NWHL Day 1 Takeaways: Riveters, Whale, Whitecaps ahead early

Watch as Leila Kilduff scores the first goal of NWHL season to put the Metropolitan Riveters up 1-0 on the Toronto Six.

What an opening day in the NWHL bubble.

Minnesota, Metropolitan and Connecticut opened with wins heading into a Day 2 where everyone will be on a back-to-back. Depth is going to be tested for every squad, digging into every part of the roster, including some backup goalie appearances.

Toronto and Boston finish Day 1 at the bottom of the standings without a point, while Buffalo sits between them and the two-point clubs.

Saturday included first career goals, first career shutouts and a whole lot of energy. Here’s some takeaways from Day 1 of the bubble.

Metropolitan Riveters 3, Toronto Six 0

Goals:
MET: Leila Kilduff (2), Emily Janiga

Key takeaway: The Riveters have a ton of skill. Often overlooked with the hype around Boston and Minnesota, perhaps the Riveters’ speed has been lost. Rebecca Russo showed what she can do in her return to the Rivs, and how much their offence can benefit.

Kelly Babstock, already high on all the record charts in the league, made her return to the NWHL in spectacular fashion as well with two primary assists. Of course, Babstock also spent her patented penalty time (six PIMs), ranking third in the league in penalty minutes with 100 after Saturday.

Emily Janiga, also returning to the league after a year away, helped stabilize the Riveters’ top line between Kate Leary and Madison Packer.

“We all know we struggled to find a centre for Packer and Leary last year, we think we found that player in Emily,” head coach Ivo Mocek said after the game.

Her goal came with an assist from Babstock on an empty net, and it’s not going to make her five-on-five metrics look any better, but she has the whole “first goal” thing over with now, at least. She could be a key for a sneaky-deep forward group.

Player of the game — Sonjia Shelly, Metropolitan: The Riveters’ goalie earned her first career shutout in her first game with Metro after starting her career with the Whale. With a 40-save performance, Shelly shut down the expansion Six in her 13th career start.

The Riveters’ defence, led by two goals from Leila Kilduff on the offensive end, held the Six to just 19 shots to aid Shelly, compared to the 40 coming off of Riveters’ sticks.

What’s next: The Six will look for their first franchise goal against Minnesota, and watch for Mikyla Grant-Mentis (9 SOG) to show up hungry. She was arguably the best player on the ice for Toronto on Saturday.

The Rivs have a date with their rival Whale, who are coming off a tiring shootout win against the Beauts. Shelly will be facing her previous club.

Minnesota Whitecaps 2, Boston Pride 1

Goals:
MIN: Jonna Curtis, Winny Brodt Brown
BOS: Christina Putigna

Key takeaway: Minnesota PK vs. Pride power play. What happens when a rock faces a hard place? Apparently no power play goals. Boston’s power play had the best percentage a year ago at 14 per cent, but the Whitecaps’ penalty kill shut them down all game on Saturday.

The Pride had six power play chances with no luck, and against a Whitecaps defence and goalie that has a reputation to shut things down, opponents need to be opportunistic.

The Pride know they have to be better on that end of things, but perhaps the most concerning is a lack of urgency they had in seemingly every game played a year ago.

“Losing felt different, but that won’t last long,” Pride head coach Paul Mara told Sportsnet. “We have a great team and are 100 per cent confident in our players that they (will) respond well.”

Whitecaps head coach Jack Brodt, meanwhile, said after the game he believes it was the best the club has played in two or three years. That’s going to be tough to break, no matter how well the Pride showed up — or, in this case, didn’t.

Player of the game — Amanda Leveille, Minnesota: Last season was Leveille’s best, and perhaps that got buried with the way Pride goalie Lovisa Selander performed as a rookie. On Saturday, though, Leveille showed why she’s still the force to be reckoned with between the pipes.

Leveille stopped 36 shots, many of them high quality and many of them with her Whitecaps a player down in front of her.

If she plays the way she did against the Pride for the rest of the bubble season, well, good luck.

What’s next: Boston has Buffalo, a team that’s become a natural rival with playoff games in three straight seasons, including an Isobel Cup in 2017.

Carly Jackson looked stellar in Buffalo’s net for her league debut, so that’s some tough goalie luck early for the Pride. They’re going to need the likes of McKenna Brand (5 SOG) and Sammy Davis (2 SOG) to perform.

Minnesota matches up with Toronto in the Six’s second game ever. Toronto was shut out by Metro and is surely going to be hungry for its first franchise goal; another challenge for Leveille and Co.

Brodt Brown scored her first NWHL goal at 42 years old, and it was the game winner, to boot. Minnesota already has a ton of positive energy.

Connecticut Whale 2, Buffalo Beauts 1, (shootout)

Goals:
BUF: Kristin Lewicki
CON: Kayla Friesen

Key takeaway: Both rookie goalies, Abbie Ives of the Whale and Carly Jackson of the Beauts, were making their league debuts and proved they’re ready for this level. Jackson has been groomed to be the Buffalo goalie from moment one, and she made 43 saves against an aggressive Whale attack.

Ives, though, was a surprise. Brooke Wojeko was the projected starter for the Whale and will almost certainly start on Sunday for the back-to-back. Ives looked like a seasoned veteran, though, with 24 saves to force overtime.

Player of the game — Kayla Friesen, Connecticut: This could have been Ives earning her first career win in her first game, but, we talked about the goalies.

Connecticut won all of two games last season and struggled to put the puck in the net. This year, there’s been a lot of hope for their offence before Melissa Samoskevich was out, and the Whale are on a mission to replenish it.

Friesen, coming off a career year at Clarkson as a senior, was all over the ice with five shots on goal to lead the Connecticut onslaught against Jackson and the Beauts.

It feels like the Whale offence is going to come from committee, and on Saturday, it was Friesen’s turn, with an assist from fellow rookie Katelynn Russ who nailed down the shootout winner — the lone goal of the shootout.

What’s next: Connecticut will face a feisty Metropolitan team that showed it’s going to play a physical contest. Luckily for the Whale, they got pretty used to that with the brutal physicality the Beauts are accustomed to.

Buffalo lines up against the Pride and they have the misfortune of facing Boston after a loss. Mara and his Pride don’t take losses lightly and are going to come out firing, likely with a lot of adjustments after being shut down by the Whitecaps.

Jackson and her Beauts are going to have to prepare for an onslaught.

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