Among the feel-good stories of the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game was the opportunity for fans to participate in the selection process. As the final four roster spots were determined by fan voting, it provided the fans with a strong sense of importance, getting the opportunity to make their ballots and be heard during a watershed moment in league history.
Gaining the most amount of support was New York Riveters forward Madison Packer with an astounding 13,397 votes. Of note, Packer would be the only player to garner at least 10,000 votes. Finishing with the second highest number was Riveters teammate Morgan Fritz-Ward, obtaining 6,948 votes.
Raised in Birmingham, Michigan, where she captured four state titles and also competed in lacrosse, the articulate Packer was the sixth player signed in Riveters history. Making her debut with the club on October 11, 2015, which was also the first game in NWHL history, Packer has since emerged as one of the top 10 leading scorers with the Riveters. In all of the Riveters wins, Packer has logged at least one point.
The first win in Riveters history coincided with Packer’s first NWHL goal. In a 3-2 win against the Boston Pride, highlighted by Nana Fujimoto’s 62 saves, Packer logged the Riveters’ first goal in the contest, with assists credited to Morgan Fritz-Ward and Sydney Kidd. Before the holiday break, a 7-3 win against the Buffalo Beauts (the largest margin of victory in franchise history) saw Packer make another unique contribution. With Meghan Fardelmann having registered the Riveters’ first-ever hat trick, Packer and Lyudmila Belyakova would earn the assists on Fardelmann’s third goal.
During the season, Packer has played on a line mostly with fellow All-Star Fritz-Ward and Celeste Brown, one of the most accomplished skaters from the Rochester Institute of Technology program. Reputed as a power forward, Packer is also one of the club’s strongest forecheckers. Her dedication and team-first approach has been enhanced by employing a rugged and defensive-minded style of hockey which has gained many admirers, appreciating her effort with such a phenomenal number of votes. The recognition represents a proud moment in Packer’s first season with the Riveters,
“We have so many great players here in New York, and certainly around the league, so for me it was a very humbling experience, and is definitely one I will cherish at the end of my career. I am very grateful to my family and all the fans who voted for me, I know my family worked pretty hard to campaign for me in the days leading up to the voting, so that was fun, and I am really grateful for their efforts that ended up paying off for me in the end.”
Packer’s addition to the inaugural All-Star Game was part of another unique subplot. In addition to representing their respective NWHL teams, there was an element of school pride. Except for two players on Team Pfalzer’s roster, (Devon Skeats competed at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, while Nana Fujimoto’s experience can be traced back to Japan), every other competitor possessed a background in NCAA women’s hockey.
Part of Team Knight, it was an opportunity for Packer to reunite with several former University of Wisconsin Badgers teammates. Having skated with the program from 2010-14, Packer logged 104 points on the strength of 58 assists, gaining All-WCHA Academic Honors following her senior season. Among all the NCAA programs that featured alumnae in the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game, none boasted as many as the Badgers.
Featuring five players, Badger pride was prominent. Of note, Packer was also reunited with Jordan Brickner and team captain Hilary Knight. The pair of Badgers alumnae on Team Pfalzer were Brianna Decker plus Meghan Duggan, currently with the Buffalo Beauts. Except for Brickner, all Badgers named to the All-Star Game had won at least one NCAA Frozen Four championship.
While Packer cherished the opportunity to get acquainted with players throughout the league, getting to know them as people and not just players, it was also a chance to reacquaint with friends from the Badgers era in her distinguished career. In a unique setting that celebrated the game in many fashions, from a formal dinner to a skate with fans, it was an emotional time filled with positive memories,
“I think my favorite part of both the game and the weekend was getting interact with players from across the league in an environment that we don’t typically experience, but more than anything it was good to see and connect with people I had not seen in a while.
I know for me, Brianna Decker was one of my best friends at the University of Wisconsin, and life kind of took us different directions after graduation. So to have a few days to catch up and see her and other players was almost as fun as actually getting to take part in all the festivities. It was a fun experience to play together with the players you typically play against during the regular season.”
Adding to the strong sense of Badgers heritage for Packer this season has also involved another player. Since the Riveters initial puck drop, Packer was not the only Badgers alum to suit up for the franchise. Joining her on the squad was Brooke Ammerman, who grew up in New Jersey. Prior to both committing to Wisconsin, the two were also teammates with the United States U18 national women’s team, capturing the inaugural U18 World Championship in 2008. Getting the chance to be teammates for the third time has not only strengthened their friendship, but it has proven to add another element of fun during the inaugural Riveters season.
As a side note, Ammerman would also score the first goal in Riveters franchise history. Coincidentally, said goal was scored on Connecticut Whale goaltender Jaimie Leonoff, who would play alongside Packer as members of Team Knight.
“It has been pretty special sharing this experience with Brooke. She is somewhat of an older sister in my eyes, and has always been a huge role model for me and someone I look up to both on and off the ice. We talk all the time about our athletic careers, and for me, Brooke has been there for every highlight.
We played on the first US U18 team together and won a gold medal up in Calgary, we won a National Championship together at Wisconsin, and so to share another exciting highlight with her is something I am really grateful for. She is someone who has always supported me and did a lot to help me grow as a person away from the rink in our years together at Wisconsin and so to play with her of all people is something I will definitely cherish when my career is over.”
Another cherished moment for Packer involved the empowering fan experience at the All-Star Game. Standing out as one of the elements she will remember most about the event, the outcome represented a true win-win for both fans and players. As Packer explains, it was gratifying to see the young fans grace the ice at Harbor Center donning All-Star jerseys.
For a group of pioneering and enthusiastic female athletes, such as Packer, the chance to serve as role models only adds to the excitement of what has proven to be a landmark time for professional women’s hockey in the United States. As today’s generation have a growing number of strong, accomplished women to look up to in numerous facets, the chance to meet the fans is an opportunity for Packer to not only reciprocate their support, but for women in hockey to gain some long overdue appreciation,
“It was an amazingly exciting and again, humbling experience. Standing out at center ice with all the remarkable athletes the league showcases every weekend, and watching little kids rip around the ice in their Pfalzer jerseys, that was really the first time I realized we were all a part of something so much bigger than an exciting first season.
The looks on those little kids faces when they got to meet us, (it) was like they were meeting Patrick Kane, or some of those big name players you see over on the NHL side.
That was pretty cool, getting to see all the little kids who now have idols to look up to that are just like them. They do not have to watch the men and dream of playing in the NHL because they have an obtainable goal, and we are now those players whose jerseys they buy and they go to bed dreaming of becoming.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Twitter