Fun Facts about the New York Riveters as of January 28th, 2016

With the All-Star Game done and just five games left, the final month of the NWHL’s regular season doesn’t look exceedingly hopeful for the New York Riveters. Tied for last place in the league (…wassup, Beauts? I regret all the smack I talked about you in November), our favorite Brooklyn hockey team (transferring trash-talk to the Isles seems like a safe bet) will end the season in either last or second-to-last position.

FUN FACT: Even if the Riveters won all of their remaining games in regulation and nobody else won any games at all, the Rivs would still be in third.

Hey, but at least they’re still going to the playoffs!

FUN FACT: Every NWHL team is going to the playoffs.

So it seems pretty likely that when we watch the Riveters throughout February, we’re not looking at the first-ever Isobel Cup champions. This is not resignation, it’s realism—and while being a fan of a winning team is more fun, I’m as comforted by the ‘making history’/‘play for her’ angle as ever. And hey, speaking of making history…

FUN FACT: The New York Riveters made history by trading goalie Shenae Lundberg to the Connecticut Whale for goalie Chelsea Laden, the first trade to take place in the NWHL.

I’m no scout, and the sample size for both players in this league is almost laughably small—one game apiece. Laden played a full game against the Beauts early in the season, coming away with a save percentage of 0.947%, and Lundberg played 28 minutes, of a game for the Rivs, facing 32 shots and saving 28 of them. Both have been injured for the majority of the season, Laden with a broken finger and Lundberg with an ankle injury.

At this point, Riveters appear have a strong goaltending situation. Between Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens, goalies haven’t been the major problem that the Rivs have faced this season—but Laden’s injury seems to be less severe than Lundberg’s, and she also comes at a thousand dollar discount ($14,000 to Lundberg’s $15,000), which, with a $270,000 salary cap, never hurts.

FUN FACT: I like this trade! Why not, right? Does it kind of feel like the league just wanted to remind everyone that trades were still a thing that could happen? Sure! Whatever! You do you, NWHL.

The Riveters play the Beauts on Sunday—the first of three games remaining against Buffalo. Standings-wise, the Beauts appear to be the most even matchup for the Rivs, so these three games will hopefully be a chance for the Riveters to build their confidence going into the playoffs in mid-March. As far as the league’s likely contenders, the Whale and Pride, the Riveters play both teams once more before the season where history began draws to an end.

Pride Players Take a Win, a Loss, and a Pie to the Face at Inaugural All Star Game

At the National Women’s Hockey League’s very first All-Star Game in Buffalo, the stars were all smiles. Some of those smiles were very familiar if you follow the Boston Pride. Of the 28 players gathered that weekend to represent the league, 11 came from the Pride, nine from the Buffalo Beauts, five from the Connecticut Whale, and four from the New York Riveters. Given that All-Star Captains Hilary Knight of the Pride and Emily Pfalzer of the Beauts drafted most of the players (the final four – Madison Packer, Morgan Fritz-Ward, Hayley Williams, and Devon Skeats – were drafted by fan vote), a strong showing from both teams was no surprise.

Three of the Boston Pride players who made the trip to Buffalo this weekend shared their experiences with me: Amanda Pelkey of Team Knight and Emily Field and Brittany Ott of Team Pfalzer. Here’s what they had to say about this weekend’s fun—and competition—on the ice, including what it was like to play along members of rival NWHL teams.

According to Team Knight forward Pelkey, there wasn’t much advance discussion with players on other NWHL teams. However, as soon as the players came together for Friday night’s dinner, Team Knight began to plan. “Most talk was about the skills competition,” said Pelkey. “What everyone was planning on doing, especially for the girls that were doing the breakaways. We were told that we had three shots for the breakaways. Personally, I wanted to do a couple of fun ones then one serious one. There were pranks on players all weekend which made everything more fun.” Pelkey’s own stunt was the result of Team Knight’s collaboration. “Everyone had that idea subtly but no one seemed to claim it. So I thought, ‘well, since I’m on the smaller side, I should be able to fit!’ I’m glad Hilary could help out!”

Team Pfalzer got a later start, beginning to plot during off-ice warmups prior to Saturday night’s Skate With The Stars. “I think our mentality going into the game was to have fun, obviously,” said goaltender Ott, “We also wanted to make it an awesome experience for the crowd and for those watching online, too, so we wanted to play hard and get the win.” Field added, “As far as pranks go, we didn’t pull any major pranks on Team Knight, but they got us pretty good!” Spontaneity was the rule of the game for Team Pfalzer. Players didn’t learn until after the skills competition which units they would play with during the actual game.

