Riveters face mass exodus after Digit Murphy hire — Nate Oliver chats Buffalo Beauts off-season moves — Must-click women’s hockey links
The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, April 15, 2022
Welcome to Hockey Friday. As always, it’s been a busy week, particularly for the Riveters — but we’re here to help you get caught up on everything you missed.
On Wednesday, Anya Packer, The IX Newsletter advisory board member and general manager of the Metropolitan Riveters, announced she had declined to renew her contract to return as GM of the Riveters.
“While I’ll miss the camaraderie with the team, and innovating the traditional hockey landscape, I’ll always be a fan of this amazing group of players,” Packer shared on Twitter.
It was puzzling, given the considerable momentum the team has on and off the ice. But Packer’s announcement came just two days after sources at The Ice Garden reported that Digit Murphy, president of and director of player personnel with the Toronto Six, would be joining the Riveters as their president this off-season.
Murphy has long been criticized, and rightfully so, for her role in supporting the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, an organization intended to curtail the participation of trans women in women’s sports, along with allegations by former employees that she fostered a toxic work environment.
“Her coming aboard really really really made it hard to even think of staying,” former head of Riveters PR Jess Belmosto told The IX. “It made me sick even thinking of working under her knowing her beliefs and how she has treated employees in the past. I knew in my heart I couldn’t stick around. I can’t change her and never will.”
Numerous other Riveters volunteers and employees, including the entire stats team and members of the franchise’s PR department, have also departed the organization, and multiple sources familiar with their thinking indicated that several of the departures are a direct result of Murphy’s appointment.
“The only thing that comes to mind honestly is the dark and spooky aura of Scar from Lion King, I can’t even lie, just the ominous feeling and the uncertainty of the organization,” Belmosto said.
Asked for comment on behalf of the team or Murphy, Riveters VP of Communications Anthony Baldini replied in an email, “Yes, that’s correct. I haven’t been introduced to Digit since her hire as president, nor have I received a full detail of Digit’s history or current views, so I’m actually blind on this situation at the moment. Most of the staff is, per private conversation. To date, I have not received any communication from John Boynton or Digit Murphy about it. But I’m definitely expecting to sooner than later.
“Anya did so much for the team and was loved by players, fans, and staff alike. She is immediately an extremely attractive candidate for managerial roles across sports, and I expect her to garner many phone calls about her interest in joining other organizations in and out of hockey. I know some outside of the PHF already have, so it will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.
“Plainly, Anya is leaving an enormous hole as General Manager. And I have not received any information regarding who it will be filled by, if anyone at all. I was expecting this information to come within the next week, given the news re: Digit and Anya is fresh, the Riveters are not a full-time job for John, and we are in the off-season. I love having ASAP answers as much as anyone – I work in PR after all – but it’s important to remember that and give people the benefit of the doubt here re: information availability. So I’m being patient.”
When asked whether he was speaking in his personal capacity or that of team spokesperson, Baldini replied, “This is all me personally. I do not know what my future with the Riveters looks like. I’m waiting to hear from John and Digit about the direction of the team, and to hear directly from Digit about her values.”
It’s clear that the PHF is willing to go to bat for Digit Murphy. It’s been somewhat of a pattern of the league over the past couple of years not to distance itself from problematic behavior of players, staff or of other institutions in the hockey community — D.F. Pendrys reported in October that the PHF brass wouldn’t comment on Murphy’s affiliation with the WSPWG. It wasn’t until later that month that Pendrys was able to sit down with Murphy, the Boyntons, and Toronto Six ownership to discuss Murphy’s involvement. You can read a transcript of Pendrys’ conversation here.
There is a bright spot on the horizon, though: the Players’ Association of the PHF announced that Harvard women’s hockey alum Nicole Corriero will be taking over as executive director of the players’ association, effective immediately.
This move is a huge one, as the association has been without a leader since Dan Rice reported the PA and former executive director Alex Sinatra parted ways at the end of January. In a recent edition of The IX, we mentioned that one of the league’s and players’ priorities before the start of next season should be finding a new executive director, so we’re happy to see that the players will be represented as the league moves further into its new era of leadership.
Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.
This Week in Women’s Hockey
Minnesota’s Amy Potomak to join Trinity Western for final year of eligibility (TWUSpartans/Twitter)
My Game Day Routine with Jenna Rheault (The Ice Garden)
Mélodie Daoust and Hanna Bunton announce prep school at Bourget College (melodaoust15/Twitter)
PWHPA decides to move forward without PHF (The Athletic) ($)
Nicole Corriero named Executive Director of the PHFPA (The Ice Garden)
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Five at the IX: Nate Oliver, PHF Buffalo Beauts GM
The IX sat down to chat with Buffalo Beauts general manager Nate Oliver to get his perspective on the past season and what’s coming next for the Queen City.
Question: This year’s Beauts team has been one of the best iterations of the program in recent years. What made the 2021-22 squad gel so well, and how do you plan on building on their momentum heading into next season?
