Earlier this month, New York Riveters’ captain Ashley Johnston was able to take time out of her busy rehab schedule to talk to Today’s SlapShot about the big changes to the Riveters and her offseason plans.
After New York was eliminated in the playoffs Johnston’s offseason began with a successful hip surgery. When asked how she was feeling since her surgery Johnston’s positive attitude revealed itself in a hurry.
“Great! Way better. Everything is moving eighty times better than it ever did. The last half of the season was pretty tough. I’m just glad that I don’t have to go through that again,” Johnston admitted.
Johnston saw significant ice time as one of the Riveters most reliable and effective defenders last season. She was one of many NWHL players that played through pain and discomfort with injuries last season. She revealed that she was injured while the team was in Japan when she stepped on a puck in practice.
When asked if playing hurt impacted her game in a significant way, Johnston pointed out the league’s schedule helped her in an unexpected way.
“Probably not as much. Your body isn’t in as much demand like it is in college where you’re playing every single day. It gave me time to recover,” Johnston observed. “But by the times the playoffs hit playing back-to-back [days] was definitely tough.”
Johnston is one of just six returning Riveters from last year’s inaugural roster. Along with Kiira Dosdall, she is one of just two returning defenders. The amount of roster turnover made the Riveters’ struggles last year all the more apparent. The player known to friends and fans as “Stretch” revealed how hard the team’s struggles on the ice were for the team.
“I think that was one of the hardest things. As a team, that was the closest team I’ve ever been on. It was literally like everybody was part of a puzzle. That puzzle was complete with everyone we had,” replied Johnston. “It’s definitely very unfortunate that we didn’t have the success that we wanted. It was very frustrating on that front.”
But the noteworthy additions to the roster already has the big defender optimistic about what next season holds in store for the Riveters.
“At the same time there’s a reason that a lot of these players have Olympic medals. Adding that sort of talent to your roster is something that you have to do. Now this year is just a new puzzle to be made.”
Johnston has faith in her coach and general manager and the team he is building.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s really cool,” Johnston happily admitted. “Chad [Wiseman] has a great vision that he’s definitely schooled all of us on. He’s doing everything he possibly can as the GM to prepare the team first. I know as soon as September hits he’s going to continue doing that as a coach.”
For Johnston there won’t just be new faces to get used to, there might also be a different role waiting for her in training camp.
There are four new defenders in New York. With six blueliners signed, there are no guarantees about Johnston’s ice time or her role with the team she captained last season. But Johnston made it clear that she has no concerns about her role on the Riveters changing.
“…Going into any team that should not be your concern. My concern is winning the Isobel Cup and helping my team and teammates do whatever is possible,” Johnston said.
“In saying that — if that means I open doors then I open doors to the best of my capabilities. If that means I play on the penalty kill, play on the power play, play five on five, whatever role I’m playing in. I will play it to the best of my capabilities. That’s the outlook that everybody has to have in order to have a championship team.”
The size and aggression on New York’s blue line is something that many have overlooked this offseason. Johnston believes that New York’s greatest asset on paper will be the team’s combination of speed and strength.
“There’s a lot of speed on that roster, a lot of talent, and a lot of puck possession. I think that’s going to be a big component of it,” Johnston pointed out.
“At the same time we have an interesting dynamic of- speaking for myself, but yeah, I’m a pretty big kid. It’s going to be a nice balance between that speed [and] that aggressive physicality. I think it’s going to be a really fun, hybrid style of hockey.”
According to the Riveters’ captain the team will meet as a whole for the first time after Labor Day in the first week of September.
Johnston believes that because of her size, she stands at 6’0″, focusing on her skating ability needs to remain her top priority. In addition to improving her mobility, Johnston will also focus on getting stronger on the ice.
Most of Johnston’s offseason will be spent working with high school kids at her eponymously named hockey camp, focusing on getting healthy, and doing offseason training. Giving back to the hockey community is something that the defender considers a priority.
“Hockey is such a special game and I’m so fortunate to play it and play it at the level that I do,” Johnston reflected. “I want to make sure I’m able to share that opportunity and help as many people have that opportunity as possible.”
Whatever her role on the ice will be, Johnston is sure to remain a popular player with Riveters fans. Her willingness to embrace whatever role her team needs her to fill makes it clear why she was chosen as the franchise’s first captain last season.
Johnston will surely be a key piece to the Riveters new puzzle. Her leadership, dedication, and standout play in the defensive zone ensure that she will be doing a great deal more than just opening doors for her team next season.