Photo by Ryan Ohanesian
The Riveters took the ice Sunday night in rosy versions of their already-iconic Rosie sweaters, and pink may just be their color. The team that lost last week’s home opener 7-1 to the Boston Pride challenged the Connecticut Whale to three periods of fast, hard hockey. Components of their game that looked useless against the Pride suddenly combined to create a machine that battled in the corners, crashed the crease, launched grenades from the points, and broke up almost every pattern Connecticut tried to play.
So why did the Whale get the win?
It’s hard to point to what went wrong for the Riveters, because so much went right. The Whale scored first, but the Rivs tied it up with a devastating one-timer from Ashley Johnston during a patient, perfect 5 on 3. Madison Packer had a beautiful breakaway and a shot that I swear evaporated just as it went in the net. Goalie Nana Fujimoto, who had been skillful but inconsistent in her first two starts, played like she owned her crease instead of merely renting it. A Riveter victory seemed imminent.
Unfortunately, the hockey gods had other ideas. The Rivs scored a second goal, then for the second time this season had it called back (this time for a high stick). The Whale’s Kaleigh Fratkin and Alyssa Wohlfeiler both scored on the power play; the third was an empty netter from Kelly Babstock. At the end of the evening, Connecticut went home 3 and 0, while the Riveters, who played the better game, had a record of 0 and 3. Still, they saluted the crowd, which was half the size of the week before but had screamed twice as loud.
In the locker room, the team tried to stay optimistic. Three weeks into the season, they had accumulated zero points and scored only three good goals. Yet Johnston, who had played minutes equivalent to two Duncan Keiths, was still smiling. “When we play our systems and we play together we are unstoppable. We can frustrate anyone in this league and we are going to get great opportunities off of it. All those little things are going to come. We’re getting shots, we’re getting better scoring opportunities … I’m really excited for what this team’s going to have come March, come playoffs.”
It may seem premature for an 0-3 team to be thinking about the playoffs. But Johnston was all about the big picture. “We are going to be the hardest-working, grittiest, most annoying team in the league, I am so confident of that, especially after today. Every team should be afraid to play against us.”
Fellow defenseman Gabie Figueroa was more blunt: “It sucks losing when we play the best game that we’ve played all season. I know that we were tough for Connecticut to play against, we had a lot of shots, they didn’t get a lot of opportunities. It’s frustrating.” Yet Figueroa shared Johnston’s vision. “It’s good that we’re going into this two week break with some momentum. We know we can compete, we know we’re going to be one of the top teams in the league.”
Coach Chad Wiseman, who last week made no attempt to conceal his frustration, was quick to laud his team’s turnaround. When asked what he had said to inspire such a change, he shifted the focus back to the players and the work they’ve done. “It’s not this week; it’s the last 6 or 7 weeks. We did look like a different team out there. They’re finally believing in the systems, buying into the systems. They played a great game tonight. They deserved a better fate.”
Wiseman also agreed with his likely captain that, points aside, the Riveters are fashioning themselves into a force to be reckoned with. “We’re going to be a team the other teams don’t want to play against. … We competed tonight. We won battles. There was fire there, attention to detail.”
Unfortunately, fire doesn’t win games; goals do. So what’s the plan now? “Focus on being a team, and the goals will come,” Johnston declared. Seeing how much the Riveters have developed in the last few weeks, it’s hard to disagree. The goals will come. And maybe next time they’ll even get to keep them.