Before we jump into my highlighted players, the photo gallery, and some quotes from some of the Riveters, I wanted to make sure to put the spotlight on a very worthy nonprofit organization that the NWHL partnered with to make yesterday's game even more special than it already was.
"For this special preseason game, the New York Riveters partnered with Friends of Firefighters (FoFF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the physical, mental health, and wellness needs of New York City's active and retired firefighters and families."
Of course the main focus of my coverage of the game is on the Riveters, but I wanted to give a stick tap to New York's Bravest for some outstanding hockey. I'll leave the rest up to coach Wiseman who summed up the game and what it meant to play against the FDNY perfectly.
"They handled themselves like gentlemen. They were very respectful out there. They took it a few times too. It was a fun day for everybody, we really appreciate the FDNY coming out."
-Coach Chad Wiseman
Let's jump right into my reflections on some of the standout players from New York's first game.
Brooke Ammerman | @bammerman20 | University of Wisconsin
Ammerman, who scored both in the third period and in the shootout, was the Riveters' most noticeable player in their first preseason game. Her speed, determination, and strength made her a menace around FDNY's net despite the opposition's significant size advantage. Ammerman's work ethic earned the Riveters two big penalties. The first penalty she drew was at the close of the first period and it was the ensuing power play that helped the Riveters settle down, find their game, and leave the first period with an edge in shots over FDNY. The other penalty she drew came in the 4 on 4 overtime when she again was brought down by an FDNY defender. After battling to keep the puck alive on an offensive zone faceoff, Ammerman watched as the puck found Gabie Figueroa who sniped it from the high slot.
By my count Ammerman, a New Jersey native, was penalized at least three other times in the game, but she didn't let the missed calls get to her. She made a very strong case for herself being the club's top center and really had some nice chemistry going with Bray Ketchum and Madison Packer. Ammerman was outstanding in all three zones through regulation and overtime and her shootout goal put a very fitting end to a strong performance from the 25 year old forward.
After the game I had the chance to ask Brooke Ammerman a few questions including how she felt about some of the missed calls, her drawn penalties, and the physicality of the game.
"I think the good part about playing men's teams is that you always have to be moving your feet to be physical and to be strong on the puck. I hold onto the puck longer than a normal player, so I have to expect to be tugged and grabbed. It happens, I can't really get upset about a missed call because it's part of the game. If I can't get an opportunity on net, drawing a penalty is the next best thing."
When asked about how it felt to break through in the third period after having so many chances in front of the FDNY net, Ammerman couldn't help but smile.
"Oh yeah I was getting on myself a little bit, I had lots of opportunities. I felt like I should probably raise the puck faster, but that's all timing. It's been a few years since I've played. It came back as time went on, but it's nice to get a goal and get rewarded for going to the net."
When I asked Brooke about her fantastic shootout goal she was frank about where her skill set lies.
"My game is my hands and my skill ability, skating isn't my strength. So as a kid I always worked on my hands, all the time with a golf ball around the ice. It's the most fun part of the game, the most fun for me and I've worked years on that. It's nice to get that past the goalie."
Taylor Holze | @taytwofour | Boston University
Holze was one of the Riveters skating without a number on the back of her jersey, but the practice squad player certainly was hard to miss thanks to her speed and ability to get the puck to the front of the net. At 5'3" Holze was unquestionably the shortest and smallest player on the ice, but that didn't stop her from getting right into the thick of things.
Holze was a water bug on the Aviator ice and when she had the puck on her stick she turned her small stature to her advantage by cruising around the perimeter and firing passes through the slot to her teammates. The New York native had 11 points in the 38 games she played in her senior year at Boston University
Ashley Johnston | @strettyit | Union College
At 6'0" Ashley Johnston is pretty hard to miss out on the ice. However, once you start taking notice of her because of her size you'll keep watching due to her poise with the puck and strength in her own end. Last night the Burlington, Ontario born defenseman showed the skills to be a workhorse for Wiseman's Riveters which will likely only be rolling with five blueliners in the 2015-16 season. If Johnston was not particularly fleet of foot it would be understandable given her size, but her smooth stride and long reach disrupted several big chances for the FDNY hockey club. Most of the night Johnston was one half of the Riveters' most noteworthy defensive pair alongside Elena Orlando who played her college puck at Quinnipiac.
When the time came to kill off an Amber Moore penalty it was Johnston who was on the ice and finding ways to disrupt passing plays, move the bodies of bigger FDNY players, and get the puck up the boards. Johnston also let loose a few heavy, low shots from the blue line that created dangerous rebounds that the Riveters nearly cashed in on twice in the game.
After the game I asked coach Chad Wiseman if he sees Johnston as a workhorse defenseman for the Riveters.
"She's going to log a lot minutes for sure, all of our 'D' are going to log a lot of minutes. We're only probably going to run with five most games. Her and Orlando together I think will be a real strong, defensive-minded pair. Again, I liked the physicality. I liked the way they stepped up. They were aggressive and they weren't afraid. I was impressed."
Janine Weber | @j9weber15 | Providence College
Beth Hanrahan | @b_hanrahan15 | Providence College
Will this be the Riveters' dynamic duo? The chemistry that Janine Weber had with Beth Hanrahan was on display throughout last night's game and it manifested in drop passes, clean zone entries, and crisp cross-ice feeds through the neutral zone that sent the Riveters on the attack. When Weber's hard work and creative move in front of the FDNY net earned the Riveters their first goal, it was Beth Hanrahan who picked up the primary assist.
