The New York Riveters have built a strong team for the 2016-17 season with newly-named general manager Chad Wiseman manning the helm. Wiseman has attacked the roster with alacrity and currently leads the league in signings (and in “wow factor,” having signed Amanda Kessel to a roster spot for a record league-high salary of $26,000).
At this point the Riveters have only two spots left on their roster, one to go to a netminder and the other to a skater.
The first goalie position has gone to Jaimie Leonoff, formerly of the Connecticut Whale. Leonoff spoke with Today’s Slapshot, citing a shorter commute, a highly-skilled roster and development opportunities as deciding factors in signing with New York.
Leonoff’s high-motion, situational style of play proved highly effective throughout much of the season and 2015 draft pick Kimberly Newell would have been a complementary piece in that tandem.
While fans might have been looking forward to seeing the Princeton graduate take the ice with Rosie the Riveter on her chest, according to former New York Riveters defenseman, Gabie Figueroa, the Riveters will likely have to look elsewhere as Newell’s visa restrictions will prevent her from joining the U.S.-based league.
“Kim Newell was drafted by the New York team and she went to Princeton, was a teammate of mine, so we spoke about the league a little bit,” Figueroa told media at training camp in June. “I think she was having some visa issues. She’s Canadian. So…it’s kind of a bummer because she would be a great addition to the Riveters.”
With Newell a probable no, however, due to circumstances beyond her control, where could New York look for its second rostered goaltender?
The obvious choice is Nana Fujimoto.
Fujimoto was signed for the 2015-16 season as the Riveters’ No. 1 goaltender, but complications like change of ice size, stature and upper-body injuries led to a tumultuous season for the Team Japan goaltender.
Though beloved by fans, Fujimoto played only 13 out of 18 regular-season games and looked steady in net for a fraction of them. She let in by far the greatest number of goals-against by a No. 1 goaltender, at an average of 3.28 a game and posted the second-lowest save percentage, at 0.911.
However, she outshone Chelsea Laden on New York ice, the only other Riveters goaltender still possibly in contention.
Laden’s previous season (3 games played, 0.894 save percentage) was not a good indication of her play as she was sidelined early in the season by a broken finger and returned only to find herself shut out of a prime position. After a somewhat disappointing season, Laden’s return is up in the air.
Further complicating matters, Laden was accepted to medical school last season; it is not yet known if she intends to attend and play professionally simultaneously or if she will focus on her studies.
It seems that Fujimoto may not be a good fit with the Riveters’ new look, however, which could demand someone more aggressive in net.
With Wiseman counting every penny against the $270,000 salary cap, as well, Fujimoto’s status as an international player could count against her as she would likely need a higher-than-minimum salary in order to make the yearlong move worthwhile.
While Shenae Lundberg and Jenny Scrivens are out of contention, one having signed with the Connecticut Whale and the other retiring from the league entirely, Nicole Stock, who found herself playing the role of backup to Leonoff last season, is also available. Stock, a tight, conservative goaltender out of Brown University, posted an average save percentage of 0.929 with a goals-against average of only 2.62, several of those games against the stacked Boston Pride.
Stock posted strong save percentages against the Pride in particular but still rarely managed eke out a win. She didn’t often earn the start over Leonoff, as Leonoff was a more effective netminder against New York and Buffalo. In New York, however, the stars could align for her with a defensively stronger team in front of her, one that doesn’t allow Boston to run roughshod over its blue line.
Should the Riveters look outside of the NWHL itself, there are a number of goaltenders graduating from college and attending free agency training camps who could be a good fit for their net.