ALL PHOTOS BY TROY PARLA
Kimberly Sass heard the whispers. They probably sounded like screams. Sure the Metropolitan Riveters have Katie Fitzgerald in the net but if she were to struggle or get hurt, would the team be lost? Would Sass or Sarah Bryant be able to shoulder the load and hold the fort down? So she did what any other proud athlete would do. She trained hard all summer, training early in the morning before heading to her job as an architect. And then she trained some more.
“I’ve had the entire offseason to prepare and work on my game,” said the recently-28-year-old Sass. “During the season I had practices to work on my game, preparing mentally and getting my confidence up.”
In her first start of the 2018-19 season, Sass stopped 33 of the 36 shots she faced from the Connecticut Whale, and then she stopped all three shooters in the shootout to clinch the first home win of the season for the Riveters.
“She stole the show in many ways and made big saves when she had to, certainly in the third period,” said Riveters head coach Randy Velischek of his team’s goaltender, “and certainly in the overtime. She made two toe saves that I can recall offhand that stand out in my mind. She was a big part of this win, a huge part.”
Even when Connecticut seemed like they had control of the game and would be able to put it away, Sass saved the day for the Rivs. She made save after save to keep her team only down by one goal, setting the stage for her teammate Audra Richards to tie the game in the third period (and complete the first hat-trick in the league this season). “We were all very excited that we were able to capitalize on this game. We all knew what we had to do today; we knew it was going to be a battle,” Sass said after the win. “Connecticut is definitely a strong team and we knew that they were going to come in ready to go.”
The Whale took their first and only lead of the game with a shorthanded goal late in the second period, but Sass didn’t let that, or anything else on the day, phase her one bit. “As a goalie, you try to put things behind you. Honestly, your only job is to stop the puck. So that makes things a little bit easier, you just keep reminding yourself: alright, next shot.”
“We kept it interesting for sure,” said Sass. “As a goalie, you just have to focus on the puck, and never take your eyes off the puck. I felt confident (all game long).”
She doesn’t know when she’ll get another start. Last season she only got one (also a win over the Whale, 3-2 in overtime in Connecticut), and that may be the case again this season. “I don’t (know when I’ll play again). You have to make the most of your opportunities and I’m just glad I could give the team an opportunity to win today.”
But you can bet that she’ll be ready if called upon again to tend goal this season. When the game was on the line in the tie-breaking shootout, Sass came up aces, stopping the Whale shooters one after the other. Some doubters may have thought this is where she’d falter finally, one-on-one against some of the opposition’s most dangerous players. Not so fast, my friends.
“I think the strongest part of my game, I’ve worked for many years on skating and challenging the shooter, taking away the angle. I actually enjoy (facing) breakaways,” said a smiling Sass, reminiscing about her shootout saves. “You have the make the most of your opportunities and I’m just glad I could give the team an opportunity to win today.”
“The first two shooters (Katerina Mrázová, Michelle Löwenhielm), coach Randy reminded us of those two players specifically before the game — to be ready and watch out for them. I actually played with Jordan Brickner at Colgate for a few years, so I kind of had an idea of her tendencies. It was really just watching the puck, and being patient.”
Finally, after the win that was a long time coming for the Riveters goalie, she got to post a new #KimCode on Twitter. How excited was she to post an emoji-filled tweet celebrating her team’s come-from-behind win?
“Very excited!” Sass proclaimed. “I’m following (New Jersey Devils goaltender) Keith Kinkaid’s way of doing things and he only tweets after wins so this is exciting!”