The Austrian-born Weber never shied away from the physical aspect of last nights' game and she made sure to do what all good goal scorers do - get pucks on net. In her own zone Hanrahan had a busy stick and was always looking to turn the puck up the ice and get it deep into the offensive zone. Weber and Hanrahan will be a pair of forwards to keep an eye on in the Riveters' next preseason game and early in the regular season. The chemistry that they displayed on Sunday night contributed to a large part of the team's offense against FDNY.
After the game I asked Beth Hanrahan about her chemistry with Janine Weber.
"Weber and I went to Providence together, we played for a year and we actually played on a line for half of a season. I think it was good to put us together. We had some chemistry that with four practices it's hard to get. It was good to go out there with someone you connect with."
Gabie Figueroa | @GabieFigueroa | Princeton University
Although the moment that most of the Riveters' fans will remember from Figueroa's first game on Aviator ice was her power play goal in overtime, the New Jersey-born defenseman did a great deal more than just rip a puck past FDNY goaltender Kurt Pflumm.
Figueroa, who was a leader for the Princeton Tigers and was selected four times to the ECAC All-Academic team, showed the kind of puck-moving skills that make for great two-way defensemen and power play quarterbacks. Figueroa's intelligence with the puck on her stick will make her a player that coach Chad Wiseman will learn to trust in nearly every scenario.
Celeste Brown | @celestebrown8 | RIT
I made sure to keep a close eye on Celeste Brown after having researched her game and learning about the path she took to get to the NWHL for an upcoming interview that will be on Blueshirt Banter. Battling against the big bodies on FDNY's club meant that the 5'6" Brown certainly had her work cut out for her, but the noteworthy size disadvantage wasn't enough to keep Brown from making an impact on the game.
One of the most standout plays of the game was a diving play made by Brown to chip the puck past an FDNY defender and give her teammates just enough time to make a line change after a long shift.
After the game I asked Celeste Brown what challenges the size and physicality of the FDNY roster presented to her team.
"Playing against someone bigger one of the first things you notice is their longer sticks. You have to work a little bit harder to get around them. I think physicality - they weren't able to open ice hit us, so it's a little different. But we definitely had some physical moments, pushing and shoving, from both sides. Some of them were definitely quicker and bigger because they're men, and they had some good chemistry. Some of them were a little bit older and slower. It's just that drive to get past them, to put your body into them, and to play physical against them."
When the ice opened up on special teams and in the 5:00 four-on-four overtime period the Riveters looked like a different team and Brown was one of the players that really took advantage of the open ice. Four-on-four hockey isn't played at the college level so it was a new experience for Brown and her teammates.
"Four on four opens the ice up tremendously, but I also think the women's game has a really high level of skill that maybe you don't always get to see in the men's game, because of that high level of physicality- I'm not saying they don't have the skill - but I think [the open ice] allowed us as a team to shine in certain moments because we do have that level of skill and that patience. "
Brown managed to get a few shots on net during regulation and contributed to the Riveters finishing with the edge in shots at the end of the game, but it was clear that she wasn't satisfied with just outshooting the opposition last night.
"Outshooting them is a good thing, but we have to finish. It was good to outshoot them, but when you don't get the goals what's the point of outshooting them? As long as we progressed during the game, especially in these preseason games, that's the most important thing."
Photo Gallery with 265 images from Sunday's Game (click the image below)
The Riveters' next preseason game will be against the Minnesota Whitecaps who have some noteworthy players on their roster, including four U.S. Olympians. In the Riveters' locker room I asked Brooke Ammerman, Beth Hanrahan, and Celeste Brown about the team's rocky start to their first preseason game and whether or not the Whitecaps would provide a better measuring stick to gauge where the Riveters are as a team.
"The first ten minutes of tonight's game we were all just so excited to play hockey. We were grabbing our sticks a little too tight and working a little too hard, almost. As time went on we settled down and got used to each other. I think next week we'll be even better. The difference between the men and the women is that they'll always be stronger than us and their transitions will be quicker, maybe next week we'll be a little more even with that."
"Playing any team you'll find out where your team is seeded. They're a high quality team, they're going to be pretty similar to the teams we play in our league so I think that will be a good show for how we'll do in the league."
"They'll be the better measuring stick in the sense that it will be our second game. We've only had four practices, this was our first game. We're all from different teams except for a few of us. Just getting games under our belts will bring our overall play up. When you watched the game, the first ten minutes were crazy, but as the game progressed we got a lot better with the puck. It's just confidence building. Playing them allows us to get better and that's the goal of preseason games."
During the scrum I asked the same question to coach Chad Wiseman.
"I think so, yeah. They're a women's team, a professional women's team. They've been around awhile. I think it will be a real good challenge for us."
-Coach Chad Wiseman
Between today and October 4th the Riveters will have two more practices before they host the Minnesota Whitecaps at Chelsea Piers in New York. Whether or not the team will be joined by Lyudmila Belyakova, Nana Fujimoto, and Sydney Kidd this week remains to be seen, but if the Riveters dress the same nineteen players that took to the ice against New York's Bravest on Sunday night they should give the Whitecaps all they can handle.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Riveters.