Sunday afternoon, the Riveters held their free agent camp drawing close to twenty hopefuls to RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark. Head Coach Ivo Mocek and former Riveter Michelle Picard led the proceedings that consisted of a variety of drills and a long scrimmage at the end.
Riveters General Manager Anya Packer explained afterward how many spots were available:
“We should never be at 75% capacity especially in June so I’d say we’re probably more at 10% capacity so there’s certainly room to grow…we’re looking at a line or a line and a half here.
With two drafts and free agency underway Packer noted that the camp had a multifaceted purpose when it came to evaluation. Packer also noted that Mocek is the Director of Player Personnel so the decision making on the player choices will largely reside in his hands though not without her involvement: “He’s the one that talks about all things player related and then I plug in for the business side so everything that gets to like cap management or we’ll have our internal debates than spit out to let him make the final decision.”
Mocek post camp said his goal was to look for depth. He was searching for “players who could fit into our style of play, and our mentality and culture we’re creating here. And help us, like we’d had last season, four solid lines.”
The Riveters Coach, though he noted he knew it was a cliché, stressed that he’s “always looking for not the best players, the right players.” But at the same time he was limited by the territory the team plays in and that Minnesota and Boston have larger talent pools to draw from: “Those players we get here, I don’t want to call it a battle, it’s hard work for us to get the players.“
Most of the players in attendance had experience with the NWHL or CWHL, though a few were either from professional leagues overseas or had yet to play in a professional setting. Of the newer players Nora Maclaine was quite noticeable moving the puck. The fairly recent University of Connecticut alum played over with the Perth Inferno in the AWIHL in the 19-20 season.
Romana Košecká, whom Spencer Fascetta of Pride Diehards identified as eligible for the
NWHL’s International Draft, moved the puck fast during the several drills and stood out as well. She’s averaged nearly a point a game the last two seasons according to Elite Prospects while playing in Division 1 in Sweden and the EWHL With her appearance at Whale camp the day before it’s possible she is auditioning for as many teams as possible prior to the draft. Of the more experienced players, Hayley Williams had attracted a lot of attention on her return. The former member of the Beauts, Furies, and Thunder had been overseas in the Russian league and just recently the EWHL With KMH Budapest she had put up 31 points in just 15 games of the regular season. On the ice she was another noticeable player.
Iveta Klimášová appears to be looking for a new home other than Buffalo. Last year her
numbers did not approach the great year she had before in powder blue. She unsurprisingly though seemed to be moving the puck well in the drills. She also appeared at Whale camp the prior day.
Kayla Meneghin’s talents remained on display as the former Whale and Beauts player known for offense was very obvious during the camp. She also scored a goal in scrimmage. Another goal scorer in the scrimmage, Courtney Turner, the former Worcester and Boston Blades player, also recently was in the PWHPA.
Haley Frade emerged in later drills. She played at Providence in the early 20-teens and had a cup of coffee with the Riveters in 19-20.
Madison Packer and Rebecca Morse were on hand as well to help provide a measuring point against which to compare the camp prospects. They also managed to have some one on one battles of their own in various encounters. Packer did not hold back in the camp, though of course why would she?
On the goaltending side, Tera Hoffman, Sonjia Shelly, Jessica Strack, and Cassandra
Goyette spent time in the pipes. Shelly and Hoffman were on the Riveters goaltending battery last season, while Goyette was on the Whale two years ago. Strack after time at Franklin Pierce was in the PWHPA before her appearance in Newark. All four goaltenders appeared to be performing ably throughout.
Off the ice Meneghin and Shelly unfortunately have been associated with Barstool Sports including attending a Barstool hockey event recently. Barstool’s Dave Portnoy a few month’s ago said that Riveters player Saroya Tinker should be jailed for criticizing the site, and Barstool personalities and fans have attacked the league and its fans.
For those interested in the drills themselves, they included some standard passing and shooting drills, breakaways, and the like, but Mocek also added in one where two players skate for a puck passed into center ice. The player that reaches it first must break in on goal, while the other has to try to catch up and defend. It was a fascinating test of the goaltender and the two players.
Mocek also at one point asked for the nets to be placed at the blue lines and had the players play a four on four scrimmage between. This led to some joyous chaos, but it also meant the goalies would change on the fly.
In the post camp availability I asked Anya Packer about how her team history shaped how she was constructing her team culture and she provided this insightful answer:
“For me, I always had the most fun on a team that was a moral team that I could believe in and that I was proud of. We always find that in sports, [recorder ate this sentence, she said it was sports is divisive] People are fanatics, they are extreme about everything related to sport. What I want to create with the Riveters is a brand that I would be a fanatic for, that I would be extreme about. That starts with signing players I believe in. Signing players that have the ties that believe in the community. That are willing to work hard. That understand the intricacies of the world that we live in right now and know as we shift our dynamic to fit…I take actually a lot out of the New Jersey/New York Gotham’s book, because I think they’ve done a great job of being inclusive. So building inclusive spaces, having better conversations, having easier to access shops, and things like that are very important. So when I build the ethos of the Riveters this year, it’s that with more morality…there are certainly going to be hurdles. I’m not saying that I could never get away from them in the beginning. I want to try to get a point where we are very proud of the Riveters brand and we’re trending in that direction.”
It will be interesting to see how this figures into player selection as Coach Mocek decides who he wants and those internal debates take place.
Statistics and team information came from Elite Prospects unless otherwise noted.
D.F. Pendrys is a trans non-binary freelance reporter and editor of DFPSports.net.
TXHT will continue to provide NWHL coverage as more signings and news are announced.