Don’t call it a comeback. Not until the Metropolitan Riveters can prove themselves by winning two games in a row for the first time all season, but this is a start.
Heading into yesterday’s matinee, the Riveters just needed one point to gain the advantage of hosting the Connecticut Whale this Thursday in a ‘wild card’ game where the winner goes through to the semi-finals. Even being able to bring the Buffalo Beauts to overtime seemed like a long stretch for them, but they did it, and more.
The Riveters beat the Beauts for the first time this season, breaking their seven-game win streak by taking them to overtime, then a 4 round shootout, and then winning.
Head Coach Randy Velischek went against his own judgment and started Katie Fitzgerald in net despite her coming off of a loss to the Buffalo Beauts just a week prior. He also changed the lines to a set we had never seen before. Needless to say, it worked. The Riveters defied the odds, despite being outshot 43-17 and can now wipe the slate clean heading into the NWHL playoffs.
Rebecca Russo earned the first star of the game, and understandably so. Taking an unusual spot on the second line, she used her speed to her advantage to make great defensive plays, as well as change the momentum with the first and only go-ahead goal of the game for the Riveters.
Katie Fitzgerald blocked 40 of 43 shots in the game, giving her a save percentage of .930 for the game, .886 for the season, but an impressive .923 during the last four games, which is just in time for the playoffs.
Madison Packer, who has since been dubbed ‘an icon of this franchise’ came alive, too, with a regulation goal as well as a highlight reel-worthy top-shelf goal on Shannon Szabados in the shootout. Despite being on a seven-game win streak, Szabados hadn’t faced a shootout since February of last year in PyeongChang which ended poorly for her as well, as Team USA took home gold for the first time in over twenty years. Riveter Amanda Kessel scored a shootout goal on her then as well.
One thing that plagued both teams during yesterday’s match was penalties. In total, there were 32 penalty minutes served across both teams. Metropolitan defender Kelsey Koelzer taking a quarter of that herself. If the Riveters can settle down in the defensive zone and tighten up as to not take as many unnecessary penalties, they will be a strong presence from the fourth seed that the top three teams should not take lightly.
If you ask me, Miye D’Oench deserves a lot of spotlight for yesterday’s victory as well. Earlier in the season, D’Oench announced that this would be her final season in the NWHL as she plans to attend law school in the fall. Yesterday, she scored the game-winning shootout goal to give her one more home game during her career and end on her final regular season on a good note.
The regular season has been abysmal for the Riveters, to say the least. However, there have been bright spots that they’ve been able to capitalize on like they did yesterday. If the Riveters can ride that momentum into the playoffs, the reigning champs turned underdogs just might be able to bring it all home once more.