[Originally written November 2017, when the Premier Hockey Federation, PHF, was called the National Women’s Hockey League, NWHL]
Last year the New York Riveters were at the bottom of the standings, having managed just four wins during the course of the season, and were swept by the Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup playoffs. Jump forward to the present day, and they have secured the second seed and have a winning record, but what has changed in the past year for such a drastic turn around?
As mentioned, the Rivs went 4-12-2 during the 2015/16 season, but have achieved a record of 7-7-3 with one game left to go this season. They are set to face either the Buffalo Beauts or the Connecticut Whale in the semi-finals, and not many will be betting against their reaching the final this year.
One of the biggest changes was the offseason signings that the New York coaching team made. They signed Amanda Kessel- Olympic silver medallist, to a one year deal. Although she was out injured after the opening game for the large majority of the season, on her return she has lit things up on the score sheet. She’s found the back of the net four times, but more impressively she’s sitting in third in the league for assists with 13, despite only having played 7 games this year. Her impact on the team is more than the intangibles that such a leader brings, the results she is producing are measurable. The team has gone 3-2-1 since her return, with all the losses being just by 1 goal margins. It’s clear to see why she was the All-Star MVP, and NY will do well if they can convince her to re-sign with the team after her contract expires.
The team also picked up Tatiana Rafter from the Buffalo Beauts, who has brought a nice little offensive punch to the team, racking up 6 goals so far this year. The professional life has also suited Rebecca Russo, who has notched up 15 points throughout the season.
The Rivs have also benefited from the form that Janine Weber has found for this season. Last year she registered 9 points in 18: a good pace of 0.5PPG, but nowhere near her production this year. She has scored 9 goals and helped on 12 others to give her a total of 21 points in just 16 games. She has shot herself to the top of the franchise’s leading goals, assists and total points leader boards.
Last year the team conceded 78 goals over their campaign, whereas this time around they have only allowed 56- an improvement of over twenty goals. Part of this has to be the more coherent defence that the Rivs bolstered with the arrival of Milica McMillen and Courtney Burke, both of the class of the 2015 draft. They’ve been pretty handy on offense as well, with 18 points between them. Their goalie situation has also improved from being worst in the league to second best. Contributing to this is So Jung Shin, the first professional female player from Korea, who is one of just three goalies to have recorded a shutout this season.
All of these factors have seen the team improve dramatically across the board: their shooting accuracy is up by 3% to breach double digits. Meanwhile, their power play efficiency has increased by 50%. Most importantly the team now has a sense of self-belief best portrayed in their 6-5 overtime win on the 19th February against the Whale. They went down 5-1 midway through the second. Last year’s Rivs would have let their heads go down and let the fight slide away from beneath their feet. But not this year’s team. They focused on the job and went on to score 5 unanswered goals to complete the greatest comeback in NWHL history. Interestingly, Amanda Kessel and Janine Weber both had 4 point nights, and Courtney Burke claimed the game winning goal in overtime (do these names sound familiar?)
With this kind of momentum, will they be able to make it to their first Isobel Cup Final, where they will most likely face against the as yet undefeated Boston Pride? A victory over the Pride is a rare thing- The Rivs last bested them back in November 2015. This doesn’t mean NY haven’t come close, pushing Boston to overtime and losing to them by the finest of margins two other times. With the 2016 #1 draft pick Kelsey Koelzer bolstering their ranks just in time for the playoff weekend, who knows? Maybe the New York Rivs will have a fairy-tale ending to their already successful season.