Nate Oliver: I think a huge part of it is just the culture that we have fostered internally. Yes, we want to win hockey games and the Isobel Cup, but we also want to work with people of good character and mindset. I think that life comes down to how you treat other people and how you can be of service to others. We have really worked hard to build a culture where we are developing the person as much as we are the hockey player.
Additionally, it was important to me that this team developed a bond early and often. We do a lot of team building in the off-season, even if virtually. It is important to me that our players know each other well before they step onto the ice together. People made such a big deal about the pace that we signed our players last season. That was done intentionally, and it was very deliberate. We didn’t just start building the 2021-22 Beauts in April. Rather, we started planning this particular team as early as before Lake Placid with things like talking to collegiate coaches and our eventual draft picks (I can still remember talking to RMU’s head coach at the time Paul Colontino about Emilie Harley and [Anjelica] Diffendal while I was in Lake Placid) and doing proper scouting. Claudia Kepler was someone I had been talking to since the summer of 2020. Jenna Suokko came highly recommended to me from Venla Hovi, who is one of my closest friends in the game. Grace Klienbach and Lando I’ve obviously known for years just being around the league. Et cetera, et cetera.
So we worked hard to establish the culture and the foundation. Now it is a matter of fine-tuning and building upwards and onwards.
Q: The early retirement of Marie-Jo Pelletier came as somewhat of a shock to fans. How do you plan on filling the gap on the blue line and in the leadership team that her absence will leave behind?
Oliver: There is no replacing a player like MJ. I’ve known her personally since she was sophomore at UNH, and had the pleasure of working alongside her for three seasons professionally. She is one of the finest individuals that I know. We knew internally that this would be her last season, and that still didn’t make it any easier after her last game. There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs. You try to prepare yourself for moments like that as a GM or as a coach, but I don’t know that you can actually be successful in doing so. You just don’t come across people like MJ often in life.
Be that as it may, we still need to now fill that gap on our blue line. MJ logged a lot of minutes for us and played in every situation imaginable on the ice. Now it’s a matter of finding another D out there who is capable of having that same dexterity. In terms of leadership though, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up into that role on the team. We are fortunate enough to have a lot of different players who have worn a “C” and/or an “A” during their careers. We have plenty of natural born leaders on this squad, and so I know that someone – probably multiple players – will step up to that challenge and assume even more of the team’s leadership duties. MJ would want it that way too.
Q: There has already been lots of upheaval so far this off-season in terms of staff changes, roster overhaul, etc. How do you, as a general manager and cornerstone of this league, stay flexible and adaptable when it comes to any changes that may throw a wrench in your plans?
Oliver: That has kind of always been the case since I became GM. I mean, with the pandemic and all I cannot say that I’ve had a traditional season yet to do my job within. But as I always say to our players, what matters most is how well you walk through the fire. I cannot control what happens around me. What I can do however is keep focused on the Beauts, and keep my players and staff free from the upheaval you mentioned so that they can focus on doing their jobs.
I think the other thing too is that you have to be willing to lend a hand. I’m now one of the longest tenured members of this league, and I never hesitate in helping to show others the ropes where I’m able to. It’s important to be welcoming, and to lighten the loads of others.
One of the ways that I think we can continue to help our sport grow is by being a good colleague to those who are around you, in and outside of our own league. One of the things that I enjoy doing most is picking the brains of my colleagues. One of my closest friends and colleagues in hockey is Maija Hassinen-Sullanmaa, my counterpart for HPK in Finland’s Naisten Liiga. Maija and I have been friends for 14 years and we regularly bounce ideas off of each other. Additionally, I get to work alongside someone like Colleen Coyne whom I watched play in the ’98 Nagano Games and whom I told yesterday that I still have the Wheaties cereal box with her and her Team USA teammates on. Those are two great people to know and have in your corner.So I think when things get chaotic like they can be, that is when you really need to ground yourself by relying on the people you look up to and being a supporter to those that may need your help or experience.
Q: What are you looking for in terms of on- and off-ice qualities in players as you start to build next season’s roster?
Oliver: I think the most apparent thing is increasing our offensive output. The Beauts scored the least amount of goals in the PHF last season. We were a score-by-committee team, and I am totally fine with that, but we need to then increase either the size of the “committee” or the amount of output that the “committee” is generating. There was no bonafide pure scorer on our team, whereas four of our opposing teams had at least one point-per-game player. So that’s definitely an area we can address and need to address.
Additionally, and this also comes naturally from season to season, but I think we need to increase the level of overall experience on our team too. We were a very young hockey club this past season. We had five rookies in our regular lineup. Harley, Diffendal, Attea, Ganser and Segall were all 2021 draft selections and all played regularly in their first pro seasons. CJ, Flagg and MacDougall each played only their sophomore professional seasons. We only had one player – Lollo Berndtsson – who was over 30. It certainly helps that each of those players now have a full professional season under their belts, but I think that we can also fine tune a bit more by adding even more of a veteran presence onto our roster. Players like Lollo, Grace, Lando, Kepler and others help in that regard.
In terms of other off-ice qualities, I think it’s more of doing the same and being consistent – bring in good people who are also good hockey players.
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