On Sunday, March 31, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced that beginning May 1, it would be ceasing all operations. It took only two days for the NWHL to make a statement claiming they are planning on expanding to include two Canadian markets in Montreal and Toronto. While it is not certain that the NWHL would pick up the former CWHL Furies and Les Canadiennes, that is easily the goal.
The NWHL made other announcements along with this. Beginning in the 2019-20 season, the season length will be extended to 24 games, and there will be no restricted free agency this offseason. This leaves a lot of the future for women’s hockey in the dark, but it may end up being a good thing for the NWHL, the home of the Riveters.
To highlight this restricted free agency-less world, this offseason will essentially be a free for all. It is unclear what will happen to all the CWHL players who still want to and are able to play professional hockey, but one possibility is that they begin signing with NWHL teams. If that is the case, I laid out my top five picks for the Riveters to help them return to the Isobel Cup Championship.
Erin Ambrose: Ambrose dominated the CWHL defensively this season, that is without a doubt. With the Riveters blue line gone cold, she would be the perfect person to light a fire and really be an immovable force for their defensive line. Ambrose is very much a playmaker offensively as well. She led the league in points among defenders. And she is also one of the younger defenders in the league, which gives her a lot of room to build a fresh career in the NWHL.
Brianna Decker: This really should go without saying, and her forward status is really the only reason why I wouldn’t choose her first. Decker is one of the most decorated hockey players of all time, with six world championship medals, two Olympic medals, two NCAA championships, Isobel Cup and Clarkson Cup championships, two NWHL MVP awards, a CWHL MVP award, the NWHL all-time goals record, a Patty Kazmaier Award, and a slew of Wisconsin Women’s hockey records just to name a few.
Decker’s reputation precedes her and there is no doubt that she would significantly enhance any Riveters line she was on and would spark a scoring streak among the team. She is an unbelievable puck mover and finds any way she can to the net. Decker took the title of CWHL playoff MVP most recently as her team, the Calgary Inferno, won the league’s final Clarkson Cup. Unfortunately, if Decker decides to make a return to the NWHL, I would bet that she joins her former team, the Boston Pride rather than the Riveters.
Emerance Maschmeyer: In an effort to not just stack my picks with the CWHL’s best defenders, I took a wild pick here and chose Maschmeyer, who in my opinion was the league’s best goaltender. The Riveters struggled with goaltending this season, that much we know. What we don’t know is who is really to blame for that. However, I believe that any squad Maschmeyer finds herself on will be one that she makes better.
A native of Canada, Maschmeyer was the backbone of a Harvard Crimson team for four years, bringing them to the Frozen Four her freshman year. She also plays for Team Canada during international play and can claim four world championship medals from that. Last season, Maschmeyer played for Les Canadiennes of Montreal in the CWHL and posted an impressive .935 save percentage, the highest in the league and took second place to her former team the Calgary Inferno in the final.
Brigette Lacquette: Shamelessly, Lacquette has been one of my favorite players to watch over the years. Despite only playing 24 games this season for the Inferno, Lacquette ended the season second in assists among defenders to only Ambrose. She is a strong physical presence on the ice which with the exception of penalty minute leader, Madison Packer, is something the Riveters could certainly use. She plays a very traditional style of defensive hockey that would be so important to a Rivs team that can’t seem to get it together. Lacquette was also the first First Nations player to join Team Canada in the Olympics and took home silver in PyeongChang in 2018.
Natalie Spooner: It sounds funny to say that Natalie Spooner would be a dark horse in this race, but with so much talent in the CWHL, the Furies forward probably wouldn’t be in a top five for a lot of people. However, Spooner’s value goes beyond what she can do on the ice, which is phenomenal anyway as she is a three-time CWHL All-Star, and has a Clarkson Cup and nine world championship medals under her belt.
As former captain of the Toronto Furies, Spooner would be an imperative leader on an otherwise lost Riveters squad. She knows how to pull together a team mentality. An added bonus is her ability to thrive in new situations and play off of her own teammates’ weaknesses to fill in the gaps. Spooner is noted for racking up multi-point games, which would surely help when the Riveters scorers get quiet as they so often did last season.
It is still very early to know what is going to happen between now and October with a pair of North America leagues being flipped on their heads, but it is very likely we will see some big CWHL names show up on NWHL rosters next season. If these five show up on the Riveters, I will certainly not complain.