With a season that saw the Metropolitan Riveters reach record heights, it can best be described as the “Year of Alexa.” Capturing the NWHL’s scoring title, the first Riveters player to reach this plateau, Gruschow, also recognized as the league’s Most Valuable Player, was part of a decorated group that saw numerous teammates acquire multiple accolades and honors.
Following it up with a two-point performance, highlighted by a short-handed goal, it also stood as the game-winning tally in a neutral site win versus the Buffalo Beauts in Rochester, New York. Gruschow was rewarded for her sterling efforts as she was bestowed NWHL Player of the Week honors.
In addition to Gruschow, the honor roll of Riveters included Courtney Burke capturing Defensive Player of the Year honors, while Harrison Browne was recognized as one of the NWHL Fans’ Three Stars of the Season, complemented by Michelle Picard gaining a share of the NWHL Foundation Award. In true MVP-fashion, Gruschow was quick to graciously recognize the overall efforts of the team, finding a remarkable gratification in what was truly a season to remember,
“I am extremely proud to be granted this honor amongst the admirable players in this league. My team helped to propel me towards this achievement, and I am thankful for that. I could not have asked for a more fulfilling season of hockey and I am very grateful for this recognition.”
The pride of Mechanicburgh, Pennsylvania, Gruschow honed her craft at the NCAA level with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers. After a rookie season in 2016-17 that saw Gruschow go undrafted, she went on to log 10 points in 18 games played. Returning to the Rivetrers this season, the result is one that has seen her career grow by a quantum leap.
Adding to the momentum of this breakout season was the chance to share in a proud career milestone this season with a fellow RPI alum. Joined by Jordan Smelker, a charter member of the Boston Pride, who skated for the Engineers from 2010-14, calling Gruschow a teammate for two seasons, were both named to the Team NWHL roster that participated in a two-game exhibition series against the US Olympic Team in January 2018.
As Gruschow’s second season with the Riveters’ season began at the Prudential Center, home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, she made a significant statement. Logging a multi-point effort in a convincing 4-1 win versus the Boston Pride, there was also an element of foreshadowing. Registering the assist on the game-winning goal by Miye D’Oench, this dazzling duo would be just as prevalent in the Riveters’ final game of the season. As this was also the first NWHL regular season game contested in an NHL arena, such a venue served as a coming-out party for Gruschow.
Undoubtedly, Gruschow’s success represented an exceptional evolution for the Riveters. Since their inaugural season, the team has improved every season in numerous statistical metrics, highlighted by goals scored (from 40 in 2015-16 to 55 to 64 this season). The team also improved in shots on goal, peppering NWHL backstops with 492 this season, while another team record was set with 20 power play goals. A key contributor towards the Riveters enjoying their greatest season, finishing first overall in the standings, a historic first in franchise history, Gruschow continued to deliver in the postseason.
After easily disposing of the Connecticut Whale in the semi-final, Gruschow not only scored the biggest goal of her career, but the greatest goal in Riveters lore. Facing off against the defending Cup Champion Buffalo Beauts, the top two teams in the league standings, it was a historic scenario. From the outset, the Beauts became the first club to appear in three straight Finals, while the Riveters, led by their MVP, were making their first appearance. In a hotly contested game that saw All-Star goaltenders Amanda Leveille and Katie Fitzgerald, the first Riveter to capture the league’s Goaltender of the Year Award, frustrating opposing offenses, it was Gruschow that would make her mark.
Scoring at the 5:33 mark of the first period, as Miye D’Oench gained the assist, Metro enjoyed the game’s first lead. With Katie Fitzgerald preserving the Riveters’ lead in what proved to be a defensive stalemate in the remaining periods, Gruschow scored what proved to be the Cup-clinching goal.
“I think I am still in disbelief. This was the most meaningful and memorable goal of my life. I will never forget the sight of the puck hitting the back of the net followed by the feeling of pure elation.”
Certainly, it was fitting that it was Gruschow who scored such a monumental goal, the crowning achievement to such a sensational season. While Fitzgerald added to the Riveters’ haul of hockey hardware, earning Playoff MVP honors, the most treasured hardware was the one named in honor of Lady Isobel Stanley. Holding the Isobel Cup as high as she could, elated at the chance to make her mark in Riveters history, it was the culmination of a dream season coming full circle, as Gruschow gained a treasured place in the hearts and minds of the Riveters, and simultaneously, NWHL’s fan base:
“I have never had the opportunity to hoist a trophy on the ice before, so this was once in a lifetime for me. This was the greatest achievement in my hockey career and the feeling was like no other, I was numb. The Riveters made history, and I am overjoyed and lucky to be a part of it, it’s one for the books.” “All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo Credits: Dan Gerdes and Troy Parla