The New York Riveters had the worst record in the NWHL last season. Impactful injuries, a deficit of talent, and the questionable deployment of some key players resulted in New York being a poor possession team that struggled both to score goals and keep them out of their own net.
In an interview with Today’s Slap Shot Riveters head coach and general manager Chad Wiseman admitted that he expected significant changes with his roster over the offseason, but New York cannot be a team comprised of only new faces.
With April almost over, the Riveters have already re-signed their leadership group, but they still haven’t re-signed their two best forwards from the 2015-16 season: Liudmila Belyakova and Bray Ketchum.
Ketchum led New York in goals, shots, and points while making just $14,000 in her first year with the club. There are not many Riveters who can make a strong case for getting a raise, but the former Yale standout and Boston Blade is one of them.
Ketchum was tied for the lead league in power play goals with Buffalo’s unstoppable Kelley Steadman despite playing on the worst power play in the NWHL. No other player was responsible for a larger percentage of her team’s power play goals than Ketchum was with the five she scored for the Riveters.
The 27-year-old winger’s impact wasn’t limited to the power play. She was second on the team in even strength goals and although her possession numbers were low, her speed made her the Riveters best weapon on the counter-attack and often the best option to get the puck through the neutral zone.
Belyakova will be turning 22 in August which, in along with the time she missed with injury and her questionable deployment, suggests that we have yet to see the best from her.
The Russian forward was New York’s best possession player at even strength by a significant margin. Last season she and Meghan Fardelmann were the highest-paid forwards on the team with their $20,000 contracts, which made Belyakova’s sporadic use on the power play and scarcity of ice time somewhat of a mystery.
In Wiseman’s defense, Belyakova appeared to be a talent that was difficult to focus. Given her age it should come as no surprise that there was some inconsistency in her performance, but there was also no denying that when she was “on” she was one of the most exciting players to watch in the league.
Despite missing three games due to injury in the first half of the season, Belyakova still finished third on the team in scoring with 10 points in 15 games. She was a force to be reckoned with when given time and space and was widely regarded as the Riveter’s most dangerous player with the puck.
Belyakova excelled at creating scoring chances at even strength, but she did have a tendency to hold on to the puck for too long and depend too often on her ability to stickhandle through defenders.
Surrounding her with more talented linemates could encourage her to use her teammates more often and make her even more dangerous with the puck. It also might be all that stands between Belyakova and superstardom.
Ketchum and Belyakova were the best representations of speed and offensive skill from the 2015-16 Riveters. Whether or they are interested in returning to the Riveters and the NWHL for a second season remains to be seen, but they should be the first names on Wiseman’s list when it comes to rebuilding the team as a winning one.