NWHL Season Recap for the Metropolitan Riveters

It’s hard to come up with something to say other than ‘it was bad,’ because…it was that bad. The Metropolitan Riveters coming into the 2018-19 season were expected to be the same force to be reckoned with that they were when they were hoisting the Isobel Cup just months prior. However, things turned ugly fast.

The Riveters finished 4-12, getting just one more regular season win than total losses they had last season.

Taking a quick four losses early in the season to the ultimate 2019 champion Whitecaps wasn’t as concerning to many of us as it probably should have been. They still had some players who hadn’t returned to the lineup yet. We could breathe.

A lot of fans wrote it off as a hot new team coming in and destroying the beginning of their season. While that is true, there were some early warning signs for the Riveters that followed them through their whole season.

Their defense seemed to be completely nonexistent. Courtney Burke, who was expected to return from injury and be a powerhouse for the Rivs, had just six points on the season. Kelsey Koelzer put up zero points despite previously being one of the most notable two-way defenders on the team.

Katie Fitzgerald had to work double time essentially every time she was on the ice, and it was apparent that the fatigue caught up to her, as well as something overall being off with her gameplay. In her previous two seasons, Fitzgerald had garnered the nickname ‘Brick Wall Fitzy,’ and this season we were left wondering where she went. She finished with a career low save percentage of .886, and 38 goals against, the most in the league without even playing the most games.

Photo courtesy of NWHL/Twitter.

Offensively, the Riveters weren’t much to write home about either. Getting shut down against most defenses in the league, the Rivs were outscored 65-32 on the season and really only found success against the Connecticut Whale. Their other wins went to OT.

Alexa Gruschow, last year’s league MVP and top goal scorer, seemed to drop off completely this season. Other forwards like Rebecca Russo, Michelle Picard, and Erika Lawler didn’t do much in getting the puck to the net, which is unusual for them.

Amanda Kessel did lead the league in assists, and rookie Audra Richards did make quite a name for herself with the years only hat trick and the most shot attempts, but it just wasn’t enough to make any noise this season.

One big change to the Riveters that has been the focal point of a lot of fan frustration is the coaching staff. Prior to this season, the Riveters partnered with the New Jersey Devils and coincidentally (or not) hired former Devil Randy Velischek to be the new head coach. He very quickly became an enemy of the people.

While a coach can’t possibly be at fault for every single bad play or slump a player may have, it shouldn’t be taken as a coincidence that under Velischek, the returning Riveters played the worst collective and individual hockey of their lives for an entire season.

Between seemingly not caring enough about his players or the games, and shuffling the lines and goalie starts to the point that it hurt more than it helped, it became very clear that he was not the right choice. #FireRandy is now the trend among most, if not all Riveters fans.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Only up, I hope. A bright side to all of this is that the last few games played by the Riveters this season and into the playoffs, we saw a significant change. Whatever fire had been out for Katie Fitzgerald was lit again, and Gruschow found her way back to the box score.

While it is speculated that a handful of these players won’t be returning, and a definite retirement from Miye D’Oench, the Riveters really don’t know what they’re looking at going forward. Especially now with the folding of the CWHL, a potential NWHL expansion, and hundreds of pro players left without a place to play. To put it simply, I don’t know what this team or this league is going to look like come October. Nobody does.

However, if the same core we saw last season can pull themselves together and really tap into the talent they have in young players like Richards and Ziadie, and bring in some new blood between free agents and their draft picks, I think the Riveters can find themselves back up at the top once more. That, alongside starting fresh with something new behind the bench, of course.

In the meantime, Riveter forwards Amanda Kessel and Shelly Picard will be participating with Team USA in the Women’s World Championships in Finland, in an attempt to defend their Olympic gold title from 2018.

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