Walther Ready for Next Big Test Against Whitecaps in Semifinal
By Dan Rice
No one knew what to expect from the Metropolitan Riveters back in October, but now that the 2019-20 regular season is over that is no longer the case. We know what to expect from the Rivs on the verge of their Isobel Cup Semifinal showdown against the reigning champion Minnesota Whitecaps tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. CT. They are a gritty, passionate team that never gives up and their backbone is goaltender Sam Walther.
After never getting much of a chance last season with the Connecticut Whale, Walther regrouped and worked her butt off in the offseason in the hopes of getting another chance. She got that chance with the Riveters this year and ran with it, all the way to the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game. When the puck drops on the semifinal in Minnesota on Sunday, Walther will be looking to add to her story and continue her amazing journey.
“This season has been incredible,” Walther said. “I definitely couldn’t have expected to see as much of the ice as I did. I loved every second of it, even the moments that were kind of crazy.”
Walther began the season by being thrown to the lions, which is to say she made five starts against the Boston Pride in the first eight games of the year. She emerged from that trial by fire as an established starter and one of her team’s most valuable players.
“For half of the season all of the triumphs and downfalls were a mental game (for me),” Walther said. “Some of those games I may have given up four or five goals and had to learn how to bounce back the next day. This past weekend, I finally have gotten to that mindset where if I gave up a goal I could mentally recover and not collapse as I did back then. Even on weaker goals, you just have to take a deep breath and move on.”
Walther, who is already second all-time in wins in Riveters franchise history, played 1235:35 this year after seeing less than 12 minutes with the Whale in 2018-19. She would have played even more than that if not for a knee injury that sidelined her after the All-Star break.
As it turns out, that injury just became one more hurdle that the 23-year-old Maryland native was able to overcome. “Even though we lost today, I felt good,” Wather shared after the Riveters’ regular season finale against the Beauts. “I felt like I was getting hit with pucks, I was seeing them. Playing both games this weekend gave me the confidence boost that I needed heading into the playoffs.
“It’s been a long, long road back,” she continued. “It’s been up and down with my knee but I finally had a couple of practices with no pain and I felt great during the game. I didn’t feel anything at all and that was pretty exciting.”
Healthy and confident, Walther believes the Riveters can make some noise in the 2020 NWHL Isobel Cup Playoffs. She had a good feeling about this group the very first time they got on the ice together, “After my first practice with the Riveters I called my dad and I told him this team is unbelievable,” she recalled. “We were so good in a kind of rusty practice. It’s meant a lot to have some success with this group. I think we can have a big weekend in Minnesota. I’m excited about our group.”
Thanks in large part to a lengthy road trip early in the season, the Riveters have earned a reputation for being road warriors. Two of the Rivs’ road wins this year came at the expense of the Whitecaps.
“This group has found a way to play well as the road team,” explained Walther. “Minnesota and their huge crowd is a really fun atmosphere, and that energy will get our group going. We’re going to come out flying and I’m excited to play in that rink.”
The Riveters’ strong finish to the 2019-20 season earned them this matchup with the Whitecaps, which is just what their All-Star goalie wanted.
“I wanted to play Minnesota in the playoffs,” she added. “I just have that confidence playing against teams that may have a little more success than us in the standings. They’re a good team, but I’d rather be the underdog and that’s the mindset of this group.”
Walther is right. Most people reading this probably think that Minnesota will be playing Boston for the Isobel Cup next weekend. But anything can happen in a one-game elimination, and anything can happen on Semifinal Sunday in the NWHL.
Win or lose against the Whitecaps, Walther has had a fantastic season defined by heart, resolve, and courage. While the skaters in front of her searched for their identity as a group, she did everything but move heaven and earth to keep them in games. Walther was at the center of the franchise’s rejuvenation this year and if all goes well, she could continue in that role.
“I hope so,” Walther grinned and replied when asked if she has found a hockey home with the Riveters. “I really hope so. I loved this season so much. I tell everyone how much I truly appreciate being a Riveter and hopefully, it is a home for at least another season. I would love to play for them again next season.”
But first thing’s first. Tomorrow, at 12:30 CDT (1:30 EDT), the Riveters will be at TRIA for the Isobel Cup Semifinal. Fans can watch that game on the NWHL at Twitch and, if they act fast, there might be a few tickets remaining at whitecaps.nwhl.zone/tickets.
So, how does Walther feel on the eve of playing the Whitecaps, led by Allie Thunstrom who is coming off of a 24-goal season? “I’ve stopped a few of Allie Thunstrom’s breakaway’s (this season) and hopefully that trend continues!”
Photo Credit: Kate Frese, Michelle Jay