When the Riveters took the ice at Harvard's Bright-Landry Center on Sunday night, fans were nervous. Star goaltender Nana Fujimoto and her backup, Shenae Lundberg, were out of the lineup with injuries. That left Jenny Scrivens starting in net - for the first time in six years.
Scrivens' social media presence and same-sport marriage (her husband is Ben Scrivens) have made her a fan favorite since the Riveters' debut. She stepped briefly between the pipes when Fujimoto got hurt in a 2-1 loss to the Beauts last week and blocked all four shots she faced. Still, no one really knew what might happen over three full periods against some of the league's top snipers.
The Pride usually come out strong, so it was no surprise that they took ten shots in the first five minutes. The surprise was that Scrivens stopped all of them - and continued to stop them. She was in net for just two of the four goals scored, and somehow, after all that time away, she stopped 35 of 37 shots, earning an astounding 1.89 GAA and save percentage of .944 .
"It felt great to play again," Scrivens told me via email on the long ride home. "The last game I played [for Cornell University] was in 2009, also in Bright-Landry, so this was a fitting venue for me to make my return. I took a long time off of hockey ... but I never strayed too far. I coached a bit and watched a lot of hockey during those 6 years. So when it came time to get back in to playing shape, I felt like I was mentally ready."
I asked how the Riveters supported her in her return to the net. "My team really helped me see the shots tonight and clear the rebounds. They made my job easy. They were also extremely supportive off the ice too. I think the Riveters are a really close-knit team, and it was really encouraging knowing that my team was so supportive of me. They wanted me to do well, and I wanted to give them a chance to win."
There's no doubt Scrivens gave them that chance. In fact, last night she and the Pride's Brittany Ott bookended the longest goal-free stretch in NWHL history - over 50 minutes' worth. Thanks to her, it wasn't until 10:22 in the 3rd that Jillian Dempsey broke through for the Pride, notching her 3rd goal in 24 hours. The Rivs tend to thrive in tight, low-scoring games; however, with two empty-net goals, last night's final tally did not account for how just how much trouble they were in during the first two periods.
Zone exits were a huge problem. Relentless forecheck pressure from the Pride left the Riveters gassed in their own zone, and as soon as they cleared the puck they lost valuable seconds changing instead of chasing it down. This got better in the third period, when the Pride began to show the wear and tear of two tough games in a row, and the Rivs offense, particularly Beth Hanrahan, Meghan Fardelmann, and Morgan Fritz-Ward, made better use of their chances.
It was a hell of a final ten minutes. Fardelmann stole Ott's shutout with two minutes left, after Wiseman pulled Scrivens on the early side and Knight took advantage, making it 2-0 Pride. Fardelmann answered on a beautiful feed from the point by Ashley Johnston; 2-1. Scrivens went back in. Amanda Pelkey made it 3-1, and Scrivens came back out, followed by another empty netter from Knight in the last seconds. Final score: 4-1.
Systems-wise, the game looked like a step back for the Riveters. They have yet to gel on the power play, which last night gave up more shots than it took. (Kira Dodsall robbed Hillary Knight of a beautiful shorthanded chance, but that's not what you want to be cheering about when you've got the man advantage.) The Rivs - and by Rivs I mean Celeste Brown - did (mostly) manage to stay out of the box; still, their penalty kill is at 82%, while their PP % comes in at under 1% -- unsustainable for a low-scoring team. It will be interesting to see what Chad Wiseman does to pull them out of that slump.
Riveters vs. Pride is always a physical matchup, but last night, for the first time, it seemed like the Riveters took the brunt of the abuse. There were a tense few minutes after Taylor Holze got checked into the boards just as the bench door opened; the stretcher came out, but she left the ice on her own power, and tweeted appreciation of her team later that night. Fritz-Ward, Fardelmann, and Packer also came off briefly or were slow to get up at various points, and Hanrahan and Boston's Bellamy spent two minutes in their respective boxes after roughing each other up with 4:22 left.
The NWHL may be a new league, but the Boston/New York rivalry has all the trappings of a classic. With a whole month before they meet again and the series tied at 2 games apiece, it's impossible to tell right now which way that wind will blow.