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NWHL

Riveters Unravel in Buffalo, Lose 5-1

The Buffalo Beauts were out for revenge after losing in Brooklyn to the Riveters last Sunday. With the shootout defeat fresh in their minds, the Beauts took to their home ice looking to decide their own fate and clinch third place in the league by defeating the Riveters. After a sloppy start to the game, Buffalo took control by getting the job done at even strength- something they have struggled with for most of the season.

The first quality chance came from the stick of New York’s Janine Weber who has been snakebitten of late. Weber was able to beat Brianne McLaughlin, but not the crossbar, on a two-on-one rush early in the first period. Just a few minutes before the halfway point of the first period, Megan Bozek blasted a shot from the top of the right circle that got past Nana Fujimoto’s toe and gave the Beauts an early lead. Bozek’s trademark slap shot goal aside, the herky-jerky first period belonged to the Riveters who outshot and outchanced Buffalo, despite not playing exceptional hockey.

Just 61 seconds into the second period, the Riveters’ resident speedster, Bray Ketchum, was hooked on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. New York’s leading goal scorer made no mistake and beat McLaughlin up high with a nasty shot that energized the Riveters and tied the game at one. Ketchum’s goal was desperately needed after a first period filled with squandered chances and hard work around Buffalo’s net.

After the goalie on shooter showdown at one end, Nana Fujimoto was collided with when Lyudmila Belyakova pushed Devon Skeats into her net. It appeared that Skeats’ skates caught Nana’s thighs above her leg pads in what was an altogether unnerving and scary moment. It took a moment for Fujimoto to acknowledge that she was ok to continue. Unfortunately it would not be the last scary moment of the game.

Two minutes before the halfway point of regulation Meghan Duggan got loose on a breakaway with the open ice that came with the four on four hockey after coincidental minors were handed out to Bray Ketchum and Kelley Steadman. Using her speed and soft hands, Duggan roofed the go-ahead goal over Fujimoto’s glove and gave the Beauts back the lead. They would would hold onto that lead for the rest of the game.

Ashley Johnston of the New York Riveters, Dec. 2015. Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

The third period was difficult to watch for Riveters fans. New York was simply unable to manufacture scoring chances or get the puck out of their zone, while the Beauts picked up two more goals that came during onslaughts of offensive pressure. Ashley Johnston, the Riveters’ captain, came up with a few big defensive plays to shut down quality scoring chances, but it simply wasn’t enough. The puck belonged to Buffalo the moment it was dropped by the official to start the third period.

The Riveters’ inability to go on the attack from the transition game proved to be their undoing as they were yet again unable to get past the red line with possession of the puck for the vast majority of the second half of the game.

Kelley Steadman added an empty net goal to put the game out of reach and to clinch the third seed in the Isobel Cup Playoffs for her team. With the empty netter Steadman now trails Hilary Knight of the Pride by just a single goal for the league lead in goals.

The Riveters now must turn their focus to the health of alternate captain and key forward Morgan Fritz-Ward who left the game in the first period after going hard into the boards. Fritz-Ward was in street clothes watching the rest of the game and appeared to have an arm injury, but the severity of the injury is unknown at this time.

The Beauts have injury issues of their own to deal with. Hayley Williams got tangled up with Celeste Brown in the third period near the half-boards and was slow to get up afterwards. Williams left the game looking uncomfortable but was able to get off the ice under her own power.

The 5-1 final score was quite a different result than what was seen on the ice in Brooklyn a week ago, but Buffalo made sure not to waste their opportunity to decide their own fate on the ice today. The impact of the injuries to Williams and Fritz-Ward remains to be seen and the questions surrounding the Riveters inability to execute zone exits is a specter that needs exorcising before the Isobel Cup Playoffs begin in March.

The Riveters will wrap up their season on the road against the Connecticut Whale next week and the Beauts will host the Boston Pride for their final game of the regular season before the battle for the Isobel Cup begins in earnest.

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