Photo By Troy Parla
She said what a lot of people around the NWHL have been thinking. Even if some of her teammates or coaches on the Metropolitan Riveters won’t admit it, Rebecca Russo wasn’t afraid to say it. “We’re a team with a mission right now,” declared the star winger for the undefeated league leaders. “It sucked last year losing to Buffalo in this rink, and I think that just makes us more gritty. It’s payback. We have a fire lit under our butts, and we know what we have to do. We want to win this year. I think everyone sees that.”
Just look at the standings. Look at the goal differential. The games that they have played and the opponents they have dismantled. A perfect 6-0-0 to lead the NWHL. The Riveters have scored 29 goals and only allowed nine. In six games, they’ve only trailed for a total of 24:21.
Last year they knocked off the undefeated Boston Pride and then the following week they were eliminated in the NWHL semifinals. That was a loss that stung, a loss they would not soon forget. Standing next to Russo after that loss you could see the pain and disappointment on her face.
In their most recent triumph, a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Beauts on Sunday, the Rivs trailed heading into the third period for the first time all season. But there was no panic in their game. They didn’t stray from their game plan or their DNA. They held the defending champs shot-less for the first 17 minutes and they scored three quick goals over a span of 3:59.
“What we’re trying to teach our players is that, yeah we didn’t go in with a lead after two but we were wearing them down,” said Riveters coach Chad Wiseman. “They were tired and we played probably 60 percent of the game in their zone. That’s exhausting. You maybe don’t realize until the third period when you keep that tempo up and our team’s in pretty good shape. We have a lot of energy up front and our D like to activate. I think we wore them down and capitalized in the third.”
Those three goals really took the wind out of Buffalo’s sails in the game. It was almost like each goal was more devastating than its predecessor — and it was Russo’s goal that was the knockout punch. “It’s amazing,” said Russo. “Our team, from last year to this year, we brought back almost our entire roster. To be down (like that) for really the first time all year, we really showed who we are and we really showed each other and our fans what this team is made of.”
Photo By Troy Parla
While she didn’t score the game-winning goal, her goal was the exclamation point on their comeback — the fourth goal that meant the Beauts needed at least two more goals against the league’s leading goaltender, Katie Fitzgerald. “It felt great. Brownie made an unbelievable chip to me,” Russo said explaining the play by Harrison Browne to set up the goal.
“We spoke about that in our team meeting today. I really wanted to work on chips. We keep chipping the puck vs. this team and we’re getting those outnumbered rushes. To secure that goal, to make it 4-2 really felt good and I’m really happy we came out of here with the W.”
Wiseman had faith that his team would come through despite the fact that they were in uncharted territory on the losing end of the scoreboard entering the final period. “I thought we controlled a lot of the play the first forty minutes, and we had a lot of good offensive zone looks but maybe stuck on the perimeter a bit too much,” said Wiseman. We weren’t getting a lot of net-front presence.
“Our biggest issue in the first two periods was we get a little caught up in the offense — we like to activate our D and the next thing you know we’re not recognizing our D has jumped in and we’re not filling in or supporting. We gave up a couple of 2-on-1s in the second period and I think we cleaned that up in the third.”
The way they won the game should serve them well as the other three teams try to pick them off as the season moves along. When you’re atop the mountain you have a target on your back, but the Rivs haven’t shown any signs yet that they are coming off that perch just yet.
“We kept with our game plan, drew some penalties, and capitalized on the power play,” said Wiseman. “It gets harder to win every night. Especially when you’re on top, you’re always going to get other team’s best games. We speak about that. We talk about those exact things, about not getting complacent. Some nights the puck’s not going to go in and you have to find a way and that was the case tonight through two periods.”
Russo believes her team is the hardest-working team in the league right now and judging from the team standings and the NWHL scoring leaders, it’s difficult to argue.
“We have three unbelievable lines, three sets of D, and an unbelievable goaltender,” said the star winger. “We have to help Fitzy out because she saves our butts a lot during these games. In the third period, we knew we needed to get the W and needed to do a lot of things we weren’t doing in the second period. We proved and we showed who we are.”