How did NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan decide who would fill in the Pride roster for their historic debut at the Winter Classic? She emailed the NWHL players with Boston affiliations, and the first ones to reply got the call. "So answer your emails!" Rylan joked.
The Riveters' Meghan Fardelmann and Bray Ketchum answered their emails. That's why New Year's Eve found them decked head-to-toe in Winter Classic swag, ready to don the sweaters of their NWHL rivals in an exhibition match against Les Canadiennes of the CWHL. Asked what it was like to skate out into the center of Gillette Stadium, both players used the word "surreal."
"The most exciting moment was walking out on the ice," Ketchum reported. "We were all excited to be there and share the moment together." "I've never warmed up with a beanie hat on before a game," Fardelmann said via email. "We had to get the feel of the surroundings, take it all in, and get ready to play."
The game went by fast for both viewers and players. NHL time constraints forced the women to play two 15-minute running halves, and they lost almost four of those minutes when Pride player Denna Laing was badly injured in a corner after stepping on her opponent's stick. (The exact nature of the injury is unknown; Laing was taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital and her family has asked for privacy.)
Les Canadiennes scored first, as Kim Deschenes put it past the Pride goalie Brittany Ott on the right post. In the second half, the Pride answered back, with a gorgeous goal from Blake Bolden. Fardelmann walked me through what it looked like from the ice:
Blake set up her goal from a back check. She picked up the puck in the d zone, turned and sprinted full tilt through the neutral zone pushed it to Llanes near the blue line and crashed the net where she tipped it. Llanes put it right on her stick too. In such a short game we were all celebrating getting the goal back.
Keep in mind that, while the Pride lost almost half their roster to a previously-scheduled USA Hockey camp, the Canadian team was stacked with Olympians, from veterans Julie Chu and Caroline Oullette to relative newbie Marie-Philip Poulin. Fans feared a blowout, but the teams looked more even on the ice than anyone expected. According to Fardelmann, "their line that scored put some pressure on sometimes," but there was no particularly fearsome Canadienne. "It was just not a lot of time to take notice." Ketchum agreed. "It did feel like a real game but it went by fast."
Ultimately, both players realized that the actual minutes of the game (which was not televised or streamed) mattered less than the impact of the event itself. "It was awesome to be part of the first Women's Winter Classic," Fardelmann declared. "I think the future holds a lot more potential ... which is also exciting."
The Riveters host the first-place Connecticut Whale tonight at 7 pm at Aviator. Tickets are available at the door, or watch for free at home here.