With the official start of the NWHL’s season came the first professional game for a whole new crop of players on the New York Riveters. National team players Milica McMillen and Amanda Kessel were among those added to the ranks of the Riveters. Both were excited to step foot on the ice for their first hockey game as professional players; nerves played a part.
Some, however, were more jittery than others.
“I was, of course, nervous,” McMillen chuckled. “And I was starting, too, so that was even more nerve-wracking but it was a lot of fun. We watched [the game] last night and it was a lot of fun to watch. Then you get out there and it’s way faster than even it looks,” she said, widening her eyes and leaning away from an invisible speeding hockey player.
“Eh, not really,” Kessel said when asked about nerves. An Olympic silver medalist, Kessel is accustomed to high-stakes competition. “I think maybe more just jitters that were excitement. It’s a lot of fun, having opening weekend and getting the season going.”
As a Riveter, Kessel faced off against a number of her erstwhile Team USA teammates, an experience she relished and not just for the stiff competition they would provide. She saw this as an opportunity to improve her own game.
“I was excited and it was a lot of fun to play them,” Kessel grinned. “I [usually] play with them and I don’t really know how it is to play against them. I think it was pretty cool to play against them and learn what they do well and what I can better against them.”
While Kessel was able to find a bright spot in the loss, New York still has farther to go if it is to strip the Pride of its title of Isobel Cup champions.
Riveters coach Chad Wiseman pointed to Kessel as someone he hopes will be a leader in the dressing room and on the ice, one of the reasons why she was awarded an A in her rookie season.
“She hasn’t disappointed since day one,” Wiseman said. “Her ability, you can’t miss it out there. She brings that work ethic to practice and that commitment and the players look up to her. They see her going to the net and pushing the pace in practice and it makes our team better.”
Wiseman readily admitted to noting flaws in New York’s game Saturday night, namely the four-minute stretch in the second where the offense broke away from the defense and left them without much support. New York seemed to forgo its systems-based play in favor of a game of shinny, as Wiseman said, which resulted in several turnovers and a handful of goals for Boston.
“We can’t afford to have any mental lapses,” Wiseman said after the game. “We had four minutes in the second period and that was the game.”
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While the play itself out of New York was choppy, several of its newest players proved to be contributors, regardless of the game’s outcome.
Kessel, for one, racked up a pair assists and disrupted Boston’s plays smoothly and routinely in their own zone, creating a number of offensive opportunities, even if she didn’t notch a goal herself. So Jung Shin, the Riveters’ first-string netminder, might have allowed five goals but the barrage of shots she faced was high-danger; her composure in the face of so much traffic and so many shots was impressive.
Even the defense enjoyed a moment of offensive glory when McMillen scored in the third with a slap from the point, which wended its way through traffic and found the back of Brittany Ott’s net.
“I didn’t even know I scored,” McMillen exclaimed. “It was a delayed celebration. It was pretty awesome, especially getting a puck from Kessel. I’m just so used to that; it’s the only reason I score,” she said, jokingly. “But getting a puck from her and the puck going in, it was definitely unreal.”
New York’s players are still working to build chemistry and cohesion amongst themselves. It’s early yet in the season but every game is one more step towards the potential team Wiseman envisioned when he signed players to this roster.
“We definitely came together as the game went on. We learned not to give up so many goals, hopefully,” McMillen joked. “We just played the number-one team and they’re amazing, so I’m just glad we got a game under our belt.”
“I think it’s just early in the season,” Kessel said. “I think we got a little too comfortable; a 1-1 game against the defending champs and we thought we were okay there. It’s something we can learn from as the season goes on.”