Sam Walther’s Long Road Back to the NWHL
By Dan Rice
Sometimes the journey to achieve your dream requires travel on a long, difficult road. Of course, if you persevere and reach your objective, the experience will be even more rewarding because of your journey. Metropolitan Riveters goaltender Sam Walther wouldn’t have it any other way.
Last season, Walther appeared in just one game for the Connecticut Whale. She faced 12 shots in 12 minutes in mop-up duty but did not see any more playing time. That was a bitter pill to swallow for a goaltender who holds numerous records at Hamilton College, including 28 career shutouts, 2,252 career saves, and a program record .960 save percentage in the 2017-18 season. Walther decided to step away from the NWHL to focus on balancing the aspects of her life outside of the blue paint of the goal crease.
After working hard all summer, Walther earned a chance to impress Riveters general manager Kate Whitman Annis and head coach Ivo Mocek. She delivered. Then, in her first regular season NWHL start, Walther delivered again. She turned aside 36 of the 39 shots she faced from the Boston Pride in the Rivs’ season-opening 4-2 loss. Since then, she’s established herself as a starting NWHL goaltender.
“Sam Walther’s effort was amazing,” Mocek said after Walther’s first start. “She was our best player on the ice for sure. (I think) we could have helped her more in certain situations.”
After getting an all-too-brief taste of NWHL action with the Whale, Walther was understandably discouraged. At Hamilton, she started in 89 career games, including 19 in her freshman season; she was a workhorse. Watching games from the Whale’s bench in 2018-19 with little opportunity to play meaningful minutes was not easy.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I think I also started to doubt myself a little bit. A lot of it was playing a mental game with myself like I belonged here. That I could play at this level, this speed. I think that was the hardest thing for me last season – not necessarily the shot speed, but the lateral movement speed.
“I struggled with that at the beginning of last season for sure,” she continued. “Going from Division-III, which is still fast-paced, but there are some good players out there that can move the puck so quick laterally. I got on the ice a ton over the summer and started to really adjust to that speed.”
That work over the offseason paid off. Walther has already made a full season’s worth of highlight reel saves in her first two months as a starter. The pride of Hamilton College has given her Riveters’ teammates an opportunity to win in each of her starts. The skaters playing in front of her are playing with confidence because they know they have a goalie they can depend on.
“I’m usually a pretty open person but felt that I was really quiet last year,” Walther said. “Maybe part of it is having something to prove, but I wanted a full year of playing in the NWHL and having a fun experience. Getting to know my teammates really well, which I missed some of last season because I was so busy adjusting to Nichols and my grad classes. I think I have a better routine and I’m excited to hang out with all of my teammates and be down here more.”
All goalies are dedicated, but Walther’s dedication is on a completely different level. She works exceedingly hard to make her NWHL career possible, which makes her exceptional play this season all the more impressive. She works at Nichols College in Worcester, Massachusetts where she has two jobs in addition to being in a grad program.
“So, for our Monday or Tuesday practices I drive down from work and then I drive halfway back to Sarah Hughson’s house in Connecticut,” Walther said. “I get some sleep, leave for work from there in the morning and then come back down to New Jersey on Thursday until the end of the weekend. Kate (Whitman Annis) actually has a place lined up for Leila Kilduff, myself, and Colleen Murphy to stay in when we’re here in New Jersey.”
Whitman Annis had no problem going the extra mile to help Walther realize her dream of getting a second shot of NWHL hockey. After all, Walther has already proven just how far she will go and just how hard she’s willing to work to give the Riveters every chance that they need to win.
The Riveters return to action this weekend with a game at home against the undefeated Pride on Saturday and a game on the road in Danbury against the Whale. You can grab tickets to both games at nwhl.zone/tickets and watch all of the action on the NWHL on Twitch.
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay