My buddy Rob and I have started a fantasy hockey league.
There is nothing particularly special about that news, I know. Fantasy hockey is nothing new. What is new is a fantasy league for the first paid professional women’s hockey league in American history.
That’s right. We have started Fantasy NWHL.
Those who have kept up with my GetMoreSports video series “Jersey Corner” know that I am a huge fan of the National Women’s Hockey League, specifically the Metropolitan Riveters. I have followed the team and league very closely since its inception in 2015. It’s dang good hockey, and fun hockey at that.
This has been an exciting year for women’s hockey on the whole. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League created two expansion teams based in China, where players are paid as “ambassadors” to grow the game internationally. The NWHL has a broadcast deal with Twitter now to stream a “Game of the Week” and expand their audience. The Riveters are officially partners with the New Jersey Devils, the first NHL-NWHL partnership in history. New York became the Metropolitan Riveters, the team added black to their jerseys, and their opening game was played at the Prudential Center in front of a crowd of about 2,100 people.
Things are happening, and it’s very cool to see.
Credit for the fantasy element goes to Rob DeLuca, who currently writes for Devils Army Blog. How and why he came up with the idea are still a mystery. Rob has a habit of letting his mind wander the most random of places when he’s bored. He’s also a very eager texter.
For example: several years ago, I was on vacation at the beach on NHL Free Agency day. The New York Rangers were rumored to be in on free agent Dan Boyle, and I didn’t want to be scrolling through Twitter on the beach waiting for the news to break. Before heading out into the water, I told Rob to let me know “if anything earth-shattering happens.” I left one more instruction: no matter what, do not call.
I came back about a half hour later to 47 unread text messages, detailing every transaction made at the NHL and AHL level.
A 48th text message came in with all-capital letters, but I had no time to read it because a call was incoming. From Rob. He was ECSTATIC that his New Jersey Devils had signed Martin Havlat.
The point of the story is that Rob is an enthusiastic person and a hockey nut. Back to the present moment, rather than his mind floating to an obscure out-of-context Spongebob Squarepants quote again, he instead pitched an idea of a head-to-head fantasy contest. It was a pleasant surprise.
And I’m not one to shy away from a challenge.
We decided to make the odds simple. Loser buys the winner a shirtsey of the player of their choosing.
We set up our parameters. We would draft a total of eight forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders from the four NWHL teams. Our starting lineups would feature six, three and one respectively, allowing a few bench players in case of injury.
There are 10 categories to be won on a week to week basis. For skaters- goals, assists, points, powerplay goals, shorthanded goals and shots on goal. Goalies- wins, save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts.
Drafting was tough. We drafted after the first two games of the year had already been played for each team, so there was already a basis of stats to go off. But even still, there’s a certain element of unpredictability in a smaller league, especially when most of the big names are off training for the Olympics.
Drafting was made even harder by the fact that I was on a train home from work and was limited to the kind of intermittent cellular reception one is able to get riding from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie.
Rob had done his homework. Some of his draftees were under-the-radar picks, more up-and-comers than they were established stars. His big first-round splash was Riveters goaltender and reigning Goalie of the Year Katie Fitzgerald.
Me, I went with name power. I wanted players that scored on the powerplay and racked up shots on goal. My first-round pick was the woman who collected six points in her first two games of the season, Miye D’Oench.
So @Robby_DeLuca95 and I decided to draft Fantasy @NWHL teams for the season. Clearly Team Scooter gonna run the show. @TheIceGarden @Me_yay_doench back me up here. #TeamScooter #stacked pic.twitter.com/D2cWth3yaL
— Casey Bryant (@CaseyBryant51) November 9, 2017
Yes, I am Team Scooter, after the nickname my parents have called me all my life. Diesel is a moniker that grew from natural progression. Rob became Robby became Robby D became Robby Diesel. Of course.
Team Diesel is headlined by Fitzgerald and a pair of Riveter scorers, Rebecca Russo and Harrison Browne. Russo is a master playmaker who had 13 assists in 18 games last season. She has already eclipsed last year’s goal-scoring total with five in four games. Browne is one of the best two-way players in the NWHL, who tallied two shorthanded goals last year as part of the Isobel Cup-winning Buffalo Beauts. In the season opener at the Rock, Browne notched an assist and a shorthanded goal.
Janine Weber, a third-year vet in the league, had 10 goals and 12 assists last year as a Riveter. This season she is one of the primary weapons on a Boston Pride team that has lost a few key players to the Olympics (Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, to name a couple).
