Sunday, 29 October 2017

Riveters top Pride in historic game at Prudential Center

Originally Published on Women Talk Sports

Commemorating an exciting partnership with the New Jersey Devils, things started off in grand fashion as the Metropolitan Riveters hosted the Boston Pride at the Prudential Center. Considering that this was the first NWHL game contested in an NHL arena, it contributed to the sense of achievement that defined this new chapter in league lore.

Heading into the historic contest, there was no shortage of intrigue. Of note, this match provided Janine Weber with a sense of homecoming. The first-ever player signed in league history with the Riveters back in 2015, Weber joined the Boston Pride in the off-season. Making her regular season debut with the Pride in such a landmark match against her former team, with the number 26 adorned on the back of her jersey, it brought Weber's career full circle.

With 11 players, including Winter Games silver medalist Erika Lawler, making their NWHL debuts in this game, there were several other unique plotlines. In addition to Jillian Dempsey, switching her traditional number 3 in favor of 14, being named Pride captain for 2017-18, there were a pair of Riveters making their mark this season.

Kelsey Koelzer, the only African-American player taken first overall in a professional ice hockey draft, was making her regular season debut with the Riveters. Having made her first appearance in the 2017 edition of the NWHL playoffs, wearing number 11, she had a respectable preseason. Having adopted the number 55, she paced all players on the club with seven shots on goal.

Coming out of retirement, Harrison Browne, who captured an Isobel Cup championship with the Buffalo Beauts, signed with the Riveters as a free agent. Providing the Riveters with strong leadership and the big game experience that may help the franchise capture its first title next spring, Browne made a strong statement against the Pride.

At the 8:28 mark of the first period, Browne scored a short-handed goal, unassisted, for the first-ever NWHL goal scored in an NHL arena. On the opposite end of this historic goal was Brittany Ott, the league's first-ever Goaltender of the Year Award winner, and a 2016 Clarkson Cup champion.

Before the period would expire, Miye D'Oench would add to the Riveters lead as Alexa Gruschow, an alum of RPI, and Koelzer earned the assists, resulting in Koezler's first regular season point. In the second period, D'Oench would reciprocate, gaining the assist on a goal by Gruschow, with less than three minutes remaining in the period. The other assist was credited to Browne, as the Riveters boasted a 3-0 lead.

Although the Pride peppered Riveters goaltender Katie Fitzgerald with 22 shots over the first two periods, she displayed the skills that made her the league's Goaltender of the Year in 2017, refusing to be intimidated by the defending regular season champions.

The third period would see the Pride spoil Fitzgerald's efforts for a shutout as Meagan Mangene recorded the Pride's first goal of the regular season. One of four free agents from the Connecticut Whale that signed with the Pride, Mangene's goal was assisted by Heather Schwarz and fellow Whale free agent Haley Skarupa.

In spite of the shutout aspirations foiled, Fitzgerald remained a stone wall against a frustrated Pride defense. A little over a minute following Mangene's goal, the Pride enjoyed a power play opportunity as Tatiana Rafter was sent to the penalty box for a hooking call. Successfully nullifying the Pride's power play, Fitzgerald's confidence helped set the tone for the remainder of the period.

With a dejected Pride roster playing with an empty net in the last minute of play, All-Star Rebecca Russo would log the Riveters' fourth goal of the game, putting any hopes of a comeback definitely out of reach, as Fitzgerald became the first goaltender to win an NWHL regular season game in an NHL arena. Stopping 30 of 31 shots for a sparkling .968 save percentage in a 4-1 final, Fitzgerald picked up where she left off last season, providing the Riveters with a goaltender that can transform them into a championship contender.

The next game for the Riveters continued the trend of history, as they challenge the Buffalo Beauts at Bill Gray's Regional Iceplex in Rochester, New York on November 4. As the first regular season game to be hosted in a neutral site, Browne faces off against his former team for the first time, while the Beauts feature a trio of Canadian-born free agent talent including Sarah Edney, Jess Jones and Rebecca Vint.

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