Even Emily Field’s spectacular goal celebration was planned on the fly. “After [All-Star Game MVP Kelley Steadman]’s first goal, our bench got talking about doing funny celebrations and that was the first one, so it wasn’t specifically planned for me,” she said. “I just happened to be the next person to score!”

Despite their different approaches, both teams dazzled on the ice this weekend. Team Knight succeeded in making the audience laugh; Team Pfalzer shone both in the skills competition and during gameplay, winning with a combined score of 8-1. “My favorite part [of the skills competition] was [Megan] Bozek hitting 88mph on the hardest shot competition,” said Ott. “I’ve been playing against her since high school and she’s always had an awesome shot that has always given me some trouble. But her hitting that speed was pretty phenomenal to watch!”

Pelkey and Field also enjoyed playing along familiar faces. “I enjoyed being able to be on the same team as Emily Pfalzer again as we haven’t played together since college,” said Field, a recent Boston College grad. Pelkey had fun playing with former national teammate Madison Packer. “Last time we played together was on the U-18 National Team back in 2009.” Both Ott and Field spoke highly of the new faces on Team Pfalzer as well, singling out Kelley Steadman, Devon Skeats, and Shiann Darkangelo for praise. Getting to play alongside Nana Fujimoto on Team Pfalzer’s roster was a high point for Ott. “Goalie partnerships are something that I always look forward to; and Nana is an awesome goaltender, always gives my team a hard time in games, and such a nice person off the ice too.”

Some of the most enjoyable and comic moments of the weekend came from the goalies’ participation in the skills competition, from Team Knight goaltender Jaimie Leonoff facing off forward Janine Weber in net during the breakaway competition (Leonoff scored) to Brianne McLaughlin and Ott’s race across the ice for the title of fastest skater. “I really thought I was going to be able to trip her when I threw my stick at her, but she was a little too nimble to be taken down like that,” said Ott. McLaughlin got her revenge later with a pie to Ott’s face during the handshake line.

A good time was had by all.

NWHL All-Star Weekend A Blast, Team Pfalzer Dominates

The National Women’s Hockey League celebrated its brightest stars with its All-Star Festivities last Saturday and Sunday, culminating in the All-Star Game and Skills Competition Sunday at the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo.

Buffalo Beauts defender Emily Pfalzer’s team dominated Boston Pride forward Hilary Knight’s squad, 9-1, sweeping the Skills Competition and cleaning up in the two-period scrimmage.

It was a banner day for Beauts players, as Kelley Steadman scored two goals, earning the game’s MVP award. Devon Skeats added a goal for Team Pfalzer and Hayley Williams got the lone goal for Team Knight.

The on-ice celebrations began with the Skills Competition, which included four events — shooting accuracy, fastest skater, breakaway challenge, and hardest shot. All three shooters for Team Pfalzer beat the shooters for Team Knight (in fact, Steadman hit all four targets); meanwhile, during the hardest shot, Megan Bozek topped out at 88 miles per hour to take that event for her Beauts teammate.

Meanwhile, the game was at once fun and fast-paced, as both teams were determined to put on a good show for the fans. Steadman broke through first for Team Pfalzer off a pass from Meghan Duggan, and from there it was a strong showing from the players in blue, including goals by Boston’s Emily Field and Shiann Darkangelo of Connecticut.

Team Knight did have its opportunities; Kelli Stack hit two posts, and Knight herself had a number of chances stopped first by Nana Fujimoto, then by Brittany Ott. But aside from Williams’ five-hole tally on McLaughlin early in the second, nothing else stuck.

Meanwhile, Steadman pushed hard for her second goal, jostling with McLaughlin (one of her best friends) multiple times. At one point, McLaughlin jumped up and mugged Steadman after a few excellent saves in a row. Steadman had the last laugh, though, jamming the puck in on the rebound late in the second.

“It was a blast,” Steadman said afterward of the chance to play against McLaughlin. “We knew going into it that we were going to play against each other, and we just wanted to have a good time with it.”

