PHOTO CREDIT: Troy Parla
Hockey is a game of flow and often a small thing could tilt the ice in your favor – or against it.
Whether it’s a bounce off the boards, a blocked pass or shot, an offensive zone entry, every little bit counts. But the frenetic speed of hockey can also make the smallest mistake a disaster.
Those who master the little things -- win a key faceoff, block a shot -- become extremely valuable even if their numbers don’t jump off the stat page.
Alexa Gruschow is that player for the New York Riveters.
Gruschow’s rookie season included 10 points (two goals, eight assists). Her offensive game was overshadowed by the likes of Amanda Kessel, Janine Weber and Rebecca Russo, but her contributions were no less important -– far from it.
“My confidence grew as the season went on,” said Gruschow. “Over time, I became more comfortable with the puck, on special teams and on face-offs, as well as with my defensive play.”
If the offensive numbers don’t leap off the page, Gruschow’s role as a defensive forward has not gone unnoticed.
Gruschow was the Riveters’ top face-off specialist last season, winning 52.2 percent of draws.
“This trait actually came as a bit of a surprise to me last year,” said Gruschow. “It was just something I had never really been recognized for, but I definitely did take pride in it and I tried to embrace it.
“It was something I tried to focus on more in practice and games and realizing the importance of it come game time.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Hertzel
Gruschow also is not afraid to step in front of a shot to keep it away from the danger spots. Her 16 blocked shots were fifth on the team, but tops among Riveters forwards.
Face-off percentage and blocked shots are hardly the flashiest stats, but they all play a crucial role in tilting puck possession in your favor.
However, with at least three key pieces not returning to the Riveters for the 2017-18 season -- Kessel (Olympics), Weber (signed with Boston) and Madison Packer (retired) -– Gruschow will be among those taking on a bigger role in the offense.
The 23-year-old Gruschow is no stranger to being a prolific scorer, giving an opportunity to show off more of her offensive talent for the Riveters.
In four years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, Gruschow collected 93 points (46 goals, 47 assists), and led the team in scoring as a junior and senior.
In addition to being a top forward and biology and psychology dual major at RPI, Gruschow became a special teams dynamo as a senior, leading the team in both power-play goals (5) and short-handed tallies (2).
With the Olympic players not playing in the NWHL next season, each team is counting on others to do a little more both on and off the ice.
“It opens up a lot of roster spots that need to be filled, but I think the league, as a whole, needs the other players to step into bigger roles than they may have done in the past,” said Gruschow. “These players will need to embrace being the best players in the league and also promoting the league, whether that includes myself, or others on my team.”
Gruschow’s decision to return to Riveters and be one of those to embrace that bigger role was an easy one.
“I loved being a member of this team,” Gruschow said. “I know this team has great potential. We have outstanding camaraderie and I didn’t want to leave a team like this.”
Gruschow joins a group of returning Riveters that includes her former college teammate, Lauren Wash, along with captain Ashley Johnston, Russo, an NWHL All-Star last season, as well as Kiira Dosdall, Miye D’Oench, Sarah Bryant, Cheeky Herr, Tatiana Rafter and the reigning NWHL Goaltender of the Year Katie Fitzgerald.
The addition of Wash was important for Gruschow’s development last season, having a familiar face in the locker room made her more comfortable and thus, a more confident hockey player.
“When I came to the Rivs last year, I didn’t really have [the camaraderie] because I didn’t go to college with any of the girls or know them through mutual friends or teammates, but the team camaraderie is there and everyone is quick to take you on and treat you the way a proper teammate should be treated,” explained the Mechanicsburgh, Pa., product.
PHOTO CREDIT: Troy Parla
Gruschow also made a strong first impression even before she took the ice with her tireless work ethic.
“A lot of people notice that I’m not the most talkative in the locker room, but once I get comfortable I am, but my willingness to always put forth the best effort shows that I care about the team and that I do want to be there every single day,” said Gruschow. “I think it has the ability to influence others to have that same outlook. Several of my teammates have actually commented about my work ethic and that really hits home for me because it’s something I really take pride in.”
Gruschow’s ability to do the little things will come in handy as her team tries to replace lost offense from last year. But her own potential breakout is something to keep an eye on as she and the Riveters chase an Isobel Cup.
Tag(s): New York Riveters