Coaches love versatile players. A player they can use in all situations with the utmost confidence that they will get the job done, whatever the job may be. That’s exactly what Chad Wiseman, the coach of the Metropolitan Riveters, has in second-year forward Alexa Gruschow. He can use her to win face-offs, kill penalties, or on either of his power play units and more often than not she is going to excel in those crucial situations.
While some of the other players on the Riveters may get more attention or accolades, it very well may be Gruschow who is the most valuable piece in the team’s lineup. “She’s someone who’s going to take on a lot more responsibility this year, I thought she did a really good job last year in her first season,” Wiseman said, “and didn’t have as much responsibility, she played more second, third line positions, second power play. This year she’s one of those players who’s going to be on the first unit, she’s going to kill penalties. She’s probably going to eat up 22 or 23 minutes of ice-time.”
“She just…she’s a leader. She doesn’t have an ‘A’ on her jersey but she’s a leader, she does everything well. She really does. She makes good decisions all the time and she just comes to the rink and competes,” the third-year coach of the Riveters said. “She’s definitely somebody that’s going to be a top, if not one of the best overall players in this league. She just does everything really well.”
Last season Gruschow finished with 10 points (2g-8a) in 18 games (in addition she was seventh in the NWHL in blocked shots, and won the third-most face-offs) and in the season opener she already racked up a goal and an assist right smack dab in the middle of the Riveters to a 4-1 win over the Boston Pride.
— Women's Sports Highlights (@WSportHilites) October 28, 2017
Gruschow, Miye D’Oench, and Harrison Browne each recorded a goal and an assist to lead the offensive charge as the Rivs became the first team in league history to beat the Pride in consecutive games.
Gruschow’s Great Effort
Her most important play in the game won’t show up on any scoresheet though. With under five minutes to play and a 3-1 lead the Riveters were on a power play and suddenly Boston’s Emily Field was on a shorthanded breakaway. Gruschow busted her tail to backcheck and broke up the play with a diving poke check, followed by her crashing into the goal post.
“That’s the post,” said a grinning Gruschow as she showed the media a welt on her lower forearm during her post-game comments. “How it feels (to break up a play like that) you can even compare it to scoring a goal. It’s just as much of an adrenaline rush. That team support means just as much as if you put a puck in the back of the net. Essentially I could have been saving a puck from going in our net, you never know.”
“I appreciated my teammates being very vocal about it, and making sure I’m okay,” she added with a laugh. “I did hit the post with full speed.” That’s the type of player Gruschow is. That’s why she’s so valuable to the Riveters. That’s why she’s an important figure in the structure and the fabric of what the NWHL is all about. And that’s why she’s perfect for the identity and culture that Wiseman has built and is building with the Riveters.
To amplify the Riveters performance in the opener, the game was on the New Jersey Devils ice and the first game of their partnership was a rousing success for all involved — even more so because it was a win. “I had a lot of fun (today), I think the whole team did,” she said. “We were so pumped up and excited about this game. It was a different feeling in the locker room than in the preseason games. We were just ready to go, ready to just get out there and go 100%.”
The partnership and that game were a huge first step for making women’s hockey a more visible product, and hopefully the first of many dominoes falling in other partnerships around the league with NWHL teams.
“The defense was tight. All three lines. Special teams. Fitzy (Katie Fitzgerald) played un-real, stood on her head. We were excited to be in this rink and the meaning behind being in this rink. To look up and see all of those fans behind our bench, it was just a really good feeling,” Gruschow added while still unable to stop smiling. “I think it definitely had our adrenaline pumping, that’s for sure.”
Wiseman, Gruschow and all of the Rivs are hoping that this win – the first time the franchise has won its first game of the season – is a springboard to a successful season going forward in the revamped NWHL. “Definitely, definitely, definitely a good start to the season,” said the 23-year-old RPI grad. “Definitely starting off on the right foot.”
That’s four definitely’s. So you know it’s good!
“We knew what we had to do (against Boston), and we went out there and did it,” she said. “We worked together but each person had their own role today and they accomplished it and went full effort. It’s a good starting point for us for not only the rest of the season but for also when we face the Pride (again) as well.”
— Bryan Vines (@VinesBryan) September 23, 2017
*This NWHL season I’ll be teaming up with Alexa Gruschow — for every point that she scores I’ll be donating $10 to the charity of her choice and she’s agreed to match my donations. This past summer Kirsten Iwanski, a sophomore on the RPI women’s hockey team was diagnosed with brain cancer & had surgery to remove a tumor.
At RPI they started a campaign selling WanStrong bracelets on campus with the proceeds going to the Cancer Care of Marquette in Michigan where Kirsten is currently undergoing treatments.
You can donate directly to the facility that Kirsten is receiving treatment at on Venmo: Wanstrong RPIWH.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.