As the NWHL prepares for its third season, it does so riding a tremendous wave of momentum. Starting with a sensational live streaming deal with Twitter, highlighted by a Game of the Week, plus the introduction of neutral site games, along with signing the Declaration of Principles, it only scratched the surface for such an eventful and meaningful offseason.
A remarkable brand makeover for the Boston Pride, plus Hayley Moore adding solid leadership as the leagues Deputy Commissioner, it has all helped to set a very positive tone. With such remarkable progress, the budding league enjoys the chance to be part of another great chapter for professional womens ice hockey in the United States.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils have formed a partnership with the Metropolitan Riveters. Aimed at supporting the growth of the NWHL, along with raising awareness of girls and women’s hockey in the Metropolitan Area, it signifies the first time in NHL history that a team has engaged in such an allegiance with one of the NWHL’s founding franchises.
Boasting one of the most popular logos in all of professional sports, the franchise spent their first two seasons known as the “New York” Riveters. After relocation in August 2016 from the Aviator Sports Center in Brooklyn to the Barnabas Health House in Newark, New Jersey, also the practice facility of the Devils, this tremendous partnership only accentuates the Riveters presence in the Garden State.
Emphasizing the impact of this next step in the evolution of the franchise, and subsequently the league, the franchise has dropped New York in favor of Metropolitan, representing the scope of its geographical reach. In addition, the Riveters shall adopt the Devils’ colors, with a new uniform to be unveiled before the season opener. Another aspect of the partnership is that the Riveters shall benefit from marketing and cross-promotion on multiple platforms, enhancing their digital and social media fingerprint.
Of note, the inaugural Isobel Cup Finals in 2016 were also held at Barnabas, where the Boston Pride became the first-ever team to capture the championship. During the Riveters inaugural season (2016-17) at Barnabas, it would add to the facility’s sense of magic, as Katie Fitzgerald backstopped the club to a 4-0 blanking of the Connecticut Whale, as the 28 save effort resulted in the first shutout in franchise history.
Finishing the 2016-17 season as the NWHL’s Goaltender of the Year, she joined team captain Ashley “Stretch” Johnston as the first players in franchise history to win major awards. Johnston, who would join Fitzgerald as competitors in the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game, the first professional women’s hockey game held in Pittsburgh, captured the Denna Laing Persverance Award.
As the team captain, Johnston is not only one of the teams most influential players; she is a fan favorite and undoubtedly, one of the leagues ambassadors. Prior to competing with the Riveters, Johnston, who was raised in the Greater Toronto Area, had already competed in New York State, competing at the NCAA level with Schenectady’s Union Dutchwomen.
Majoring in Mechanical Engineering, Johnston was a multiple ECAC All-Academic Team selection and captured the program’s Award for Community Service and Outreach, along with being named a candidate for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Prior to the Riveters’ inaugural season, she had also served as a volunteer assistant coach for the program, testament to her strong leadership.
As a charter member of the Riveters, Johnston, who was also featured in the New York Post last season, her commitment to the franchise is tremendous. Working in Albany, New York, which was once home to the River Rats, the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate that captured the 1995 Calder Cup, her perseverance represents the potential for the women of the Riveters and the NWHL to capture the imagination of hockey fans,
“There has been a lot of hard work to bring women’s hockey to this historic milestone where we’re seeing the first partnership between an NHL team and an NWHL team. I am excited for the Riveters to start a new chapter with the New Jersey Devils and hope this acts as a catalyst for other NHL teams to support NWHL teams in their respective markets. Thank you to all of our fans and incredible supporters. You have all helped propel women’s hockey into the national headlines today.”
Commemorating this exciting partnership includes a series of unique events. As the weekend of October 7-8 represents Girls Hockey Weekend, the Riveters and over 60 girls from the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) shall be in attendance at Prudential Centre, the home of the New Jersey Devils, as they welcome the Colorado Avalanche, the team they faced in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals. Afterwards, the Riveters and the AAHA players shall take to the ice for a skating clinic.
Before the month of October comes to a close, another exciting milestone shall take place for the Riveters as a doubleheader will take place at Prudential Center. To be held on Saturday, October 28, the Riveters will host their season opener against the Boston Pride at 1:30 pm. Later that day, the Devils shall welcome the Arizona Coyotes.
Season ticket holders for the Riveters will also receive tickets to see the Devils in action against the visiting Coyotes, while Devils season ticket holders shall be have their seats reserved to see the Riveters in action. Worth noting, this shall be the first NWHL regular season game to be contested in an NHL arena.
For Johnston, the chance to be able to part of such a historic moment is one that brings with it tremendous meaning. Skating alongside her fellow Riveters, there shall be a shared sense of meaning, one which will also add another chapter to the lore of the Boston Pride, whose Isobel Cup triumph achieved in New Jersey, shall come full circle. More importantly, this event is one that shall affirm the status of Johnston and her peers in the NWHL as major league athletes, and major league people.
“It is going to be an incredible experience for the entire team, and a giant step for the NWHL and women’s hockey, to be part of an NWHL-NHL doubleheader. We have a lot of players that are from the area, but having any NHL team partner with you is a huge deal. I personally did not grow up a Devils fan, but yeah, now I can definitely call myself a Devils fan, just because what they are doing is so monumental.”
As anticipation builds for the opening faceoff at Prudential Center, creating tremendous buzz in the hockey community, it provides Fitzgerald with a monumental feeling of motivation. Making her mark as the first St. Cloud State Huskies alum in league history, the opportunity to stand between the pipes in a venue where Devils’ immortal Martin Brodeur, the all-time winningest goalie in NHL history, once dominated, there is an opportunity for a unique parallel.
During Brodeur’s first season (1993-94) with the Devils, he was recognized as the recipient of the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, Brodeur backstopped the Devils to their first-ever Stanley Cup one year later. Taking into account that Fitzgerald gathered some hockey hardware following a sensational rookie campaign with the Riveters, she is hoping to mirror Brodeur’s success, by leading the Riveters to their first-ever Isobel Cup this season.
“It is special for the players that played here and grew up in this area, that went through the programs that are now being coached by some of the Riveters. Tying back to your roots like that is always special and makes it even cooler to be at the professional level where we are at.
I did not grow up in the area but I was always a huge Martin Brodeur fan. His FatHead (poster) is still on my door, so it is pretty cool. It is a big moment, and like Stretch said, to have any NHL team back our team like this is huge.
We were all kind of hoping for it, but I think we were not really sure. Looking at the big picture and how long it would take for an NHL team to back our league, I think a lot of us were not sure it would happen in our playing time. But were all very excited that it happened this quickly and that we get to be a part of it.
Playing in Brodeur’s crease will definitely cross my mind for the first game, especially in warmups. Your eyes are settling in, you get the feel for the ice and the boards, and all that stuff. But once the puck drops I think it will be all business, and I think it will be such a special moment not only for us, but also for the Boston Pride.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Acknowledgements: Chris Botta