Melissa Burgess

NWHL: Metropolitan Riveters Season Review

The 2017-18 NWHL season had it all for the Metropolitan Riveters. They finished the season with 13 wins, more than they had accumulated in the two previous seasons combined. That record won the league title in the regular season, and to top it all off, the Rivs captured the Isobel Cup Championship over the defending Buffalo Beauts.

From the beginning, the Riveters just seemed to click. The first game of the season, played at the Prudential Center, saw Metro pull off a 4-1 win over the Boston Pride. Harrison Browne opened the scoring for his new team, and five different Riveters would notch at least a point in the win. Katie Fitzgerald kicked off her All-Star season with a 30-save performance.

The Riveters came out victorious in game after game. From a 6-2 defeat of the Beauts in Rochester, NY, to a 5-1 rout of the Whale, and on, and on.

The Riveters wouldn't suffer their first loss of the season until game 12 of the season, on February 3. Their 11-game winning streak was an historic one. They outscored their opponents by a whopping margin of 49-16 and dominated the league.

Even after that loss -- a 5-3 victory by the Beauts -- the Riveters finished out the season on a high note. They won two of their last four games (with both losses coming, again, to Buffalo) and finished the season first in the league for the first time in franchise history.

The Riveters finished the season with an impressive 13-3-0 total, accumulating 26 points. They had a plus-34 goal differential, best in the league, and had numerous players at the top of the leaderboards in statistics.

Madison Packer led the league with ten goals, the other NWHLer to hit the double-digit mark this season, but two of her teammates also had nine goals each. Courtney Burke registered 17 assists in 16 games too lead the league in that category, while Alexa Gruschow's 22 points were top amongst all players.

It was little surprise, then, when a number of Riveters were named to the NWHL All-Star Game in Minnesota. Goaltender Fitzgerald, who had a spectacular season, was joined by Kelsey Koelzer, Rebecca Russo, Burke, Jenny Ryan, Michelle Picard, and Gruscow in the game.

The Riveters were the best team in the NWHL this season for a variety of reasons. They managed to put together a roster that clicked, filled with returning players like Burke, Koelzer, Packer, and captain Ashley Johnston. Yes, they lost a few pieces from the 2016-17 season, including Olympian Amanda Kessel; but they also added new pieces, like Browne and Erika Lawler.

In a way, the Riveters were helped by the fact that Olympic players left the NWHL for centralization. This helped with the parity throughout the league and made it more of an even playing field, rather than a stacked Boston Pride team facing three teams with only a handful of Olympians among them.

It would be impossible to say enough of Fitzgerald's performance in net this season. She appeared in 15 regular-season games with the Riveters and had a 3.01 GAA and .901 save percentage, stopping 392 of 435 shots faced.

When the postseason arrived, the Riveters were the clear favorites to vie for the Isobel Cup. They had little trouble taking care of the Whale in the semifinal, really pouring it on later in the game, and set themselves up nicely for a championship matchup with the Beauts.

As the league's top two teams faced off in Newark, the Riveters played to their home-ice advantage and needed just one goal to win it all. Gruschow scored the lone goal of the game, and Fitzgerald stopped 21 shots faced for a shutout and the championship title.

Gruschow was named the league's MVP, while Burke was named best defender. Harrison Browne was named one of the NWHL Fans' three stars of the season, and Michelle Picard won the NWHL Foundation Award for her team.

The question is now, where do the Riveters go from here? They've tasted championship success and, obviously, will want to repeat that in the coming season. They will have to do it under a new coach, however; Chad Wiseman is leaving the NWHL to coach the Burlington Cougars, an under-20 boys' team in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, closer to his home.

If some of the Riveters core players return -- Johnston, Packer and Koelzer among them -- they could be in a good position for success next season. The potential reintroduction of Olympians to the NWHL could skew things one way or another for them; Amanda Kessel said in an interview on MSG that she hopes to return to New York and play for the Riveters again.

Like with Buffalo, another interesting thing will be to watch the development of the Riveters’ partnership with the NHL's New Jersey Devils. While it’s just a partnership -- rather than an ownership, as in Buffalo -- it’s certainly something to take into consideration going forward. How the Devils will support women's hockey and the NWHL in the future remains to be seen, and there is room for growth between the Devils and the Riveters franchises.

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