The New York Riveters went 2-0-1 in November and clawed their way into second place in the standings. The team’s rookies are stepping up and excelling in the fast and physical world of professional women’s hockey. And no Riveters rookie has made a bigger impact than undrafted forward Rebecca Russo.
Earlier in the season, the bulk of the Riveters’ offense was being generated by Miye D’Oench. D’Oench had three goals in the Riveters’ first four games. Which accounted for one-third of the team’s goals through the first six weeks of the season. But thanks to Russo’s outstanding November (five points in three games) she has overtaken D’Oench for the team lead in points.
The Riveters are finally rolling and creating offense at even strength and Russo’s play is a big reason why. She trails only Connecticut rookie Haley Skarupa for the league lead in primary points at even strength. Russo is making things happen.
Alexa Gruschow, Madison Packer and Russo currently make up the Riveters’ top line. The trio plays outstanding two-way hockey and have found a way to take apart defenses in the transition game. They have scored four of the Riveters’ last six even strength goals. And Russo has primary points on all four of them.
“Coach [Chad Wiseman] was throwing a bunch of us out there in the beginning,” Russo shared after the Riveters’ 4-0 over the Whale on November 20th. “Now that I’m with Packer and Alexa [Gruschow] I think that we started to gel last weekend in Buffalo. We finally put up some goals as a line.
“Jelling is the most important thing in hockey,” Russo continued. “If you can’t jell with your linemates you’re not going to score goals. I think that chemistry is finally coming together for us.”
Russo has been the sparkplug of that new top line. She is a heart-and-soul winger with quick feet and a nose for the net. She’s the kind of player that hustles just as hard on the backcheck as she does for a chance at a breakaway.
Russo’s boundless energy is evident both on and off the ice. And it has proven infectious both to her teammates and to the faithful fans at the Barnabas Hockey House in Newark.
At Boston University Russo scored 38 points in 39 games as a senior. She finished third on BU and tied for 26th in the nation in scoring. She was a key cog in the Terrier’s quick, deep group of forwards last year. And this season she has proven to be a perfect fit both for Wiseman’s systems and for her linemates.
“It feels really good to put up the points, but you can’t really do that without the help of your linemates and teammates,” Russo said while wearing the team’s ‘Best Riveter of the Game’ hat after the team’s first shutout in franchise history. “I think that stems from what we’ve been talking about in the locker room lately as a line with me, Alexa and Packer.
“I can’t get those goals without the passes from Packer.”
Russo’s quickness makes her a lethal player in the transition game on that top line. Gruschow quietly excels at creating space and doing all of the little things right. And although Packer is quick to admit she isn’t as fast as her rookie linemates, her strength and vision make her a versatile and effective power forward.
It might not be the top line that Riveters’ fans were expecting after the Amanda Kessel signing, but the trio’s production has been as critical as it has been surprising.
The promise of winning hockey that surrounded the Riveters during the offseason went up in smoke after their 0-3-0 start. But the team’s growing chemistry and confidence in November is turning things around.
The team’s new top line, fueled by Russo’s verve, has fans talking about the Riveters as the second-best team in the NWHL for the first time in a long time.