Coming off of an uncharacteristic shootout win over the Buffalo Beauts on Sunday, the Metropolitan Riveters square off with the Connecticut Whale tonight at 7 p.m. in their last home game of the year for a chance to play the first place Minnesota Whitecaps in the semi-finals.
The good news is that as poorly as the Riveters have performed this season, it is better than how the Whale has fared. The Rivs split their four-game season series with the Whale by beating them twice, which they haven’t been able to do with any other team in the league. Also, because of their win over Buffalo, they will get to host the game at home in Newark.
Though it hasn’t been an official announcement, I can only assume Katie Fitzgerald will be in net for the Riveters. Against Buffalo, she had what forward Madison Packer described as the best game of this season, and possibly even last season as well. That is a tall order considering she led the Rivs to a championship last year.
The NWHL announced the top three finalists for the goalie of the year yesterday, and much to the dismay of Riveters fans, Katie Fitzgerald was left off. Instead, the three finalists were Pride rookie Katie Burt, Olympic medalist Shannon Szabados of the Beauts, and saving grace of the Whale this season, Meeri Raisanen. There is a strong argument about where Fitzgerald fits into that ranking, but I’m sure she will be willing to prove herself tonight.
Head coach Randy Velischek has already confirmed that there will be minimal changes to the roster from last week after shaking things up quite a bit. He’s taking a very ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ approach, but he may just be right. Kelly Nash who played on Sunday will sit, while Rebecca Morse takes her place on a line with Lewicki and Richards.
One interesting thing to consider is how the Whale seemingly overhauled their roster prior to the roster freeze last week. After losing Raisanen to injury earlier in the season, the Whale were looking for something to replace the momentum she brought to the team during her rookie season. They signed former Riveter, Shenae Lundberg to a PTO in early February, but she was unsuccessful for the Connecticut team in one game.
They also signed Erin O’Neil from Boston University to the team, who has since started every game for the Whale and despite her collegiate numbers, hasn’t brought home a win for the Whale.
Connecticut also brought back their former captain Jessica Koizumi who can bring a strong, experienced presence to the team. Finally, they also made use of their 2019 draft pick availability by signing two current college seniors to the team ahead of the playoffs, hoping that can spark some change. The point is, this Whale team will be very different than the one the Riveters faced early in the season. It remains to be seen if that ends up being better or worse for them.
As a fan, I haven’t felt calm going into any game this season so I’m not about to start now just because the Riveters have the best chance to win against the Connecticut team. However, I do feel confident that without Meeri Raisanen, and the momentum Metropolitan is bringing in right now, they can take this one 4-2 and head on to the semi-finals.
This game, and all the NWHL playoff games can be streamed via the NWHL Twitter beginning at 7 p.m. tonight.