With the start of the NWHL and CWHL seasons creeping ever-closer, we’ve started a series of season previews for both leagues. We will encompass everything new fans need to know about last season, what could happen this season, who to keep an eye on, and what transpired over the offseason.
Today we turn our attention to the much-improved New York Riveters.
Recap of Last Season
The Riveters’ personality and work ethic last season kept their fans engaged, but the team had deep flaws. They lacked the talent and direction needed to compete against the league’s other three teams.
The Riveters were the worst possession team in the league. They also battled injury issues all season long. It was a poor recipe for success. New York finished worth the worst record in the NWHL before being quickly dispatched by the Pride in the playoffs.
Amanda Kessel will completely change the Riveters’ offense for the better. The Golden Gopher legend signed for a team-record $26,000 this offseason. Kessel looks healthy, happy, and dangerous after battling serious concussion issues that threatened to cut her career short.
Kessel has the ability to punish opposing defenses for mistakes in an instant with her speed. She is, hands down, the most important addition made to any team in the league this offseason. But she isn’t the only new star on Newark’s newest hockey club.
Chad Wiseman, who believes in putting defense first, spent a lot of money improving his blue line and there was no bigger addition than Kaleigh Fratkin. The Canadian defender is expected to be a driving force behind the Riveters’ improved possession numbers.
The Jaimie Leonoff signing was the biggest steal of NWHL free agency. Leonoff was outstanding in Connecticut last season. She brings some much needed consistency to the goaltending position.
Even with the addition of Leonoff the Riveters will miss former face of the franchise Nana Fujimoto. The diminutive goaltender stood tall for the Riveters and helped keep them in games when they were clearly outmatched. Fujimoto’s All-Star season was tarnished by undisclosed injuries and a single poor performance in the playoffs.
Key forwards Brooke Ammerman and Lyudmila Belyakova will also be missed. Ammerman stirred the pot on the Riveters’ power play and was nearly a point-per-game player. Her chemistry with Bray Ketchum was the foundation of the Riveters’ offense last season.
Belyakova was the most talented forward on last year’s roster, but she never fit into Wiseman’s picture of the team. The young Russian spent most of the season off of New York’s power play and top line, forever leaving Riveters fans to wonder what might have been. Belyakova has since returned to Russia to play for HK Tornado.
Player to Watch
Keep an eye on rookie defender Milica McMillen this year. McMillen is big, strong, and tough as nails. The former Golden Gopher will help keep the Riveters’ legacy of physicality alive, but she is anything but one-dimensional. McMillen tied for sixth in the nation in power play points last season.
The Kessel signing stole all the headlines but the fact remains that the Riveters’ greatest strength is their defense. Fratkin, McMillen, Courtney Burke, Michelle Picard, Ashley Johnston, and Kiira Dosdall are one of the deepest groups of defenders in the NWHL.
Wiseman faced his team’s issues with zone exits and entries head-on in free agency. The Riveters’ defense now has the speed and skill that it was so clearly missing last season.
The Riveters decision to sign Sojung Shin was a surprise considering that the team drafted Kimberly Newell in 2015. Shin’s rumored visa issues and the Katie Fitzgerald signing have raised serious concerns about the Riveters’ goaltending situation. As a result, an injury to Leonoff could prove to be disastrous.
Wiseman’s greatest misstep was likely his failure to sign center Hannah Brandt after trading for her rights. The Riveters’ top line would have been amazing with Brandt reunited with Kessel. Without her, they lack depth down the middle and have some question marks about depth scoring.
The Riveters will have a lot more of the puck this year. New York’s combination of smooth-passing defenders and lightning quick forwards will make for some entertaining hockey. They are going to win more than four games this season. A lot more.
Although the Riveters are still missing a few pieces they should be able to compete for second place with the Connecticut Whale and the Buffalo Beauts. If the Riveters can stay healthy and develop some chemistry they could prove to be a tough matchup for the Boston Pride.
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