The New York Riveters underwent a huge roster overhaul in the offseason, and they needed one. The Riveters won just four games last season and scored an underwhelming 40 goals in 18 games. Things needed to change. Including practice squad players Gabie Figueroa and Taylor Holze, only 8 players from last season’s roster re-signed with the Riveters.
“Obviously there’s a lot of new faces. There’s a different team dynamic,” Madison Packer observed after Sunday’s victory. “There’s a lot of respect for the girls who were here last year. We went through a lot together. You know, it’s tough to come to the rink and get your ass kicked every night, and that’s kind of what we did last year. So there’s a lot of respect for that group, but we knew we needed to clean house and get a different dynamic.”
Chad Wiseman’s hunt for that different dynamic resulted in fourteen new faces in the Riveters’ locker room (including practice squad players). Veterans Tatiana Rafter and Kaleigh Fratkin joined the Riveters from other NWHL teams. But the other twelve new faces are players who are fresh out of college hockey. Although it needs mentioning that Amanda Kessel (25-years-old) and Sojung Shin (26-years-old) are tough to call rookies.
Four of the Riveters’ seven first year players are forwards. That means energy and new blood in a locker room that is ready to distance itself from the label of worst team in the NWHL. That means speed.
“There’s a lot more kids that are just coming in from college. Last year a lot of the people in the league hadn’t played in awhile, so that comes into play,” Packer admitted. “Our roster is completely different, we have a lot of speed on it. Speed is definitely going to be to our advantage this year. We want to use it.”
After two preseason games the Riveters’ speed has everyone talking. So, too, do the team’s impressive group of rookie forwards. In the offseason Wiseman made it clear that he wanted to bring in players from winning programs. He added graduating seniors from top NCAA women’s hockey programs like Minnesota, Harvard, Wisconsin, and Boston University. Wiseman brought in winners.
“We have so many leaders in the room,” defender Ashley Johnston shared after Sunday’s game. “Everyone is accountable, everybody pushes the person beside them.”
Even without goalie Jaimie Leonoff, the Riveters remain a team defined by the new faces on the roster. But they will be led by a core of second-year players who stayed with the team, including alternate captains and All-Stars Packer and Morgan Fritz-Ward and returning captain Johnston.
In early April Wiseman told Today’s SlapShot that there were “five or six players” he knew he wanted to build around. It’s no surprise that leaders like Packer, Fritz-Ward, and Johnston were among that group. The same can be said for returning veterans Janine Weber, Bray Ketchum, and the always reliable Kiira Dosdall.
“We’ve got a players who, whether they have a letter on their jersey or not — everyone in that locker room is a leader,” Packer reflected. “There’s a lot more accountability this year. It’s a lot easier to look at someone and know that they’re going to get something done.”
The 25-year-old Packer is the oldest returning player on the Riveters with a letter on the front of her jersey. She plays with the kind of fire and tenacity that sets the bar for her teammates. When you see Packer go hard to the net or step fearlessly in front of a shot it’s impossible to consider taking a shift off. Johnston and Fritz-Ward play hard, honest hockey and, like Packer, leave everything out on the ice.
The Riveters’ returning veterans have embraced the team’s new direction and the new faces in the locker room. They’re ready to play fast and put last season’s 4-12-2 record behind them. They’re ready to win.