Team Scooter features the hottest combination in the league this season, Alexa Gruschow and Miye D’Oench. The pair are first and second in the league in scoring, respectively. The league’s third-highest scorer, Courtney Burke, is on the Scooter blueline.
Other big names include Kelly Babstock, Haley Skarupa and Taylor Accursi.
The Early Results
We decided to get a few different opinions on the roster match-ups before Week One from some of the more prominent members of NWHL media.
Team Scooter has #AlexaTheGreat. Nuff said. But both solid squads
— Dan Rice (@DRdiabloTHW) November 11, 2017
My money's on Team Scooter. That D'Oench – Gruschow duo is on fire.
— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) November 11, 2017
Gotta agree on Team Scooter
— Hannah Bevis (@Hannah_Bevis1) November 11, 2017
Hahahahaha eat it, Rob.
To his credit, picking Fitzy in the first round was a smart choice. Katie Fitzgerald allowed only one goal in a 5-1 victory over the Connecticut Whale to lock up three of four goaltending categories. The Riveters are so dominant, she may very well get a win every single week.
Unfortunately for Diesel, Team Scooter erupted offensively thanks to four assists from Courtney Burke and a pair of goals from Taylor Accursi. My strategy of picking shooters is paying off, as Team Scooter outshot Team Diesel 38-17.
But okay, it’s just one week. Things can change at the drop of a hat, especially in a league with only four teams. Anyone can break out.
I like the lineup that Team Scooter has for Week 2. If Rossman has a good game, could be a long week for Team Diesel
— Matt Falkenbury (@MattFPxP) November 17, 2017
Can't pick against Team Scooter. Skarupa finally got that 1st goal, putting an avalanche of shots on net. Accursi is a target for Buffalo on the PP and Jones should be back. Burke AND Koelzer? Amazing. D'Oench and Gruschow hottest duo in the league right now.
— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) November 17, 2017
Once again, the pundits were against Team Diesel, much to his frustration (“No one believed in the ’07 Giants, either!”).
After the Saturday Metro-Buffalo game, Rob actually held a narrow edge. Katie Fitzgerald earned her fourth win of the season, three of his players found the back of the net in Russo, Bray Ketchum and Jenny Ryan, and he led in assists 5-4. It looked like it would be a tight battle.
The Connecticut Whale trailed the Boston Pride 3-1 with 2:30 left in regulation. I have Whale goaltender Sydney Rossman and Rob has Pride defenseman Alyssa Gagliardi, who has a powerplay goal in the game. So things are not looking so good.
Then along comes Kelly Babstock, scoring to cut the deficit to one and giving Team Scooter the lead in goals. Then on the game-tying goal, Babstock notched an assist to put me on top in assists.
The game went into a shootout, meaning even though Rossman gave up three goals just like Fitzgerald did the day before, I held the advantage in goals-against average because of time on ice. Rossman collected the win in the shootout.
Just for good measure, the NWHL league scorers took Gagliardi’s powerplay goal away and credited it instead to Jillian Dempsey the day after the game, meaning Rob lost his lead in powerplay goals.
There were a lot of scoring changes in the NWHL this week, including crediting Gagliardi's PPG to Jillian Dempsey and additional assists to Courtney Burke and Miye D'Oench. In any event, it's still a win for Team Scooter, just a bigger deficit… #shutout pic.twitter.com/5ngRhaOR7m
— Casey Bryant (@CaseyBryant51) November 22, 2017
When all was said and done, Rob went from a close categorical lead on Saturday to a blowout loss on Sunday.
Fantasy sports are fickle. Fantasy NWHL is especially precarious.
And life is just plain mean sometimes.
So this is our mission for the rest of the year. Rob and I will be balancing lineups, talking trash and tracking statistical performance for the entirety of the NWHL season. You can follow along on our respective Twitter feeds (@CaseyBryant51 for the Undefeated Team Scooter, @Robby_Deluca95 for the other team), and I’ll be posting weekly updates on here as well.
The NWHL is off this weekend for Thanksgiving, but will be back in action next weekend. The Buffalo Beauts will be taking on the Boston Pride while the Metropolitan Riveters host the Connecticut Whale.
If anyone feels particularly inspired to start their own fantasy women’s hockey challenge, let us know!
Feel free to chime in with input and appropriate Diesel-bashing. He deserves it.
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