NEWARK — Redemption has been something on the minds of the Metropolitan Riveters ever since the Buffalo Beauts knocked them out of the Isobel Cup playoffs last season.
In the second year of the National Women’s Hockey League, the Beauts defeated the Riveters in the 2017 NWHL semifinals. That never did sit well in the minds of head coach Chad Wiseman and his players.
The fire in the eyes of the Riveters burned from the opening drop of the puck but Alexa Gruschow’s incredible acrobatic goal 5:33 into the opening period lit the blaze while Katie Fitzgerald fanned the flames with 28 saves in between the pipes as the Metropolitan’s skated off with the coveted Isobel Cup in a 1-0 victory over the Beauts at the RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark.
“I don’t know how that puck went in when I was falling down,” Gruschow said of the game-winning goal which stood the test of the tilt. “They say words can’t describe it and I’m just ecstatic right now.
“This was just an incredible and unreal moment for all of us,” Gruschow said. “We have worked so hard all season for this moment and to be able to do in front of all our family and friends and to reward them for the support they showed all season was so rewarding. When you get to celebrate a moment like this with your teammates and coaches who worked so hard all year is something you will never forget.”
Gruschow scored the game’s first and only goal five minutes into the opening period when she came flying down the right side of the ice and blasted a shot as she was falling to the ground into the back of the net past the glove side of Beauts’ goaltender Amanda Leveille for her 10th goal of the season.
“I can’t say enough about these girls and how proud I am to be their coach,” coach Wiseman, a former NHL player for the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks, said. “They all earned this — they earned this tonight.”
That was the only strike the Riveters would need thanks to the outstanding play in net from Fitzgerald.
The backbone all season in net for the Riveters having started 16 of their 17 games, Fitzgerald was nothing short of spectacular when her team needed her the most with the ultimate prize on the line.
Fitzgerald stopped all 28 shots the Beauts fired her way and was outstanding during the final few minutes of the third period, steering aside all 11 shots she faced in the final frame to earn the Isobel Cup Most Valuable Player honors.
“Fitzy is rock solid every single game we go out on the ice,” Riveters captain Ashley Johnston said. “She is the backbone of this team and she keeps us in every game. If we ever start panicking she is the one who always calms us down and is always there for reassurance. She is one hell of a goalie and my opinion the best in the league.”
Metropolitan was outshot by Buffalo 28-16, but it was the job of Fitzgerald and the Riveters defense blocking shots down the stretch that led them to championship gold.
The Riveters blocked 14 shots in the game and killed off both Buffalo power plays.
As the final minute ran down, cheers from the Metropolitan faithful chanted, ‘We want the cup. We want the cup’ that brought tears of joy to the Riveter players and staff.
“This team is like a family. We all play for the player next to us and for our fans and that is why this is such an emotional moment,” said Riveters forward Tatiana Rafter. “It’s so amazing for all of us to buy into what the coaches have been saying to us and so rewarding when you put that work in to finally see it pay off.
“Playing a full 60 minutes is what we preach every single game and that is exactly what we did here today,” Rafter said. “To win in the playoffs you need strength in the pipes and there is no one better at that than Katie Fitzgerald. I’ve been with the league for three years now and to hear that this event was sold out today just shows how far this league has come. This was so gratifying today and for the entire league to see the fan base be so supportive for all that we do.”
Buffalo fell short in its attempt to repeat as Isobel Cup champions but held their heads high after posting a 12-5 record and seeing how far the NWHL has come over the past few years.
The Beauts under head coach Tom Draper, a former NHL player with the New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, knocked off the Boston Pride, 3-2, in overtime in the semifinals to reach the cup and were led by Leveille in net, who finished with 15 saves in the championship game to finish out the season with a .918 solid save percentage with two shutouts in 2017-18.
Written by Chris Costa / @ChrisCostaHS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: The Metropolitan Riveters celebrate their 2018 Isobel Cup championship on the ice at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark on March 25. The Riveters defeated the Buffalo Beauts, 1-0. (Chris Costa/HockeyClan)
Images: (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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