“Oftentimes the best game a defender plays, you don’t even notice them.” – Binghamton Devils Head Coach Mark Dennehy.
In a ‘blink and you missed it’ Metropolitan Riveters 2021 season, there were six NWHL debuts. One of those debuts was defender Allie Olnowich, a local product hailing from Chatham, New Jersey, who joined the team after patrolling the blueline for the Syracuse Orange the past four seasons.
With the Rivs having played only the three games you may have missed seeing Olnowich on the ice, but as coach Dennehy alluded to in our opening – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She’s not going to put up nine points in seven games a la Boston’s Kaleigh Fratkin, but Olnowich will show up every game, and use every inch of her 5’7” frame to stifle her opponents each time she steps on the ice.
In addition to recently speaking with the 22-year-old defender, The Hockey Writers also spoke to her assistant coach – Ashley ‘Stretch’ Johnston – who knows a thing or two thousand about playing defense for the Riveters.
“Allie was a pleasure to coach. As a player, she has a real willingness to learn and is so aware of the game. As a teammate, watching her support the D core and continually pushing herself and others was amazing. Real strong leadership characteristics,” Johnson replied via email when asked what she learned about Olnowich during the Rivs’ unfortunately shortened season.
“Additionally, I think there’s really something special about watching someone gain confidence- a player playing with confidence is unstoppable. Allie was on this trajectory in the bubble and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see it through, but very excited to pick back up on it (this fall).”
In our exclusive Q & A we found out how Olnowich joined the Riveters, what her future holds, and more.
The Hockey Writers: So how’d you end of joining the Riveters? Did they contact you or did you reach out to them?
Allie Olnowich: When I came home from school last March because of Covid I wasn’t really sure what my plan was going to be. Kate (Whitman Annis) initially had reached out to me and I had emailed her back, but it was after the deadline for the 2020 NWHL Draft. I wasn’t really sure what would happen until around October when she reached out to me and said that the team needed practice players. The league was allowing teams to have practice players in case they couldn’t have enough players on the ice if they contracted Covid or something.
From there I just played hockey, and I guess it was good enough for them to want to sign me in mid-to-late November. That’s when I was officially on the roster. For the first month and a half, I was just practicing with the team and didn’t know if I was going to be signed or not.
New Jersey to Syracuse to New Jersey
THW: You’re from NJ and there are a few NJ players on the team, how much did you know them or anyone else on team?
AO: I grew up playing on the NJ Colonials with Kendall (Cornine), she was always the age group above me but we always ended up skating together with practices and summer camps that we did together. So she was definitely the one I knew the most. Moose (Rebecca Morse) and the other girls from the area are much older than I am.
THW: How cool is it to have some former Orange teammates in the league, and to play against/with them?
AO: It was awesome. I got pretty close with Brooke (Avery) because when she transferred to Syracuse it was my freshman year, so she was also new even though she was a redshirt sophomore. We got to go through the ‘new kid’ stuff together in a way, so we became close friends over the three years we played together. She moved to Morristown, New Jersey after school, which is about ten minutes away from where I live. So it’s awesome that I still get to see her pretty regularly.
Lindsay (Eastwood) was my roommate during my senior year and we were D-partners. We’re pretty close, she’s spent Thanksgiving with my family and me. It was weird playing against her and Quinny (Meghan Quinn) on the Toronto Six because I’ve never played against them before.
THW: When you started college, did you aspire to play in the NWHL?
AO: I was good at hockey growing up, but I was never like a top national camp pick or anything. I was just happy with playing at a Division I school like Syracuse. Whatever happened after college was gonna happen and I’m grateful for the opportunity to play. I couldn’t have imagined this year without hockey. But I never went to college thinking I wanted to play pro after it was over. I just focused on those four years and then see what opportunities were available to me afterward.
THW: How much did practice time help prepare you for the games?
AO: I think that those practices were some of the best hockey I’ve played in a while. Maybe because I came in with no expectations on me, I wasn’t officially on the team yet, and I just had to prove that I could play hockey. I wasn’t going to stand out drastically in practice and I did well enough to earn a spot on the team. That was some of the most carefree hockey I’ve played in a while.
That first game, I was really happy with what happened. A lot of us hadn’t played a competitive game in close to a calendar year. Having so many full practices definitely prepared us for that.
THW: What did you learn about your game? What did you like/what can you improve?
AO: I was happy with my play, and a little more confident. Having Stretch as my D coach was awesome; she’s so encouraging and so helpful. She really has your back and doesn’t tear you down for little mistakes that you might make. That’s something that I always struggle with – if I make a mistake I beat myself up when I sit down for 30 seconds. It’s a dangerous cycle I get myself into. My mentality is huge for me to work on this offseason. As well as the little things like when to shoot the puck or skate it, battling is another aspect.
I was pretty happy with how I played, and how our whole team played. I think we could have done really well if we played more than three games.
THW: Would you like to play next season for the Rivs and play some games in your home state?
AO: If they want me coming back, I’m coming back. I’m planning on going to law school in 2022, that’s my goal. So this would probably be my last year of hockey competitively because I don’t know how doable it would be while going to law school. I would love to come back and play again for the Rivs; I don’t want to end my hockey career on a three-game-deal.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.