Madison Packer’s retirement leaves big hole on Riveters

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy

Only one player in the NWHL scored a game-winning goal against the Boston Pride this year. That player was New York Riveters forward and alternate captain Madison Packer.

When the Riveters needed a goal that night, she delivered.

It was something of a trend of this season, which we learned today was Packer’s last in the NWHL.

Packer’s goal on Feb. 12 was one of the two goals that defined the success and perseverance of the Riveters this season. The other goal came from the stick of Burke to cap off the biggest comeback in NWHL history on Feb. 19. Both goals came on the power play.

New York’s power play came a long way from where it was a year ago. Last season, the Riveters finished with a 13.2 percent success rate on the man advantage; this year New York finished the season at 20.0 percent.

Since the beginning of 2017, the Riveters power play underwent a massive transformation. A healthy Amanda Kessel and the emergence of Courtney Burke as the power play quarterback lifted an inconsistent special teams group to the second best in the NWHL. After the regular season, the Riveters power play trailed the Beauts by just 0.6 percent.

Packer, who finished last season with just three goals and four assists to her name, played a huge role on the Riveters revamped power play.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a player stronger or tougher than Packer in the NWHL. She’s a handful in front of the net. The average height of an NWHL goaltender is 5-foot-7. Packer is 5-foot-9 and fearless — a great combination for a player who parks herself outside the blue paint on the goal line.

Packer is a player who is rarely guilty of trying to do too much, which was not a bad thing to have on a team that had a tendency to get too fancy. There are no “cute” plays in Packer’s game. It’s meat and potatoes hockey, and it was effective.

“Usually teams give Kessel a lot more respect than they’re going to give to me, which is fair,” Packer admitted to the media on Feb. 12. “I can score from the goal line, I can shoot the puck from the goal line. I scored a couple weekends ago like that, I think. Teams aren’t going to respect it and [they will] over-commit to Kessel, that’s fine. We’ll take it.”

Packer’s greatest shortcoming might be her foot speed, but she didn’t need to be quick to be effective on the power play. Her deft hands and crisp passes made her a great fit on the man advantage. More often than not Packer was the Riveters target on special teams, both when she was on the doorstep and when she was in front of the net looking for deflections.

This year Packer became one of the two triggermen on the hottest power play in the NWHL.

The alternate captain may not have matched Bray Ketchum’s single season record of five power-play goals, but she came close. Packer finished the season with four goals on the man advantage- good for second in the NWHL and first on the Riveters. That power play production helped her crush her point total from last year.

The veteran winger embraced her role from day one of training camp and emerged as one of the Riveters most versatile players. Packer was guilty of taking too many minor penalties, but she earned her coach’s trust for a reason. She was a battler killing penalties, and dangerous on the rush with Rebecca Russo and Alexa Gruschow at even strength and on the power play.

This year Packer proved that she brought more to the table than intangibles. In 2015-16, she showed flashes of skill on a team with a severe deficit of talent. This year, with more speed and skill around her, she broke out. At season’s end Packer was second on the Riveters in goals and shots. Only eight NWHL players had more goals this year.

The Riveters may have lost Packer’s last game, but she’s going out on top.

Packer finishes her career with New York third all-time in points. If the NWHL returns next season, the Riveters will be hard-pressed to find a player that will put as much blood, sweat and skill into every shift.

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