"Self-destruct," "composure" and "meditation" are not words that come up often in post-game interviews. However, when a team blows a three-goal lead in the third period for the second time in a short season due in part to three game misconduct calls, they need to be said, and Riveters Captain Ashley Johnston knows it. Last night, the Rivs played some of the best hockey we've seen this season, and then they fell apart. Why?
Let's go back to the beginning.
Although the Riveters demolished the Buffalo Beauts 7-3 in their previous meetup, the teams looked pretty evenly matched in the first period. Kourtney Kunichika connected first for the Beauts when the Riveters simply couldn't clear their zone, but Lyudmila Belyakova bashed her own rebound home 4 minutes later. Jenny Scrivens made a huge stop on a Buffalo breakaway and the Riveters killed a 5 on 3, but Megan Bozek beamed home a slapshot to give the Beauts a 2-1 lead at the end of the first.
Not sure what got said in the Riveters' room between the first and 2nd periods, but New York emerged and played an almost-perfect period of hockey, shelling Buffalo with 21 shots, six of which went in. Two were called back: a high stick that may have hit goaltender Kimberly Sass in the mask, and an absolute beauty of a shot that the ref "lost sight of," which might have changed the outcome of the game. But first things first ...
The Riveters power play picked a great day to start working, as Buffalo's bench became interchangeable with the box, and Bray Ketchum capitalized twice. Morgan Fritz-Ward got fed a celestial pass by Celeste Brown, then Ketchum banged one home, assisted by Kiira Dodsall and Janine Weber. Buffalo pulled Sass for Brianne McLaughlin, while Scrivens played some Sudoku and wondered how hubby Ben Scrivens was faring in net against the Blackhawks.
When you're playing goal the same time as your man pic.twitter.com/RfrBnV6xxd— Jenny Scrivens (@JenScrivs) January 18, 2016
At the end of the second, the score was 5-2, with both Ketchum and Fritz-Ward on the brink of hat tricks. And then ...
The Beauts came back for the third with vengeance on their minds. Captain and All-Star Emily Pfalzer lifted one over Scrivens' glove, followed by Tatiana Rafter, who capitalized when Scrivens came way out of her crease to dive on the puck, which slid under and behind her as Rafter tumbled over her.
Scrivens got clubbed multiple times in this game, and the officials didn't do much to stop it. The Riveters were frustrated with the officiating; ultimately, in spite of efforts by Johnston to settle her squad, voicing that frustration led to game misconduct penalties for Ketchum and Ammerman -- and the tying goal for Kunichika. (Although the Beauts spent most of the second period in the box, the teams ended up tied with ten penalties each.) The OT was scoreless, thanks to a huge save by Scrivens, whose glove was gold all night. Still, the shootout went to the Beauts, after Ammerman deked and dangled McLaughlin out of her pads but Belyakova and Packer couldn't connect.
How did it even get that far, and for the second time? (The Rivs gave up a three-goal lead to the Whale back in November.) The Riveters did a great job of keeping their cool until the third; Packer pulled Belyakova out of a scrum with Bozek, and Ammerman skated away from a dirty check on the boards, shaking her head instead of retaliating. So where did half an hour's worth of game misconducts come from, and why?
Captain Ashley Johnston admitted that the team has a problem controlling their emotions. "We lost our composure, and when you lose your composure, you lose your mind," she remarked regretfully. "We start making plays that aren't necessarily our smartest or first options ... it's frustrating, and that's definitely something that's been building, having inconsistent reffing. But at the end of the day, that was us who self-destructed."
In spite of some dubious calls and those two discounted goals, Johnston defended the refs, saying that "we have to treat them with respect. They're out here, they're working hard." She did acknowledge, however, that there have been inconsistencies. "They're going rink to rink, game to game, trying to learn what the rules are." Still, she took responsibility. "Penalties are momentum killers, and to get them at the end of the game when you're winning 5-2, that's tough."
Jenny Scrivens can hardly be blamed for how things went south. Still, she plans to watch video to find ways to up her performance in the 3rd. "I didn't really have much going on in the second period; I think our defense really stepped it up. It's that third period comeback that seems to be haunting me." Goalie coach Jonathan deCastro agreed. "I feel for her. You want it for her so badly, to get that first win. You can't help but love her; you can't help but root for her."
Asked about the decision to start Scrivens over Fujimoto, deCastro stressed rest. "Nana's been going hard for a while now in terms of practice and traveling, and we wanted to give her time to rest, time to enjoy herself in practice a little bit. She's going to the All-Star game, she played in both games last week, she deserves a night off. Our goal is to get her back in a routine, to make sure there are no setbacks in her game."
Is Fujimoto fully recovered from her concussion? "She was fighting a little bit, but she's getting better at practice every day, to the point now where she's seeing the puck a lot better, she's making better reads with it. She had a really good week in practice on Wednesday and Friday, so as long as we continue momentum upward, no problem."
Speaking of momentum, Johnston praised her team's quality play in the second period, especially the power play. "The power play has been a really big struggle for us. To get those goals, all of a sudden we got momentum, we got confidence ... that's the type of hockey we want to play." Both teams saw almost every possible configuration of advantage/disadvantage last night, including some nailbiting 5 on 3s, and both made it work more than once.
Even after her team's many travails this season, Johnston has faith that, if the Riveters play their best game, they can win the Isobel Cup. "That's the type of dominant hockey we can play: grinder style, we go hard to the net, we get lots of shots, and we'll get the ugly goals every single time. But at the end of the day, how fancy or nice a goal is doesn't really matter." After that second period, it's hard to disagree, but what drill can the Riveters run to work on the team's temper? Johnson smiled. "We have two weeks to regroup, do some meditation, and get back at it."
Johnston might have been kidding about the meditation, but at this point, it's worth a try. The Riveters are just too good to throw away chances like the ones they had last night. It was great to have the Captain and Packer back, and multiple players had strong nights on both ends of the ice. They take on Buffalo again after the All-Star Break; here's hoping we hear less yelling from the bench, and maybe some chanting instead.