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(Photo By Matt Raney - NWHL)

Connecticut Whale

Riveters get win against improved Whale

The Metropolitan Riveters stopped their losing streak at one game with a 4-2 win Sunday in NWHL action. However, the ever-improving Connecticut Whale threatened to knock off the league leaders. Early on in the season, the Riveters made short work of a determined but still growing Whale team. Since then Connecticut has given Metropolitan some close calls with an overtime loss just weeks ago in Stamford. It could have gone either way, but special teams and a Riveters resurgence in period three was the difference.

“I think we were all on the same page today. We came to this rink all with the same goal. I think that we played a full sixty minutes today and the scoreboard really showed that,” Riveters forward Rebecca Russo said.

Each team scored on the power play, but the Riveters penalty kill held the Whale to just one goal on five attempts. Amanda Boulier moved the biscuit past Katie Fitzgerald late the in the first set up by Jordan Brickner and Kelly Babstock. On the other hand, The Whale allowed two power play goals on four attempts. Connecticut Coach Ryan Equale lamented a similar result when the two teams played in Stamford. He noted at the time how hard it is to win hockey games when 50% of penalty kills result in a goal.

The Whale had come out swinging, with several scoring opportunities in the first few minutes. It looked like the momentum was theirs, but a penalty called at 2:41 slowed their attack. They survived the kill, but another call came at 5:35. Courtney Burke sent a shot from the point five-hole by Sydney Rossman to put Rivs up 1-0 assisted by Alexa Gruschow. The eventual game winner also came on the power play in the third as Jenny Ryan launched a shot and Rebecca Russo redirected it into the empty side of the net from right in front. Courtney Burke also assisted that play.

Russo’s goal blunted momentum the Whale was trying to build after Kelly Babstock tied the game up early in the third. The All Star sent a rebound past Fitzgerald after Emily Fluke had put up a shot. Boulier had touched it next before it reached its eventual destiny off Babstock’s stick. Before the Whale tally, Bray Ketchum had the lone goal of the second period when she skated into position and sniped a great shot into the top corner of the net over Rossman’s shoulder. Assists went to Russo and Kiira Dosdall.

The Riveters did play a more decisive third period than to close out the game. Late in the frame, Gruschow delivered the dagger goal before the Whale could pull Rossman for an extra attacker as well. With the keeper already down responding to a previous attack, Gruschow pounced on the puck and lifted it over her.

Ketchum noted the difference between the first two periods and the final one, was a matter of “just trying to get more shots on [Rossman],” she said. “Doing our systems right, moving our feet. Using our speed. We have a lot of speed up front and when we move the puck get out of the zone quickly, that’s our game, our transition game. We started to do that in the third.”

Defensively both teams played well. Cydney Roesler had three blocked shots, Brickner and Emma Greco had two apiece, and nearly the entire Whale lineup had one. Overall, the Whale defenders and forwards disrupted Riveters attacks often and moved the pucks out. Connecticut held the Riveters shot totals to 15 through two periods before Metropolitan shut the door in period three.

On the Riveters side, Burke, and Russo had two blocks apiece and four other players had one. They had held the Whale to just 13 shots in periods one and two but in the third, Connecticut managed 12 shots in their urgent efforts to tie the game.

Rossman made 19 saves on 23 shots and had another solid day. The Whale keeper gave up a goal that was well placed, and a goal five-hole, but also had a goal deflect when she was positioned to deal with the main attack, and a goal on a rebound, which should have been cleaned up by the defense.

Fitzgerald made 23 saves on 25 shots in an uneven day that nonetheless got the job done. Arguably the most well-regarded keeper in the league, she looked rough around the edges in the first two periods but after the Babstock goal, tightened things up as the Whale’s shot totals increased and held them off the score sheet.

Boulier would be a critical figure in the game on a line with Kelly Babstock as both explosive players had many opportunities on net and in creating chances for teammates. Boulier had eight shots on the day, and Babstock had seven while the rest of the team had 10 total. Juana Baribeau created a variety of pressure as well as she often does. The Whale took the ice without Sam Faber and Grace Klienbach, who are both key offensive threats, but Kaycie Anderson, Stephanie Mock, and Emily Fluke were among the various players making their efforts in the Riveters zone. Meghan Huertas in the lineup, but left the game with an apparent injury depriving the Whale of her great two-way play late in the game.

“The Whale is an unbelievable hockey team. They’re hardworking, I guess you could say they’re really annoying to play against because they’re so hardworking and they’re great systematically,” Russo said.

Ketchum echoed her teammate’s statements:

“They’re a fast team, they always bring their A game. Any game right now is going to be hard for us. I think everyone is out to get us. The Whale, they’re coached well, and they play their systems well.” Ketchum said.

Given their success, the Whale have had a consistent issue throughout the year. Often an attacker will speed into the zone but trailing players aren’t with them to exploit second chances. This happened again Sunday as several Connecticut attacks fizzled.

Offensively for the Riveters, Burke and Russo each had four shots apiece, as did Madison Packer. Gruschow had three, and a group of players had two or one up and down the lineup. It should be noted All-Star Kelsey Koelzer had two shots that dinged off pipes in the game. The Riveters also had to adjust to Miye D’Oench not being in the available due to injury. They did have the services of Kelly Nash and Lauren Wash.

Wash, has been a player who fills holes in the lineup when needed throughout the year. Russo had noted earlier that the team needed to adapt to different lineups due to injury or penalties. The ability of the Riveters to remain strong despite changes is a key element to their success. Wash had a unique perspective on keeping ready for what comes her way:

“To be honest with you, I just go out there and have fun,” Wash explained. “I show up, it sounds so cliché. Honestly, I just don’t put the pressure on myself, and I know these girls, I played tons of them in college. I played against Connecticut multiple times, Boston, Buffalo, I haven’t played against them too much. I know what to expect. I don’t compare to anyone else on my team, on their team. I just go out, I am who I am, and I’m giving it what I have today.”

The rivalry between the two teams has taken on added gravity as the season went on. While the Riveters are angling to clinch the top seed in the playoffs, the Whale are out to coalesce as a team and secure the third seed. With the Buffalo Beauts victory and the Boston Pride loss, the standings didn’t change much. Next week the Beauts will visit Newark to face the Riveters in a crucial game. Meanwhile, the Pride will head to Connecticut to continue the fight for seeding.

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