The 2021 National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) bubble has arrived, and so have the Metropolitan Riveters. In their first two games at Herb Brooks Arena, the team beat the brand new Toronto Six 3-0 and Connecticut Whale 4-3 for an undefeated record going into their other three regular-season games.
They hit the ice and immediately took off, and soon after came the goals. The Rivs are now a stacked team at the top of the NWHL standings with a whole lot of drive. Twelve different players collected at least a point in just those two games, but defenseman Leila Kilduff led the team with two goals and an assist. Everyone is contributing, and the team looks better overall, heading into the harder part of their schedule.
Game One: Shelly’s Shutout and Kilduff’s Pair of Goals
This game against the Six was the perfect way to start off the first game played in Lake Placid. Goaltender Sonjia Shelly earned a shut out in her first game with the Riveters while raking up 40 saves in the process. She was great in net from start to finish and helped prove that the team’s goaltending has a whole new look with promising play.
Kilduff was the star of this game with her two goals. She put the Riveters on the board first just over a minute into the game, and then again at the end of the first. In one game, she scored half the goals she had in 22 games last season.
Her netting the puck so quickly gave the Metro early motivation and the push they needed for a successful game. Obviously, no one knew what Toronto was going to look like as this was their first game in the NWHL, so setting the tone early was a big plus for the Riveters.
Despite Six goalie Elaine Chuli letting one past her early, the team looked pretty good for their first time on the ice. There was a lot of play in the Riveters zone in the first and some good chances for them to score, but the shots stayed pretty even that period, and they went into the second up by two.
Halfway into the second, forward Kelly Babstock kept the puck from sliding over the goal line after it got through Shelly, the closest Toronto got to scoring. The Riveters showed their presence and shutdown the Six’s defense with shots in this period from defenseman Rebecca Morse, forward Kendall Cornine, and captain Madison Packer. No goals were scored in the period, but the Riveters kept their opponent from sneaking up on their 2-0 lead.
Although Toronto outshot the Riveters 14-5 and 13-4 in the second and third, the team’s defense kept strong throughout. You would have thought the shots were the other way around. It was a team effort to keep the lead as Shelly stayed perfect in net, and the offense kept trying to get shots off. Forward Emily Janiga topped off their lead with an empty-net goal at the end of the third, her first as a Riveter and the team secured their first win of the 2021 season. It was a great effort by both teams, but the Metro came out on top when it came to getting through the defense and netting goals.
Game 2: A Close One Until Knutson Sealed the Deal
Their next bubble opponent was the Whale, who they always went back and forth with last season. Goalie Tera Hofmann had her first NWHL start and first NWHL win in this one and played just as good as Shelly did the day before.
Forward Mallory Rushton netted her first goal of the season five minutes into the first and soon came a goal from alternate captain and center Cailey Hutchison. Cornine got her first point of the season on Rushton’s goal, while Kilduff raked up her third point of the weekend with the secondary assist. First-round draft pick and highly anticipated player Saroya Tinker got her first NWHL point on Hutchison’s goal, and forward Brooke Avery collected her first point of the season with the other assists.
As you can tell, a lot of good stuff happened in those first few minutes for the Riveters, but Connecticut clapped back with two goals seven minutes apart in the first to tie it up going into the second. Hofmann was a wall in this period and made some exceptional saves.
Rebecca Russo welcomed herself back to the NWHL with a power play goal under five minutes into the second period, putting her team up 3-2. As the game went on, it stayed pretty even, both teams were getting chances, and both were able to score. The Whale did change goalies in this period, but it did not change much in the game.
It was even again going into the third, as Whale forward Kaycie Anderson tied the game towards the end of the second. Hofmann continued to stay strong in net, and then forward Theresa Knutson scored an unassisted goal at 5:30 to put the Riveters on top, her first NWHL goal. The period continued to have back and forth action, but the Whale could not get one more past Hofmann, and the Riveters came out on top 4-3.
Takeaways And Wrapping Up The First Two
The Riveters’ goaltending was exceptional this past weekend. Shelly and Hofmann set an excellent precedent for the rest of the season in net with a combined 76 saves.
Kilduff is really starting to cement her place with this team. Her offensive effort and three points make her one of the Riveters’ top defenseman next to Morse.
You can tell Rushton wants to step up this season. Her effort has been noticeably good, and getting that first goal was an important one to move forward and have her best season yet.
Hutchison also looks great. She continues to prove that she is a consistent center when it comes to winning face-offs and is an essential part of this team.
Babstock is already proving she is one of the best in the league with her two assists. She was a great add in the offseason and will bring a lot to this team.
The Metro face off against the Minnesota Whitecaps at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time tonight for their third of five regular-season games in the bubble. They are looking to keep the momentum from those first two games after a day off and be able to overcome the only other team that has not lost a game yet. Minnesota is a tough team, but if the Riveters play like they did this weekend, a win will not be far off.
Sam is currently Managing Editor, and used to be Sports Editor, of The Montclarion, Montclair State University’s student-run multimedia newspaper. She’ll be earning her Sports Media and Journalism degree from there in Spring 2021. A hockey fan since she was a young girl, she covers the Montclair State men’s team as well as the Metropolitan Riveters and New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers.