The New Jersey Devils may have had a relatively quiet August since making some noise earlier in the offseason. But, New Jersey’s other pro hockey team has made some big moves this month — literally.
The end of last year’s NWHL season brought a lot of turbulence to the sport of women’s hockey. It left the league, that had planned on a Canadian expansion, an increase in salaries, and an increase in games, fighting just to stay alive. And interestingly enough, the Riveters may have just suffered the most.
The Riveters ended last season second to last while carrying a dropping attendance rate and dealing with the loss of an ineffective head coach. To make matters even worse the summer began with the Riveters’ partnership with the Devils dissolving. This then left the team without a home rink.
When signings first started rolling in this offseason, the Riveters were noticeably behind every other team. To the point that I began to worry they wouldn’t be able to build a roster in time for their scheduled preseason games in September. All three of their former goalies – who claimed major roles in the #ForTheGame movement — moved on from the team. An even larger blow came in the form of Audra Richards. Richards – who was last season’s rookie phenom and tied for the lead in team goals – announced she had signed with the reigning champions, Minnesota Whitecaps.
But things are looking up in Jersey as August has brought a lot of good news. Luckily, it seems as if the Riveters will live on. On August 12th, the Riveters announced their new head coach Ivo Mocek. As a Czech Republic native, Mocek played in his home country for nine years before turning his efforts to coaching in the New York area for the past eight years.
“I met with a lot of strong candidates, but Ivo’s passion for hockey, his knowledge of the game, and his commitment stood above the rest,” said the new general manager and former assistant coach, Whitman Annis in a press release. “I liked his philosophy on team-building, and I was really impressed by his vision for our club. After Ivo accepted the position, I had him speak individually with some of our players. Those conversations, and the reaction of the players to him, were even more proof to me that Ivo is the ideal person to lead the Riveters.”
As I presumed, signings began after that. The Riveters immediately signed their 2019 second-round draft pick Kendall Cornine out of RIT, as well as two of her college teammates. They also took some big steps in signing two international players.
Tatiana Shatalova will be the youngest NWHL player to ever lace up the skates. At just 20 years old, she is breaking the now former rule about players without college playing experience not being able to participate in the league.
Shatalova has played in the Russian Women’s Hockey League as well as at the international level for her home country for the past five years. Signing her first professional contract at 15, she is no stranger to the big league pressure. She should not be taken lightly this year.
Just a few days later, the Riveters announced they were signing the NWHL’s first player from Kazakhstan too in Bulbul Kartanbay. In a country not typically known for hockey, Kartanbay was always determined to play in North America.
“My dream came true,” she said in an NWHL press release. “I am grateful to life for the opportunities that have opened before me. Now it’s time to compete in the NWHL among many of the top players in the world.” Kartanbay has made a name for herself in the women’s hockey world, as she put up six points in 10 games during back-to-back U18 World Junior Championships, she was a CWHL draftee, and she claimed two medals from five world championship appearances. I truly believe she is going to shine on this Riveters team.
In addition to that, the Riveters have brought back defender Lexi Slattery which rounds out an even number of players on defense. It’s still currently not enough to make a starting roster, especially with having one goaltender signed (which coincidentally just happened yesterday). But, I am significantly less worried than I was this time last month that the Riveters would end up folding before the season started.
Fresh Start on Fresh Ice
The news that has seemed to make the most waves this offseason and is being perceived as negative by some, is the change in home venue. During the partnership the Riveters had with the Devils, they were allowed to use Barnabas Health Hockey House – the Devils’ practice facility – as their home rink. Last year’s Riveters championship banner still hangs in the metaphorical rafters there today.
When the partnership ended, the Riveters time there ended as well. Eventually, the Riveters released their schedule and announced their new home would be Pro Skate on Monmouth Junction in South Brunswick Township. The first thing fans were quick to notice was how completely inconvenient this move was.
An NWHL team that originated in New York City and has garnered a lot of car-less fans, a rink in seemingly the middle of nowhere with extremely hard public transit access does not bode well for a team already struggling with ticket sales. However, an upside to this rink is a much higher seating capacity and a strong youth organization tie which hopefully can bring in a new set of fans to the team.
Finally, just this week, the NWHL announced its first-ever outdoor game which will take place this season and include the Riveters. The “Buffalo Believes Classic,” will take place on December 28th. The game between the Buffalo Beauts and the Metropolitan Riveters will be held at the Buffalo RiverWorks rink with a 1,000 person capacity. And it will even feature a Beauts signature beer. This will hopefully be a great spotlighting moment for not only the Riveters themselves, but the league as a whole.
There’s still a lot to do to have a full team, but as of today, the NWHL is officially ahead of where it was last year as far as signings. So for anyone thinking some bumps in the road were going to slow them down, this has proved the doubters wrong.