It took a bit longer than she probably would have liked, but Gabie Figueroa and her New York Riveters finally notched the franchise’s first ever win – four games into the season. Besides that huge obvious reason, and the other obvious reason that winning is better than losing, the win maybe had a little more meaning because the Boston Pride had thumped the Riveters 7-1 in their previous encounter. “They were 3-0; and, we lost to them 7-1 last time (we played),” Figueroa said to The Hockey Writers with a slight grin. “Yeah, it does (feel good).”
On paper, one might think that the Pride have an advantage over the Rivs, understandable or not, with such well-known players like Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker; something that wasn’t lost on Figueroa following the win. “It’s really exciting because they (Boston) just came back from the Four Nations tournament; there’s fifteen skaters on their team — eight of them were at that tournament — and none of us were. So it’s really gratifying knowing that us, as a team, could do that collectively.” It was the definition of a team win as both coach Chad Wiseman and Figueroa told THW following the 3-2 victory.
— Gabriella Figueroa (@GabieFigueroa) November 12, 2015
“They’re a fast hockey team, which forces our team to make quicker decisions,” explained Wiseman. “We battled hard, blocked shots, we put our bodies in front of pucks.” It was also his first win as a coach, coming off a thirteen-year (mostly AHL) pro career in which he only saw action in nine NHL games. “There’s a lot of character in our room and the girls have just bought into what we’re trying to do here. We’re not a group of individuals — we’ve got a group of hard working, good character players,” he said. They’re buying into the system and they are bringing a good work ethic and a good attitude to the rink everyday —and it shows every game. Last game against Connecticut I thought we played a great game and deserved to win that as well.”
A RIVETING WIN
Figueroa almost echoed those words, in less words. “The first win (is) really, really exciting. The best part about our team is that we have no egos on our team; we’re one team and everybody is happy for everybody. We don’t have any selfish players, it was a total team win.” In their first three games New York only had five active defensemen on their roster, making it difficult to have all players out there in an even rotation of ice-time. But that changed in game no. 4 for the Riveters, and it showed on the ice as they not only scored more than one goal in a game for the first time in team history, but the also had their first lead in franchise history as well.
“Amber Moore is technically a practice player, but she’s been able to suit up with us, so we actually have six defensemen (tonight); she’s been great for us,” Figueroa told THW. “Syd the Kidd, Sydney Kidd just got her visa through from Canada, and this was her first game here. Up until tonight we were playing with five defensemen.” The first-year coach also agreed that it was a nice luxury to be able to have a full complement of blueliners at his disposal in a game that saw each team take seven minor penalties each. “It did (make a difference having six defensemen, rather than five), we had Kidd back there, and Moore; so we were able to rotate a little more than we usually do. It definitely helped, especially when you are on the PK a lot; it’s pretty tiring for the four D.”
— Syd Kidd (@SydtheKidd4) November 12, 2015
The game didn’t come without some drama though, as Figueroa took a late penalty that the Pride capitalized on and cut the deficit from 3-1 to 3-2 with under thirty seconds left in regulation. “Fortunately we still had a 3-2 lead; I felt confident in my team,” she said. “I definitely, felt a little guilty sitting in the penalty box. I feel better that we got the win,” she added with a smile. A big reason for the team win was also their goalie, Nana Fujimoto, who’s 42 saves not only backstopped the victory – but also captured the NWHL player of the week honor. An honor that Figueroa almost prophesied afterwards in the locker room: “Nana played phenomenal tonight. She’s a really, really good goalie; she deserves all of the credit she’s going to get after this (game).”
And the Player of the Week is… @NanaFujimoto33!
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 17, 2015
Wiseman, again, was on the same page with his player. “She had 42 saves; the first period she was a little shaky off the start with that one that went in, but man — she battled back and she was a big part of that win tonight.” He also admitted to THW that he wasn’t sure what to expect, as this game was the first time that this group of girls had a lead in a game, but he was definitely pleased with what unfolded. “Yeah. That was a minor concern that – we hadn’t played with the lead yet. So coming in after the first (period) and after the second…the pressure starts to build and I thought we handled it really, really well. We played like a team in the third that has been winning a lot of games, so that was nice to see.”
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD
Like a lot of players in the inaugural NWHL season, Figueroa also has a day job; in fact she has two as a Project Engineer and a Real Estate Agent. “I’m just really busy. I know how to get my work done efficiently, I can’t procrastinate; I can’t afford to. It’s fun, and tiring. But it’s all worth it, especially getting win like today. It’s really rewarding and it’s a really fun team to be around,” she told THW. Given the chance to choose from the Founding Four teams, this was the perfect situation for her — a Jersey girl who was and is living and working in Manhattan and the Bronx. “For me because I was already living in New York, I really wanted to be on the New York team – just because I didn’t have to relocate and I could continue with my day job. I’m from (Branchburg) New Jersey, so I probably had at least twenty people in the stands tonight, my family and a lot of friends.” She grew up a New Jersey Devils fan, but since moving to Manhattan she also roots for the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, noting it would be cool to see the Stanley Cup in the Metro Area again.
“A lot of us all played Division I college hockey. I definitely learned more from my hockey experience in college (at Princeton) than I did from studying structural engineering, because of the real life experiences that you deal with — time management, being yelled at by coaches,” she said smiling, “and working together with your teammates. Time management especially — we’re full-time students, we play hockey almost every day, work out, video sessions, have Sundays off, play two games on Friday and Saturday. I’m used to the grind (because of that experience). I graduated in 2014 and was working for a building company last year — I thought I had a lot of free time — so I went and got my real estate license and started picking that up. Then this came up and I couldn’t pass on it because I missed playing the game.”
LIVING THE DREAM
The reality that she is a professional hockey player, and gets paid to play the game she loves is slowly sinking in, but not totally just yet. “It’s still a little surreal (being a pro). It’s really fun. We’re really, really lucky to be given this opportunity. Dani Rylan is the commissioner of this league (and New York’s GM)…she started this league in a year. It’s amazing how much she has done in a year. To be honest I had a lot of doubts, about the league at first, just because it was so new; and I can’t believe how successful it has been.” She paused for a moment, slightly shook her head and finally added smiling, “we have a lot of fans at our games, there’s a lot of stuff on social media – about us.” But that doesn’t mean that the 23-year-old Princeton grad (she was a four-time ECAC All-Academic Team selection for 2010-14) hasn’t lost her perspective, or the values that one of her biggest influences has passed on to her. “My grandfather instilled the hard work (ethic) in me. He said the harder you work, the luckier you get — and I keep finding myself getting lucky with all of the decisions I’ve made…getting to be on this team…it’s all because of hard work.”
With a hard-working team, anything is possible and we certainly wouldn’t bet against Figueroa, nor her teammates, as this season goes on and they continue to grow and set the foundation for truly phenomenal things during the exciting infancy period of the NWHL.
— Scott Charles (@ScottmCharles) November 16, 2015
If the title sounded familiar, we did a similar article on Kyle Palmieri becoming just the second, New Jersey-born player to suit up for the Devils:
Follow Gabie Figueroa on Twitter: @GabieFigueroa
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.