The Riveters are the only organization in the NWHL without any Team USA players. That liability - if it is one - became an advantage yesterday, when they took on a Buffalo team short a few stars, as Meghan Duggan, Megan Bozek, and captain Emily Pfalzer reported to national camp in Minnesota. But it wasn't the absence of American Olympians that made the difference for the Riveters. It was the overwhelming presence of international players Lyudmila Belyakova of Russia, the Austrian Janine Weber, a hat trick from Meghan Fardelmann, and strong play from the rest of the scrappy, skilled squad, that led to a 7-3 victory.
Both Belyakova and Weber had distinguished themselves as playmakers -- Belyakova deft and ruthless, Weber fast and fantastic end-to-end -- throughout the season, but neither had managed to net any goals of their own.
The Riveters tend to be a low-scoring team, hanging on (or not) in scrappy one-goal games. But you wouldn't have known it in Buffalo, where line after line made play after play. Weber brought her first NWHL goal in unassisted; Buffalo's Kelley Steadman answered back on the power play. But the next goal belonged to Fardelmann, off the faceoff -- and so did the rest of the game.
At the end of the first, the score was 2-1 Riveters, which Morgan Fritz-Ward almost made 3-1 on a great short-handed chance early in 2nd. Overlapping penalties from Amber Moore and Buffalo's Tatiana Rafter led to 4 on 4 hockey; Belyakova's great hands capitalized on the extra space for her first NWHL goal. Less than three minutes later, she followed up with her 2nd, a hypnotic sequence of moves in front of the net after a messy coast-to coast minute that left bodies everywhere. 4-1. (Seriously, try to follow the puck here; I think she lulled McLaughlin to sleep.)
The Riveters kept rolling. Fardelmann's second was a snipe, and Brianne McLaughlin was pulled and replaced by Amanda Makela. The goalie change seemed to invigorate the Beauts, who capitalized on the Rivs' tentative power play for a short-handed goal, when Kunichika picked up the rebound from a shorthanded chance by Kelly Steadman. This was followed early in the 3rd by a 5-hole goal from Devon Skeats. Things were looking a little too familiar, and Riveters fans started feeling a little uneasy ...
They needn't have worried. Weber netted her second unassisted goal of the night. Madison Packer looked intent on helping at least one of her teammates get a hatty, and she pulled it off with a selfless secondary assist to Belyakova, who set up Fardelmann for the team's first and the NWHL's third hat trick, so far. Weber was glad to finally get on the board for the league, especially alongside Belyakova: "A big part of scoring is mental and it's a relief to finally get our first goals. Luda and I both had goals in Japan and I think once you get your first goal in a while a lot of the pressure is gone."
At the end of the day, the Riveters had 39 shots on goal (35 for the Beauts), scoring at %17. Fardelmann recognized Buffalo's weakened roster. "A few of the Beauts players played harder in their absence," she noted, "but I think their defensive chemistry struggled without them." Ultimately, though, she gave credit to her team. "I think we held the lead well this game. We played smart and kept the pressure on at the same time." This was due in no small way to amazing efforts from players who didn't get on the board: fierce speed and forechecking from Fritz-Ward, Fujimoto's 32 saves, great D from Syd "The Kid" Kidd, Elena Orlando, Gabie Figueroa, and captain Ashley Johnston, and excellent work on the penalty kill from Beth Hanrahan.
Fardelmann even credited her hat trick to the hard work of her teammates: "My second and third goals were both created by Morgan and Packer working hard after killing penalties." Weber was similarly selfless. "I think we followed our systems really well yesterday and played way better as a team than we did in our first game against them," she observed.
The power play remains a liability for the Riveters, but here's hoping that increased even-strength goals will buy the team time to figure it out.