The Buffalo Beauts had aspirations of becoming the first back-to-back champions in National Women's Hockey League history, but Metropolitan Riveters goalie Katie Fitzgerald squashed those hopes.
Last year's NWHL Goalie of the Year lived up to the billing, as Fitzgerald backstopped the Riveters to a 1-0 Isobel Cup victory Sunday at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, N.J. She made 21 saves and earned Most Valuable Player honors after becoming the first goalie to shut out the Beauts all season.
An impressive individual effort from Riveters forward Alexa Gruschow in the first five minutes led to the only goal of the game. Gruschow, the league's leading point producer in the regular season, had a shot blocked but quickly recollected the puck as she exited the right circle. She tripped, yet still managed to get elevation on a shot while falling to beat Buffalo goalie Amanda Leveille.
— Metro Riveters (@Riveters) March 25, 2018
The Riveters are the third of the league's four franchises to win an Isobel Cup. The Boston Pride won the inaugural championship in 2016 and the Beauts upset Boston in 2017. This was Metropolitan's first appearance in the title match.
Chad Wiseman, who has coached the Riveters since the start of the franchise, ended his NWHL career on a high note. The Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League announced on Tuesday he'll be taking over as their head coach next season.
"I can't say enough about these girls and how proud I am to be their coach, not just this year but since the inaugural season," Wiseman said.
The game featured heavy swings in possession, with the Beauts playing at their best in the middle of the second period and throughout the third. Buffalo orchestrated a handful of lengthy offensive sets, while Metropolitan was most successful in transition.
The Beauts had their fair share of dangerous opportunities in the game, with perhaps none as clear as Rebecca Vint's halfway through the first. Jess Jones found her alone on a cross-crease pass, but Vint couldn't get the blade of her stick on the bouncing puck.
Maddie Elia also had a solid chance with 47 seconds left in regulation. Buffalo crashed the net hard and the puck bounced out to Elia while she stood right in front of Fitzgerald. Elia got good contact, but Fitzgerald made a pad save despite bodies crashing around her.
Leveille, who was just barely outdueled by Fitzgerald, made 17 saves for Buffalo. The result snapped an 11-game winning streak for the Beauts and a three-game winning streak against the Riveters.
"I thought it was a great hockey game," Wiseman said. "The momentum switched sides, back and forth, quite often. Perhaps too much for my liking, but at the end of the day, the girls earned it."