Beginning June 1, NWHL teams can start signing players for the 2018-19 season. For players who have completed their college eligibility and want to continue their hockey careers, the free agency period provides them an opportunity to continue playing at the highest level of professional women’s hockey. The fourth season of the NWHL will begin in October as the Metropolitan Riveters defend their Isobel Cup championship, and with the addition of a fifth team – the Minnesota Whitecaps – as well as the inclusion of players who participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics, this very well could be the most competitive season yet.
My colleague Nathaniel Oliver will keep THW readers up-to-date on Boston and Buffalo’s signings throughout the summer, while I post updates on Connecticut and the Riveters. Together we will collaborate to keep readers informed of all of Minnesota’s signings.
Rebecca Russo is one of the most popular players in the league. Last season, she finished fourth among all players in apparel sales. Russo’s Riveters jersey and t-shirts are available at https://t.co/6O9pjTbqGT pic.twitter.com/CRJIto9lwI
— Metropolitan Riveters (@Riveters) July 25, 2018
On July 25 Rebecca Russo, another crucial piece of the Riveters championship core, re-signed for the upcoming season as they try to become the first NWHL team to win back-to-back Isobel Cups. The 24-year-old talented winger is one of the faces of the league, has been an All-Star in both seasons as a pro, and tied for second in the league in goals (9) last season in addition to finishing in a three-way tie for the league lead in power-play goals (4).
“The Riveters have a special thing going where a lot of our teammates have returned season after season,” Russo said in the league’s press release announcing her signing. “Throughout the last three years we continue to have over half of our team return, so yes, we can battle the others and will defend our title proudly for the upcoming season. We have amazing chemistry both on and off the ice and I look forward to getting back with the team in October. I’m so excited to have most of the team back and we look forward to having Amanda Kessel return.”
With 33 points (12g-21a) in 34 games over her two NWHL seasons there is no denying her impact on the ice, but that impact also carries over off the ice where she is a fan favorite and that’s evident by the number of youngsters who want to meet her, take a selfie with her, and get her autograph following games. She also won the Fastest Skater at the 2017 NWHL All-Star Weekend in Pittsburgh.
She set the tone in the Rivs’ 5-0 semifinal win over Connecticut with the game-winning goal 64 seconds into the match and an assist on her team’s second goal. It will be interesting this upcoming season to see if the new coach pairs her with the also dynamic Kessel on the same line or spreads the wealth of speed and talent over two lines.
“We call the New Jersey Devils our brothers. They get us whatever we need – whether it’s ice-time, being able to fix our equipment or a simple skate sharpening. They are truly one-of-a-kind, a class act program and I’m so happy they decided to support the growth of women’s hockey and most importantly be our partners and fans,” Russo said of the partnership between the Riveters and Devils that began at the start of last season.
“I love heading to Barnabas for practice and games, and I enjoy heading to the Prudential Center to watch the Devils play. Thank you to the New Jersey Devils for believing in us as players, people, and most importantly as women professional athletes,” she added. “When I joined in 2016, I honestly had no idea what to expect and what the NWHL would turn into. I couldn’t be happier with what it has become. This league is going to be something really big one day, and I can’t wait to look back and say I was part of it at the very beginning.”
Hard to imagine that Russo was undrafted following her fantastic career at Boston University, but every other team’s loss has surely been the Riveters reward. With her signing the team will now have at least ten players returning from their championship team.
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.