A season-long battle with bad luck and injury has meant a rotating cast of skaters for the New York Riveters. Margot Scharfe was the last practice player to get the nod and break into Chad Wiseman’s lineup.
Scharfe, a standout at Syracuse, was once again out of the lineup after the NWHL’s All-Star break. She had dressed in four straight games for New York, but in just those four games she quietly made it clear why she belongs in the NWHL.
There aren’t a lot of bells or whistles in Scharfe’s game which is why her notably low even strength Scoring Chances For percentage of 26.67 percent doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s unlikely that Scharfe will ever be a productive top six forward, but in her four starts she has displayed the same skills that won her the CHA Best Defensive Forward award in her junior year with the Syracuse Orange.
Although no practice player has had the impact of Buffalo’s Kelly Steadman, the Riveters have had key contributions from all of their non-contract players. Before her scary injury in December, Taylor Holze, one of the Riveters’ two NWHLPA representatives, was eating up ice time in Brooklyn, along with defender Amber Moore, despite their practice-player status.
Manhattanville monster and veteran Cherie Stewart, like Scharfe, has not been given many opportunities to shine in New York, but has been impactful when in New York’s lineup. In a small sample size of four games Scharfe has shown a tendency to make intelligent decisions both with and without the puck, which is something that the Riveters continue to need.
It is no secret that the Riveters have struggled with zone-exits, and the lack of transition game was all too apparent in their 4-2 road loss to the Buffalo Beauts on January 31st. Yet again New York appeared to be playing on a tilted ice surface and were outshot 45 to 22 when the final whistle sounded.
In her brief time in the Riveters’ lineup Scharfe has displayed a knack for moving the puck and creating shots that has only been rivaled by All-Star forward Janine Weber. Small sample size warning aside, when Margot Scharfe has the puck good things happen for the New York Riveters.
What the Riveters need more than anything is more effective puck movement in their transition game, so they can start out-chancing and out-shooting their opponents.
Scharfe may not generate many high quality scoring chances, but her tireless approach to the defensive side of the game will help to suppress chances from the opposition. It’s also worth mentioning that the Canadian forward’s game fits perfectly into the system and style of play that Chad Wiseman has been preaching from behind the bench in Brooklyn.
“It is difficult coming from a D1 program and playing often to having a different role on this team. However, it is a role that is easy to embrace, as the team’s success is the number one priority, whoever is on the ice.” – Margot Scharfe on the challenges involved with being a practice player.
The real challenge now for coach Wiseman is finding a spot for Scharfe in the rotation with so many of the Riveters’ mainstays now on the mend from injuries.
Whether or not she will do more good in New York’s lineup than any of the forwards currently playing is up for debate. At the very least, Scharfe has shown that she deserves to be moved up in New York’s depth chart, and that her name belongs in discussions about practice players who might be regulars next season. Scharfe is one of the rare forwards that could comfortably be used in the rotation on the blue line which is incredibly valuable with New York’s short bench of defenders.
Scharfe is not the first defensively-gifted forward who has been overlooked because of a lack of points and she certainly won’t be the last. Still, there isn’t a professional women’s team in the world who couldn’t use a savvy, reliable forward and penalty killing specialist like Scharfe. She may have gone pointless on the lowest scoring team in the NWHL in her four games so far, but in her limited role she’s shown just how valuable a defensively-gifted forward can be.