Womens Hockey

Riveters power play looks promising early

Amanda Kessel stickhandles around Boston's net while Kacey Bellamy trails her. New York Riveters at Boston Pride, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, Opening Weekend. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini
Kaitlin S. Cimini/Today's Slapshot

Last season the New York Riveters’ power play was one-dimensional and largely ineffective. Brooke Ammerman’s vision and Bray Ketchum’s finishing ability were a great combination, but it wasn’t enough. They had the worst power play in the league in the NWHL’s inaugural season.

This season things will look very different.

The Riveters earnestly addressed their need for puck-moving defenders in the offseason. A deep, dangerous blue line fits Chad Wiseman’s coaching style like a glove. Three of the new defenders Wiseman added to the fold have reputations for being big contributors on the power play.

Kaleigh Fratkin is on the Riveters’ top power play unit for good reason. She led all defenders in scoring in the NWHL last season playing with the Whale, and in the offseason she became highest-paid defender in the Riveters’ short history. Fratkin makes the kind of high-risk, high-reward plays that can give coaches fits. But she also has the passing skills and creativity that make for a dangerous skater with and without the puck on the man advantage.

Rookie defenders Courtney Burke and Milica McMillen are already making their mark on the Riveters’ offense. Early on, Burke has been paired with Fratkin on the top power play unit. She has deceptively soft hands that she uses to make some sneaky, and sometimes bold, passes. Burke’s 12 power play points with Wisconsin last season put her fifth in the nation among defenders.

McMillen, who played her college hockey at Minnesota, finished tied for second in the nation among defenders with 14 power play points. McMillen, like Burke, has a cannon for a shot and she isn’t afraid to use it. She also has a familiarity with fellow Golden Gopher Amanda Kessel.

McMillen and Kessel showed some of that chemistry when they connected for the Riveters’ first power play goal of the season.

You can’t talk about the new look Riveters and their power play without talking about Kessel. In Kessel’s last full season playing in the NCAA (the 2012-13 season) she had 30 power play points in 37 games.

She loves to keep her feet moving on the man advantage and keep things from growing stagnant. Kessel’s skating ability, quick shot, and vision make her the perfect player to be pulling the strings on the Riveters’ power play. In addition to her primary assist on McMillen’s power play goal she scored two of her own in the preseason. Kessel will be a terror this season on special teams.

Top line center Janine Weber didn’t see power play time in the Riveters 6-3 loss to the Pride on Saturday, despite skating with Kessel and Miye D’Oench at even strength on New York’s top line.

Instead Wiseman played Madison Packer and Bray Ketchum with Kessel on the top power play unit. Packer’s imposing presence in front of the net causes beautiful, useful chaos. And Ketchum’s five power play goals last season were matched only by Kelley Steadman of the Buffalo Beauts.

It will be interesting to see if Weber or D’Oench get a chance on the top power play unit with Kessel given how good the trio has looked at even strength. Weber has good size and good hands and offers a different skill set than Packer. D’Oench doesn’t have the height of Packer or Weber, but her motor doesn’t have an “off” switch. She has also shown a knack for finishing goals around the crease. So there is good reason to expect that she could be productive when the Riveters draw a penalty.

In two preseason games and one regular season game, the Riveters’ power play has a success rate of 21.1 percent. Needless to say three games is not much of a sample size. It is also important to note that McMillen’s power play goal was scored on a five-on-three advantage.

But the additions of Kessel, Fratkin, Burke, and McMillen bring the promise of a greatly improved power play. One that can reward the Riveters’ commitment to puck possession hockey with penalties drawn in the offensive zone.

With time comes chemistry. And when the Riveters’ new weapons on the power play start to click they should be able to do something that last year’s team struggled to do: win games on the power play.

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