NY Riveters Prove They Can Do It!
By MARIA GRAFAS and BELA KIRPALANI
As the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League enters the playoffs, it is clear that the league is flourishing as fans continue to show up in large numbers supporting the female professional hockey stars.
After being part of the first trade in the history of the NWHL, goaltender Chelsea Laden made her first start as a Riveter on February 6th against the Boston Pride. Unfortunately, the Riveters lost 6-1. When asked for her thoughts after the game, Laden said, “It was a lot of fun. Obviously the score isn’t what we wanted. It’s never fun to lose, especially to get creamed like that, but it’s just so fun to be part of a team that no matter what the score is, they‘re battling and blocking shots with 30 seconds left in the game.”
The New York Riveters’ first season has had its ups and downs, but captain Ashley “Stretch” Johnston has remained one of the team’s most consistent players.
When asked about how the team prepares each week, she said, “We practice twice a week, Wednesday and Friday. We also do some video, some lifts, then we have one game a week.” She believes that although the Riveters haven’t really found their stride yet, things will certainly improve as time progresses. “It’s been a great experience, great to play in. It’ll be good when things start clicking down the road, especially come playoffs.”
Forward Madison Packer believes that having such a dedicated fan base demonstrates that hard work really does pay off. She said, “This league gives little girls a chance to look at other girls play and want to be like them. It validates our work as athletes and shows that we’re good enough. Now they have something realistic that they can look at and work to try and achieve.”
Assistant Coach Mark DeSimone has been impressed by the amount of fans that show up for their games. “Fan turnout has been tremendous. I have to say, our home slot is usually 7 o’clock on a Sunday night, and as the winter months progress and football is on, people don’t usually want to come. But, we have a dedicated fan base that the women want to play for so badly, and you can hear the noise they make. They always fill the place, and it’s a long way to get out here. I’m really appreciative of the fans and respectful that they take to the team so well,” he said.
Each woman on the team developed a love for the game at a young age. Morgan Fritz-Ward said, “I’ve been playing since I was ten and I’m 22 now…My twin brother got me started playing hockey and it just kind of took off from there. I’m from Iowa. I learned to skate, got bumped up to squirts, played with boys, and I went to school at Quinnipiac in Connecticut.” Ashley Johnston said, “I started in fourth grade. I’m from Canada, everyone plays hockey there.” And goaltender Chelsea Laden said,”I started playing when I was 8 or 9; I was a goalie by 10. I was fortunate enough to play on the varsity team when I was 12 years old, just because of the circumstances in my city. Playing six years on varsity really helped me to prepare myself for college. I went to Quinnipiac and now I’m here.”
Although the players in the NWHL do get a paycheck for their play, it’s not nearly enough to sustain a good lifestyle. Thus, many of the players have jobs outside of the Riveters’ organization. Ashley Johnston is an engineer at a robotics firm, Madison Packer is a legal assistant, Gabie Figueroa is a project engineer, Kiira Dosdall is a project specialist for Schoology, and Chelsea Laden is working towards attending medical school. When asked about the large discrepancy in pay between men’s and women’s hockey, Johnston said, “Obviously, I’d like to be making millions, but that’s not where the league is right now. We just need to establish that fan base which is what I think this league is trying to do, and start to make a name for female sports in general. Once we get that, we’ll see an increase in pay as well.”
As the fourth seed, the Riveters will face off against the first seed Boston Pride in the NWHL playoffs March 4th-6th at the Raymond Bourque Arena in Beverley, Massachusetts.
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