Possessing the heart of a lion, Madison Packer approached this season with a combination of perseverance and gratitude. In the aftermath of the 2016-17 season, Packer reached a difficult decision to hang up her skates. As a charter member of the Riveters, Packer’s place in club history was certainly secure. Compounding this decision was the fact that Packer went under the surgeon’s knife for a torn labrum, the kind of event in any athlete’s career that can facilitate an abrupt or unforeseen ending.
The decision to return for a third season on NWHL ice was definitely an encouraging one for Packer, one that pleased fans and teammates alike. Undoubtedly, a season partly defined by injury and surgery was not the kind of note that any player would wish to end their career upon. Packer’s return definitely provided inspiration for her fellow Riveters, testament to her amazing leadership. Although Packer remains humble about her tremendous role on the club,
“I think everyone on our team is a leader in some aspect. I obviously had the experience of two years in the NWHL under my belt, and I knew what my role was as far as contributing to the team. We have great leadership in our captains, but also all the girls have played hockey at a high level throughout their careers and with that experience comes an understanding of professionalism and leadership.”
Considering that this season resulted in the Riveters experiencing a crucial phase in their evolution, changing their affiliation from “New York” to “Metropolitan”, symbolic of the fact that home games are contested in New jersey, it was also a tribute to an exciting partnership with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. While the partnership with the Devils was an empowering endorsement of the remarkable athletes that don the Riveters jersey, it also represented the pioneering efforts of players such as Packer, whose efforts were integral in establishing a proud foundation for the club.
As Packer’s road to redemption culminated with an inspiring Isobel Cup win, her return to the Riveters was nothing short of heroic. With a home contest on December 3, 2017 versus the Connecticut Whale, Packer registered a pair of assists in a 4-0 shutout victory.
In spite of the fact that Packer went scoreless in her second game back, a 4-2 win versus Buffalo, she would go on to put together a brilliant seven-game scoring streak. With five multi-point performances during said streak, Packer logged six goals and six assists, while the Riveters posted a sparkling 6-1-0 mark. Staking their claim as the league’s best team, Packer’s efforts were crucial in such a strong run.
Such a compelling comeback would end in grand fashion during regular season play. With the Riveters on the road against the Boston Pride, the March 10th affair resulted in one of the greatest performances of her professional career. Recording a hat trick in a 4-1 final against All-Star goaltender (and fellow Michigan native) Brittany Ott, it was a pivotal display of perseverance, helping instill confidence towards the postseason push, while helping purge any negativity from two late season losses to their eventual Isobel Cup opponents, the Buffalo Beauts.
With 18 points in just 12 regular season games played, Packer’s 1.50 points per game paced all scorers in the league. Just as important, she rocketed to third overall in the scoring race, trailing fellow Riveters Courtney Burke and Alexa Gruschow. With Rebecca Russo and Jenny Ryan finishing fourth and fifth, it marked the first time that the Riveters had skaters among the league’s top five scorers.
Packer’s scoring touch was just as crucial in the postseason. Racking up three points in the semifinals versus the Connecticut Whale, she was the catalyst in helping the Riveters punch their ticket to the Isobel Cup finals for the first time in franchise history. Considering that Packer’s comeback was one of the most stirring in this hockey season, the chance to play on the NWHL’s biggest stage served as a magical storybook ending,
“It is incredibly special. Those are the kinds of games we dream of playing in as athletes, and that is why I came back. From the start of the season, we had a special group, and it was a great to go out on top with my teammates.”
Having experienced the jubilation of an NCAA Frozen Four title with the Wisconsin Badgers, competing for head coach (and Miracle on Ice member) Mark Johnson, Packer’s big game experience made her an essential leader for a Riveters squad playing for its first-ever Isobel Cup. Worth noting, the Riveters also featured other Badgers alums, including Courtney Burke, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, rookie sensation Jenny Ryan, along with Kelly Nash.
Considering that an appearance in the Finals eluded the Riveters in their first two seasons, it was only fitting that Packer added to her proud club legacy with an appearance.
“I think regardless of the level; it is special any time you get to play for a championship. At this point in my career, the NWHL championship is the pinnacle championship to compete for, so to be able to win that trophy with my teammates is a great accomplishment and something I know we are all very proud of as a team.”
With league MVP Alexa Gruschow scoring the Cup clinching goal in an intense 1-0 victory against the defending Clarkson Cup Champion Buffalo Beauts, providing the Riveters with a historic championship, it also represented a proud new milestone for Packer. Holding the distinction of being a champion in both the collegiate and professional ranks, it is a privileged sorority most worthy of her empowering presence.
As this latest chapter in Packer’s tenure with the Riveters comes to a victorious close, it is one where Packer pays it forward. With a season, and career, nearly jeopardized due to surgery, the decision to return was definitely heroic. While Packer’s play certainly exceeded any definitions of heroism, helping propel the Riveters to their greatest moment in franchise history, the feeling of friendship and support that provided the courage to return embodied an amazing sense of teamwork and friendship that stands as one of the league’s great cornerstones,
“It is hard to put into words. I am just incredibly grateful to Dani Rylan, Chad Wiseman, the NWHLPA, Hayley Moore, and all the other people who jumped in and supported my decision to come back after surgery. This season was about so much more than the hockey for me, and to win it all in the end, with Chad as our coach, is something I will always hold close to my heart.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Troy Parla