After Saturday’s disheartening 6-1 loss to the Boston Pride in Brooklyn, New York Riveters’ associate coach Mark DeSimone took the time to sit down and do an exclusive interview for Today’s Slap Shot. This is part one of that interview.
The Riveters have yet to win a game since two days after Christmas and they are now 1-7-2 in their last ten games. The success they saw in November when Nana Fujimoto was taking the league by storm is fading in the rear view mirror. Coaches Wiseman and DeSimone have just three regular seasons game left, including their final home game of the season this upcoming Sunday, to try and right the ship and get the Riveters ready for either the Connecticut Whale, a team that they have never defeated, or the Boston Pride.
With the playoffs just around the corner, my first question brings up what’s surely weighing on his mind – what exactly is Riveters playoff hockey is supposed to look like?
“That’s a great question,” Coach DeSimone says. “We’ve been working on that game by game and we keep thinking we’re getting closer. We know we have a limited amount of time based on when the playoffs start. We were going into this game with that kind of attitude; guns blazing. We like to be aggressive and I thought we had a really good first period.
“Each game is the game where we’re working towards the playoffs. It doesn’t always work that way, sometimes the numbers dictate something different. But the numbers aren’t going to decide our play or our success from a team point of view. I felt they were much more bonded today.”
The numbers that coach DeSimone is referring to are the lopsided final scores of the Riveters recent defeats. In the last six games, the Riveters have lost five times in regulation and lost to the Beauts on January 17 after blowing a three goal lead in the third period. In the Riveters last three regulation losses, they have been outscored 18 to 4 which encapsulates just how much of a struggle the inaugural season has been for the NWHL’s Brooklyn-based franchise.
One of the team’s greatest struggles has been the lack of offense which has resulted in an especially inconsistent and unproductive power play. A success rate of 12.2 percent, the worst in the league, has resulted in nine power play goals through 15 games.
What’s most vexing is that the Riveters excel at drawing penalties. Unfortunately, the power play is something that fans at the Aviator Sports and Events Center have come to lose excitement for. In the Riveters most recent loss to the Pride they squandered several power play opportunities in the second period though Lyudmila Belyakova scored a power play goal in the first period.
Is it confidence hampering their power play? Or puck movement?
“I think it’s a little of both. We’ve had a couple of games this year, not that many, one was in Buffalo, where we’ve had two or three power play goals. You could just see the confidence. They wanted to go out for the next power play. Luda’s [Belyakova] a big key. I told her tonight, ‘You’re getting two goals tonight.’ I just knew. I said, ‘You go out there, just shoot that puck,’ and she got that first one.
“We’re working within a system. I think it’s a matter of shoot or pass and with a fast team like Boston you have to make a quick decision. When you get the puck, you have to move it. We had a little more time in the beginning, then I think we were rushing things and making turnovers. It is a shame to take three power plays, I think we had three in a row at one point, and not capitalize on them. We didn’t get that many good looks and they were blocking shots in the middle.”
Coach DeSimone continues, “It’s an ongoing process. We work on it every practice. We moved a few players around: we moved Packer up high, we moved Ammerman down low. Maybe get something going there- Ammerman’s got the hands down low and Packer was controlling it up high, but we didn’t have a lot of time to set up.”
With each game becoming more important, the need to figure out the best lines and capitalize on chemistry is essential, but that hasn’t been easy for the Riveters’ coaching staff. Injuries have knocked key players including Belyakova, Ammerman, Packer, and Taylor Holze (who has yet to return to the team) out of the lineup. The Riveters are finally starting to get healthy, but with the low scoring offense there are a lot of questions about what New York’s lines should and could look like moving forward.
“With the injuries there’s no excuses,” DeSimone says. “Our best players are stepping up and they’re blocking shots and they’re doing other things to get in the play. They’re not just looking to get a cheap goal. We’re trying not to cheat, that is part of our mantra. Don’t cheat on any play. Let’s earn it.
“We do like to get twos together. Packer and Ammerman have played together and they work well together. I really love our line of Weber and Brown. That group, with Fritzy-Ward, the three of them they’re young, they’re hungry, and they have a lot of skill.”
Like most coaches, DeSimone uses his players’ nicknames when talking about lines. “We have the slightly more mature line of Packer, Ammerman, and Ketch. That’s been working out well. Fardelmann just has a tremendous amount of talent. I think it’s just finding that “whole” there. Beth works well with that line and Luda is in there as a scorer. I’d like to see her get a few more opportunities.
“I like the backchecking, we were tracking back well tonight. It’s just the little things that we’re all building towards for the playoffs.”
With all four teams competing for the Isobel Cup, even the last place Riveters still have a shot at taking home the prize. DeSimone clearly has it set in his sights.
Part two of the interview with DeSimone coming soon…