Clutch Goaltending Earns Rivs’ Sam Walther VEDA Player of the Week Award
By Jane Norton
For making, in the words of her coach, “huge saves when we needed them most,” Riveters goaltender Sam Walther has been named the VEDA NWHL Player of the Week.
After making 38 saves against the Boston Pride on Saturday, Walther stopped 33 shots against the Connecticut Whale, her former team, on Sunday to lead the Riveters to their first win in regulation of the 2019-20 season. Walther and the Riveters’ defense blanked seven consecutive Whale power plays before Emma Vlasic scored with the extra attacker on the ice with 2:26 left in regulation to spoil Walther's shutout.
Walther finished the weekend with a .922 save percentage and has made at least 33 saves in her last five starts.
“I felt like we really started putting things together as a team over the last month, and I was really happy with how much my D picked up sticks and cleared out those second and third chance rebounds this weekend,” said Walther. “Knowing they had my back helped me be more confident being more aggressive on angles and challenging the shooters, especially against the Whale. It’s definitely an honor to be named VEDA NWHL Player of the Week, so thanks to my teammates, coaches and staff for all of the support.”
Head coach Ivo Mocek provided some perspective on what Walther means to the Riveters, who return home on Saturday to face the undefeated Boston Pride at 7 p.m. at ProSkate in New Jersey.
“Sam was one of the main reasons why we were hanging in there on Saturday and gave us a chance to keep up with Boston for more than two periods,” said Mocek. “On Sunday that was the most confident Sam Walther I have seen this season so far and she made some huge saves when we needed them most. Although this is a team game, she definitely earned Player of the Week in my view.”
Mocek says Walther’s positive attitude and total dedication to improving at her craft has made an impact on the Riveters since the start of the season.
“It’s so great to see Sam enjoying practices, games and hockey in general after the challenging season she had last year,” said the coach. “She has the ability to give her teammates confidence during games with some big saves. And that’s exactly what you want your goalie to do.”
Walther signed with the Riveters in August after spending her rookie season with the Whale. She played collegiately at Hamilton, where she is the school’s all-time leader in GAA (1.40), save percentage (.948) and shutouts. Besides playing for the Rivs, Walther is an assistant coach at Nichols College.
In an email exchange after she was notified of her VEDA NWHL Player of the Week honor, Walther discussed the victory in Connecticut and the development of the Riveters as a team that sticks together this season.
Did winning in Connecticut have any extra meaning for you?
Walther: I think I speak for everyone on the Rivs when I say we were ready to see a new team other than Boston and Minnesota. It was definitely an odd feeling playing against some of my best friends, but I was excited at the same time. Talking to Sarah Hughson and Kayla Meneghin during the game was different for me. I’m usually so zoned in, so it was fun to be a little lighter on the ice. We needed that win as a team to give us momentum going into a jam-packed second half of the season.
Your team kept the juggernaut in Boston at bay for two periods and did enough to get the win over the Whale. What were the keys for you this weekend?
Walther: We’ve cleaned up our D-zone and our passes are connecting better. That stems from the chemistry we have off the ice. We all get along really well and it helps keep the energy and support high during games. I had a coach once tell me that you should have at least one conversation with every teammate, every time you’re at the rink, either for practice or a game. If you’re not, you’ll never mesh as a unit. That doesn’t even need to be said to this group. We’re all comfortable around every single one of our teammates.
Can you share an example of that comfort level?
Walther: We can talk about what we need to fix without any hard feelings, and support each other at the same time. We’ve had a lot of high-scoring games where I’ve gotten down on myself and I know after each goal against, “Moose” [Rebecca Morse] is going to be there picking me up. That type of chemistry extends all around and it’s helped us want to perform better on the ice as individuals for the betterment of the team. We still have a lot to prove and I know we’re going to have a strong second half.
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay