Chad Wiseman, the general manager and head coach of the New York Riveters, admitted that there was a group of five or six “leaders” from last year’s team that he was looking to build the team around this offseason. It looks like Wiseman has crossed two of those names off his list by starting his offseason restricted free agent signings with alternate captains Morgan Fritz-Ward and Madison Packer.
Wiseman recently suggested that his team had too many hard-nosed players last season and not enough skill and speed on the roster. Both Packer and Fritz-Ward were undoubtedly hard-nosed forwards with a solid defensive skill set, but they also both brought other skills to the table that made them great fits for their coach’s systems.
The two alternate captains and Meghan Fardelmann were clearly the team’s three best high work ethic forwards. Wiseman signing Packer and Fritz-Ward shows that he believes the right way to go about things is by building around young leaders who will promote a tireless work ethic and help young talent adjust to the professional game.
“Packer is a natural leader and a proven winner at the college level. She’s someone we will rely on to help the young players make the transition from college to professional hockey.”
Neither Packer or Fritz-Ward posted remarkable possession numbers on a team that had very few players with encouraging possession metrics. Fritz-Ward tended to perform better than most of her teammates in regards to driving possession for the Riveters thanks to her ability to create scoring chances at even strength with her speed. Packer excelled at getting shots on net, but was often pinned in her own zone and matched up against the opposing team’s best players.
What Packer lacks in speed she more than makes up for in instincts, character and her potential to make an impact on the scoreboard. The former Wisconsin Badger was one of just four Riveters to score a goal in the postseason and she showed a knack for getting the puck on net in the 16 games she played during the 2015-16 season.
Both alternate captains were regularly used on the penalty kill because of their ability to read and recognize the play, disrupt passes and block shots. At no point in the season was there any question about just how badly either Packer or Fritz-Ward wanted to win. When Packer missed two games in the middle of the campaign with an upper body injury and when Fritz-Ward missed the Riveters’ playoff series against the Boston Pride, their absences in New York’s lineup were very noticeable.
Neither Packer or Fritz-Ward reached their offensive potential in the NWHL’s first season. Fritz-Ward posted an 8.2 shooting percentage and Packer, who had seven points in 16 games, finished with a 5.6 shooting percentage.
Given how few goals the Riveters scored and how they struggled to create quality scoring chances, low shooting percentages among their best forwards shouldn’t come as a surprise. With that being said there is no denying that Packer and Fritz-Ward were two of the team’s most effective and impactful forwards in 2015-16.
Starting the offseason signings with Packer and Fritz-Ward makes sense both on and off the ice. Both players were leaders in the locker room and popular with Riveters fans. Packer has a significant social media following with over 9,000 followers on twitter and both forwards were NWHL All-Stars in the league’s inaugural season.
Slowly but surely we are getting an idea of which players Wiseman wants to build the team around. By the end of the month we will have a good idea of what New York Riveters hockey will look like for the club’s second season. The need for speed and skill is clearly the most pressing concern for Wiseman this offseason, but he clearly doesn’t want to let go of the work ethic and character that defined the Riveters in 2015-16.