanks to her hustle, propensity to block shots, relentless forechecking, and physical play along the boards.
What will Morgan Fritz-Ward do for her team and coaches? Through the first five games of the NWHL season it has become clear that she will do whatever her team needs her to do. Even at 22 years of age it is clear why Fritz-Ward was chosen by her teammates to be one of the first two players to wear an "A" on the front of her jersey as a New York Riveter. She is, very clearly, a lot more than just a grinder.
Mike Murphy: How old were you the first time you stepped onto the ice with a hockey stick in your hand?
I was 10 years old when I first hit the ice. I started with learning to skate (no stick) but picked it up so fast that I believe I had a stick within a month or two of starting.
MM: I understand that your twin brother Zachary played a pivotal role in you getting involved with hockey?
Absolutely! Growing up with a twin, nonetheless a brother, I always wanted to do everything he did including every sport. So I played baseball, flag football, track and field, tennis, triathlons, etc. all with my brother growing up. However, when our friend told my brother and myself about hockey, we told our mother but she said that my brother Zach was the only one who could try it because she wanted him to have a sport to himself that I didn't tag along to. Lucky for me, after his first time skating he wanted me to come too and my mom asked if he was sure and from that point on I haven't stopped.
MM: You and your grandparents moved to Minnesota after your freshman year of high school so that you could chase your dream to play high school hockey. At what point did you know that hockey was going to be a cornerstone of your life?
I would be lying if I said that I didn't know after my first real practice with boys on the squirt A team in my hometown. I couldn't get enough of the sport and just loved, and still do love, everything about the game. I was set that hockey was going to be my sport, but at that point my family didn't think so because I wasn't the best and I needed a lot more practice. So realistically it all came together during my pee wee and bantams years where I also played AAA hockey in Minnesota on an all-girls team. My coach convinced my grandparents that I had a shot of making girls varsity hockey and continuing to play on a travel league which lead to me moving to Minnesota.
MM: Were there any players that you idolized and tried to emulate growing up?
Coming from a small town in Iowa, and one that only has hockey during the winter season, I had few options of watching hockey besides our high school team and a junior men's team called the Outlaws at the time. So for me I remember Mitch Paulson who played high school hockey and had the sickest hands I had ever seen, and Max Mobley who played for the Outlaws and was the fastest, most hard working player I had ever seen. I wanted to be a mix between the two. For me they were my idols and superstars of their teams.
MM: Why #11?
Before hockey my favorite sport was baseball. I was number 11 in that so I tried to stick with it ever since that point.
MM: How would you describe your game and style of play?
I believe the term is a grinder. I pride myself on outworking everyone and anyone on the ice and use my speed to do so. I would also rather assist than score which works well with my style of play. I do my best to get people the puck.
MM: What was it like to be named the captain of the Quinnipiac Bobcats and then lead that team to its first appearance in the NCAA Championship?
It was an incredible honor to be named captain and to have your teammates believe in you enough to lead them, especially to our first appearance in the Final 8 but I give all the credit to my teammates. Everyone was unified and wanted the same end result which made everything much easier!
MM: Two of your teammates from Quinnipiac, Chelsea Laden and Shiann Darkangelo, signed with the Connecticut Whale. Do you have the games against Connecticut this season circled on your calendar?
We play Connecticut four times before playoffs and you better believe I do. It was great playing with them and I know they are all very skilled and work hard so playing against them has been a challenge.
MM: Do you have any pregame traditions or rituals to get you ready and/or focused before the puck drops?
I always play keep-ups with a soccer ball with my teammates, then do a ten minute stretch, re-tape my stick, listen to music, then get dressed starting from the left side to right.
MM: You were a prolific shot blocker during your college career and that is clearly something that you have brought with you to the NWHL. What goes through your mind right before you step in front of a slap shot?
Honestly, shot blocking is one of my favorite things. I always wanted to be a goalie but was never good enough, haha! I think that if I block this shot: one - the other team gets less scoring chances, and two - I could give my team a mini-breakaway or odd man rush if it bounces correctly.
MM: When did you first hear about the NWHL? When did you know that you wanted to be a part of it?
I heard about the NWHL just a few weeks before I was going to graduate and knew at that moment I wanted to be a part of it. I have given my life to the game I love and couldn't imagine giving it up just quite yet.
MM: How did you learn that you were chosen as one of New York's two alternate captains?
I learned that we would be choosing captains before one of our practices a few weeks ago and by the end of practice our coach had told us the three named. I was ecstatic that my teammates, whom I've only known for about a month, thought I would make a great leader.
MM: What does it mean to you to wear a letter on your sweater in the franchise's first season?
It's an unbelievable honor!! I can't put into words how grateful I am for the league itself and the opportunity to continue playing, but also to be named as an assistant captain -- it's just mind blowing to me and again a huge honor!
MM: You are likely inspiring some young girls to pick up a hockey stick for the first time, what does that mean to you?
It's really a dream come true. To be able to inspire someone, let alone little girls, is the ultimate goal and gives me the drive to continuing playing and inspiring. They are the future of women's hockey so it means everything to me.
MM: What is Morgan Fritz-Ward doing when she's not playing hockey with the New York Riveters?
More and more training along with getting involved in the community with my teammates.
The Riveters spent their evening serving dinner at two @CAMBAInc women's shelters in Brooklyn. Thanks for having us! pic.twitter.com/rENYlEFODA— New York Riveters (@NYRiveters) November 24, 2015
MM: How has life in Brooklyn been thus far?
It's been great so far. We have had the opportunity to do many things including being able to attend a few Islanders games at the wonderful Barclays Center and my view of waking up to the ocean everyday isn't bad either!
MM: Is there anything you'd like to say to New York Riveters fans?
Thank you all so much for your support, we wouldn't be here without you all! You are all the best and make us want to continue to be better on and off the ice!!
A sincere thank you to Morgan for both agreeing to do this interview and for taking the time to do it. If you'd like to get to know Morgan Fritz-Ward better you can follower her on twitter at @fritz_ward. You can her and her teammates take to the ice for the Riveters home games at the Aviator Sports and Events Center and support her by grabbing her jersey from the NWHL's online store. Fritz-Ward and the Riveters will be looking to push their winning streak to three games this Sunday at 7:00PM when New York will meet the Buffalo Beauts for the first time at Aviator.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Riveters.