NWHL free agent acquisition Rebecca Russo having fun with a 360Fly camera at the NWHL All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, where she was named fastest skater in the skills competition. Photo by Matt Raney.
A month from now the NWHL will hold a free agent camp where teams will look to add some depth players, new players and maybe those players turn out to be more than just depth players as we saw last season with two of the Founding Four teams.
The New York Riveters ended up signing three players from last year’s first collection of women looking to earn a contract and two of them became key cogs during the season that saw them become the NWHL’s most improved team — improving from fourth place to second place. Both Rebecca Russo from Boston University and Alexa Gruschow from RPI caught the eye of Rivs head coach/GM Chad Wiseman at the camp and a few weeks later they were signing their first professional contracts.
Russo made quite the name for herself last season in the NWHL and finished fourth in the league with 13 assists and tenth in the league in scoring with 16 points. Her personality also made her one of the league’s most popular players and was voted to the All-Star Game where she went on to win the Fastest Skater event.
With the league about to enter its third season without the star power of the players involved with the USWNT, Russo very well could be one of the faces that the NWHL can use to market their game to the public. Anyone who follows the league knows that the soon-to-be 23-year-old loves to talk, and take pictures with fans, and is one of the most personable players on social media; which is likely why they chose her to wear a 360 camera atop her helmet during All-Star Weekend in Pittsburgh.
Gruschow put up ten points (2g-8a) often playing on a line alongside Russo and recently-retired Madison Packer as one of the most productive lines in the NWHL. Centering the dynamic line, Gruschow won the third most face-offs in the league 174 (51%) and was one of, if not the Rivs’ most important penalty killer; her 16 blocked shots ranked third on New York. It’s safe to say that both Gruschow and Russo could be solid foundations for the Riveters to build around going forward.
When you look at the roster of invitees at the second NWHL camp you will find eight names of women who will be etched into the Isobel Cup as members of the Buffalo Beauts championship team. Some were practice players who became solid contributors and others provided depth and pushed others to be better. The Beauts eventually would sign Sarah Casorso, Jordyn Burns, Jacquie Greco, Kristina Lavoie, Ashley Vesci, Kayla Parsons, Morgan Beikirich and Kelsey Neumann.
Casorso and Burns combined for 20 blocked shots and nine points on the Beauts’ blueline during the regular season and during the playoffs, it was Vesci who assisted on Buffalo’s second, first-period goal during the Isobel Cup Final — which is kind of a big deal.
NWHL fans should be eager to see what names show up at this offseason’s camp because there’s a solid chance that whoever get signed by the Beauts, Riveters, Connecticut Whale or Boston Pride will have quite the impact during the third season of the league.