The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
The Boston Pride put 43 shots on net through 60 minutes on Sunday afternoon, and played an intense brand of hockey for the first professional, regular-season game in women's hockey history to be broadcast on television.
However, they had a bad start, and that was what showed on the scoresheet for the Pride at the final horn.
First, New York's Brooke Ammerman beat Brittany Ott blocker side with a tricky shot through a screen, just over a minute into the game. "I was just trying to use the screen, get the puck to the net; they backed off, and I beat the goalie. It was a great start to the game," Ammerman said of her opening tally. It wasn't an ideal start to the game for the Pride, but shaking off a bad first goal is par for the course at this level of play.
Less than 60 seconds later, though, Madison Packer stole the puck as the Pride were trying to exit the zone. Rachel Llanes had a spirited shift trying to hold Packer off, but instead, the puck came the other way and she was able to beat Ott as well. The Riveters had suddenly jumped out to a two-goal lead, their first of the season, from which the Pride never recovered.
The game would be a difficult battle from that point forward, and though the Pride soon found themselves shorthanded on a roughing call to Amanda Pelkey, they did their best to score; however, Nana Fujimoto began building her personal highlight reel by making a nice stop early on Alyssa Gagliardi, who had received a perfect feed from Brianna Decker.
Boston swarmed Fujimoto's crease as much as possible, and eventually did get one of their own on the power play from Hilary Knight, cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Riveters got the goal right back, though, on a nifty play from Meghan Fardelmann. Fardelmann was drifting in front to get a goal-line feed from Taylor Holze, and she was able to tap it in five-hole on Ott. She kept the puck low: "I called for it; I was wide open in front. One-timer through the legs, on the ice," Fardelmann said.
This ended up being the last goal the Riveters needed, but the Pride didn't go down easily. In fact, they more than tripled New York's shot total throughout the game, and their second and third periods were strong. However, Nana Fujimoto was equal to the challenge, making save after save. She also got significant help from her defense, as shooters were largely kept to the outside and had shots blocked at even strength.
Amanda Pelkey brought the Pride to within one goal on a power play tally early in the second, after a busy pile-up in the New York goal. That one counted, but notably, the Pride had two more apparent goals disallowed in the second period. One immediately after Pelkey's tap-in was a clear case of interference with the goalkeeper, but the second call was much more controversial. An overhead angle showed that Jordan Smelker kicked the puck to her stick, where it was redirected behind Fujimoto; however, the officials ruled (even after a brief video review) that the goal did not count, due to a distinct kicking motion.
Despite sustained pressure throughout the third period from the Pride, they were unable to best Fujimoto or the aggressive Riveters' defense. They lost their home opener 3-2, and were unable to turn their luck around in the NWHL's television debut. Next, they'll face the as-yet-undefeated Whale.
While the Riveters have strung together their first two wins of the season against an extremely formidable opponent, they'll likely be looking to get their shot totals higher as the season goes on, so as to not rely on Fujimoto as much as they did Sunday. The Pride were a bounce or call away from tying the game for nearly 40 minutes. Still, they've proven themselves to be tough to play against, and the confidence they've developed as a team is paying dividends, both in the back of the net and down on the ice in the form of shot blocks and tough plays.
Game notes and observations
- The Pride dressed Emily Field, even though she was listed as injured and out for this game. She seems to have recovered quickly from a scary moment last game after a knee-on-knee collision; she had several good scoring chances Sunday afternoon.
- Shots for the game totaled 43-14 in favor of the Pride. While there are some issues with shot total accuracy in the NWHL's stats, Fujimoto's save percentage on the season has risen over the last couple of games to around 0.91, which is up considerably from her first few starts.
- The Bright-Landry Hockey Center has a capacity of about 2,850; this was not a sellout, but there was a sizable crowd that was extremely loud. The rink is notably accessible by public transportation as just a short walk from Harvard Square in Cambridge or the MBTA's 66, 86, and 70/70A buses. The Riveters' home rink is also accessible on the MTA's Q35 bus in Brooklyn, but is a bit more arduous to get to, since it is not close to a subway line. And at the same time, both teams have drawn impressive crowds in their inaugural seasons.
- The game was broadcast regionally on NESN and was available via YouTube for those outside of NESN's coverage area. Some cable and satellite subscribers outside of New England also have NESN available as part of a sports package (including Meghan Fardelmann's family in Kansas!)
Madison Packer, on Nana Fujimoto's turnaround performances:
I think it's not surprising. I mean, she was at the Olympics and the World Championships and she was rated the best goalie in the world. They [the Japanese national team] don't get as much credit as the Americans or the Canadians, but it's a testament to her. She's been the last one off the ice for every practice for the last three weeks. The only ice she's ever played on has been international, and I think that's something that no one really took into consideration. All the angles are different; everything on the ice for her has been different. She's really done a good job of getting to the rink early and being the last one to leave and she's worked her butt off to get better. It's been nice to have her help us win some games, but it's been a huge confidence builder for her.
On the team coming together against a tough opponent:
I think it's a little bit of everything. One, we were judged out of the gate. You look at the other teams and they've got Olympic players, they've got a lot of players who really stand out. We've got some damn good hockey players in that locker room. But it's been a long time since they've played. None of us have ever played together. You know, [the Pride] has been together for 3-4 years if you look at the players who came over from the Blades. We take pride in working hard, and the more we were pushed by our coach to get in shape and things like that, the skills stuff kind of comes out of nowhere. It's like walking. You slowly pick it back up. In the beginning, we were just working hard, and I think everyone just underestimated us.
Brooke Ammerman, on the Riveters slowing down in the second and third periods:
We took a few penalties, and that exhausts you. We really had to work hard, a lot harder than in a 5 on 5 situation. There were a few back to back to back, so we just got tired. But we beared down, just tried to be smart mentally in those situations. But that's probably why we slowed down a little bit.
The Boston Pride on the loss:
Brittany Ott: That first period, we just came out a little bit flat. And then second period, we started off on fire I think. And we really turned it around from that point on. We didn't have quite enough to get that third goal at the end there. Got a lot of bounces going their way often, but you've just got to play through that, dig deeper, and just take control.
Brianna Decker: They're gonna go in. She's a great goalie, I'm not taking that away from her, but we have a lot of skill on our team. We're eventually going to find the back of the net and let the floodgates kind of open.
Kacey Bellamy: Like I said last week, we wanted to get revenge. And... we didn't. But I think it all just stems from playing a full game, and we didn't... Obviously, we hate losing, but them beating us twice? It's good for the league. it's good competition. Like I said--we don't want to lose. We want to win and we want to come out champions at the end.
As Kacey Bellamy points out, the NWHL is looking a little less lopsided after this weekend, though the Beauts still, somehow, have failed to pull out their first win, falling to the Whale in a wild 7-6 shootout.
The Riveters' poor start transforming into these hard-fought wins is just as remarkable, and the NWHL has, out of the gate, proven to be full of surprises.
Game stats: NWHL.hockeyshift.com
Filed under: nwhl; ny riveters; boston pride; ice hockey; kacey bellamy; brianna decker; brittany ott; meghan fardelmann; madison packer; brooke ammerman
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