This is part two of an exclusive interview with Riveters’ associate coach Mark DeSimone. Part one of the interview can be found here.
DeSimone has over 25 years of coaching experience in women’s hockey and was born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Along with head coach and former NHL forward, Chad Wiseman, and goaltending coach Jonathan DeCastro, DeSimone has been behind the bench coaching the NWHL’s Brooklyn-based franchise which is currently managed by the commissioner of the league, Dani Rylan.
Unfortunately for New York fans, the last time a Riveters player won a game was while wearing a Team Pfalzer All-Star jersey. The Riveters have not won since a 7-3 blowout against the Beauts on December 27th and are 1-7-2 in their last ten games.
Understandably, many are already setting their sights on what the future might hold for the team and the league. Although the future of the NWHL is uncertain, there has already been a draft and the Riveters were fortunate enough to have won the first overall pick. With that pick Dani Rylan selected Alex Carpenter from Boston College who is already a superstar in women’s hockey.
Coach DeSimone comments on the team’s future needs. “I think the obvious would be scoring. We’ve shown this year that we can be a very good defensive team and we can play in a defensive posture. Our goaltending through injuries and other things has been consistent and sometimes it’s just been amazing. With Fuji[moto] standing on her head, doing her thing and Scriv[ens] coming in and (giving us) just some great starts in the middle (of the season). Shenae being injured threw a little hitch in the whole thing, she never did quite get back. We definitely wish her the best in Connecticut and we’re very excited to have Chelsea here, she played with a lot of confidence.
“We do need some people to put the puck in the net, as every team does,” he continues. “This is like the Rangers of three, four years ago. We’re blocking a lot of shots, we’re getting injured doing it, we’re playing in a very defensive posture. But, our game- we really preach being aggressive in all three zones. Sometimes I know it may not show.
“We want our (defense) to pinch and going in the corner. We can have two (defenders) in the corner and the center. We don’t mind that, we have the weak side wing down. I think if we can add a few people to put the puck in the net that would be great. I know Alex Carpenter is our number one pick and I don’t know how anything’s going to go, hopefully I’ll be back, but if we can get a scorer or two I think that’s our biggest need.”
It’s no secret that the team plays a defense-first style.
“The Riveters are a team built around a simple, straightforward defensive system. That system has, at times, been the team’s key to success, but also, perhaps, its greatest problem and weakness,” he finishes.
As DeSimone revealed, the key to the system’s success lies in finding consistency and contribution from the team’s defenders. But he doesn’t necessarily think the team’s greatest strength is their defensive hockey.
“I think that’s part of it,” he says. “I think our greatest strength is the team and the chemistry. Being in that locker room everybody is on board with what we’re doing and with each other. If something comes up we have a discussion about it or it comes out. There’s no little cliques in that room. There’s no three there, four there, or five there. Everyone’s in it and they really enjoy being together whether they’re on the bus or we’re having a team dinner. I really think that’s our greatest strength.”
He continues, getting more into the X’s and O’s of Riveters hockey, “Then we go out and yes it appears we’re playing defensive, but we’re not trapping. We’re not playing that kind of defensive hockey that carried some NHL teams to great success. We don’t even have a trap built into our system.
“Everyone’s responsible, we have that third forward, that F3, that comes back on that weak side wing. We try and support each other because we want to let our defense free to pinch and move around. As defensive as we are, we’re doing it out of necessity, but we do play aggressive. Our concept is be aggressive.”
No other team in the NWHL has struggled with zone-exits the way that the Riveters have. The zone-entries have frankly not been much better, but the priority must be getting the puck out of their own end to get fresh legs on the ice and to give their goaltenders some relief.
Finding a way to level the ice when it is being tilted by the forecheck of the opposition is something that New York has to figure out in the coming weeks if they want to get past the first round of the Isobel Cup Playoffs. The only way to do that is through puck movement, speed, and communication and it is something that the Riveters have been struggling with since the preseason.
Coach DeSimone acknowledges the Riveters haven’t been on top of their game there. “Chad and I are consistently working on that. It’s about executions, too. We hope we can be fortunate with the execution. We’re not afraid to pass in front of the net and I think a lot of teams give us that, that defense to defense, low center. Sometimes we don’t use that, sometimes we try to go up the wall and we get caught there.
“We have to first win that fifty-fifty battle along the boards to gain possession. We have a pretty standard way of playing with our defense communicating. We want to the defense to start carrying the puck out and maybe a gain a few more to see if their wingers bite and if their wingers bite we can hit that low center position or that high center if they’re flying the zone.
“It’s not the fact that we sit around and try to change it every single week. I think we’re just trying to make it more consistent so we can get better at doing it a certain way and have a couple of different options.”
He changes direction, touching back on the Riveters’ lackluster power play. “With our power play we like to have to control, we like to have Dosdall on that first unit. Grab that puck, take the ice and if they give her room we’re going to keep letting her go. We like to incorporate some of that into our five on five play.
“The defense know that they have a few plays. They’re going to soft chip up the ice and they’re going to hard rim at certain times. It’s really a key to have that confidence to make that pass across center because we’re given it. We’re saying, “Make that pass”. Growing up in hockey, it was like, “Don’t go near the front of the net! Don’t put the puck near the front of the net!” We’re encouraging that, we’re practicing that. We know we have it there.
“So, once we can execute that- I think we’re getting close,” he says. “We’ve had some good looks. We haven’t put sixty minutes together, but we’re getting there. We have a period here and there so we’re going to try to piece it together and certainly try to stay positive. We don’t want any negativity to come in. We have a positive group. We try to keep them motivated and I think they take care of each other as well. I think that’s our biggest strength as a team.”
The Riveters next game will be their final home game of the regular season. This Sunday at 2:00 PM they will try to best Emily Pfalzer and their in-state rivals, the Buffalo Beauts. A win at home would go a long way towards keeping that motivation and chemistry Coach DeSimone values so highly.