The entire atmosphere was lively and fun; players took plenty of selfies and tried their best to pump up the crowd. Kaleigh Fratkin of the Connecticut Whale wore a chicken head during warmups and her attempt in the breakaway challenge, while her teammate Jaimie Leonoff donned a 70s-era cop hat and shades. After the game, during the handshake line, McLaughlin snuck up and nailed Ott in the face with a pie, drawing cheers and laughter from her teammates and the crowd.

Fun was definitely in the forefront for the players, who signed autographs and interacted with fans afterward. NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan emphasized the festivities, particularly the skills competition, as a way for players to showcase both their abilities and their personalities.

“At the end of the day, everyone started playing the game for fun,” she said shortly after the skills competition ended. “It’s still a competition, we still want there to be a winner — you know, that’s part of the game too — but to see the players having fun, it does mean a lot.”

Despite the lopsided score, both teams managed to find the weekend entertaining. Knight said the skills competition being added to the overall score made it difficult to catch up, but she enjoyed being able to play with players she doesn’t normally get to.

“We were stretching before we went out on the ice and we were like, ‘This is awesome,’” she said. “We need to collaborate league-wide and have more events like this.”

NWHL All-Star Weekend Cocktails!

Hello, Katarin here!

The NWHL All-Star Weekend is upon us and we all have our different ways to celebrate. For myself, I love nothing better than mixing up a few cocktails for my friends and settling in to enjoy the festivities.

You see, over the years, I’ve somehow fallen into the role of mixologist for my friends group. Do I have any sort of formal bartending training? No. I’m just an enthusiastic novice. But with this in mind, my good friends here at Watch This Hockey asked me to mix up some NWHL themed cocktails.

And really, who doesn’t like to sit back with a drink when they watch hockey? But this isn’t just any game, this is the All Star Game! The usual bottle of my favorite lucky beer just won’t do. So here are a couple of special cocktails I mixed up, just for Watch This and the NWHL All Star Weekend.

Four NWHL themed cocktails

I’m giving my recipes using parts, so its easier for everyone to do their own measure. For my own mixing, I used a small shot glass that holds 1/8ths of a Cup.

First up, my own beloved Riveters. Sure, they play in Brooklyn, but how could I pass up the opportunity to take inspiration from the classic Manhattan? Except in my take, I up the cherry flavor. Gone is the vermouth, replaced instead with cherry liquer.

A picture of Jack Daniels whiskey, cherry liquor, cherry bitters, and maraschino cherries
Component Parts of The Riveter

The Riveter

1 part whiskey
1 part cherry liquer
Dash cherry bitters
Maraschino cherries (for garnish)

Recipe: mix together in a cocktail shaker with ice & them strain into a glass.

The Riveter Coktail

If you’re reading this and saying “this is great, but I don’t really like the taste of alcohol?”

Well, same. No, really! I know there’s a weird prejudice against liking alcoholic drinks that are sweet, but not all of us enjoy drinking bourbon straight, right? So, with this in mind, I thought I’d give you an option to make this a little sweeter. What’s the secret? Add soda. No really! I prefer Sprite Zero, but sparkling water will do the job just as well. For me, Sprite Zero adds a hint of sweetness without being overpowering.

Jack Daniels, Cherry Bitters, Cherry liqour, Sprite Zero, Maraschino cherries
Component Parts of The Riveter Sweet

The Riveter Sweet

1 part whiskey
1 part cherry liquer
Dash cherry bitters
Dash maraschino liquid (the stuff your cherries come in)
2 parts Sprite Zero/sparkling water/etc.
Maraschino cherries (for garnish)

Another cocktail photo
The Riveter Sweet

Next up, we have The Boston Pride. But what cocktail is worthy of your very own All Star Captain, Hilary Knight?

I won’t lie, this isn’t EXACTLY my recipe. I believe it’s fairly popular among the college bro set, but it also seemed pretty perfect. There’s a lot of great cider breweries in Massachusetts, but I couldn’t manage to find a cider from one of them in all of Chicago, so instead I made do with a hard cider from Vermont.

 

A can of Citizen Cider and a bottle of Fireball
The Components of The Fiery Pride


Fiery Pride

1 bottle hard cider
2 parts Fireball liquer

Recipe: 20 minutes before you begin, freeze your glass.

Be sure your hard cider is chilled.

Pour chilled cider into frozen glass. Add Fireball.

Cocktail in a mason jar
The Fiery Pride

And what of The Connecticut Whale? Well, I knew I had to do a wine cocktail, because everyone in Connecticut is a wine mom.

“Katarin,” I hear you say. “I am from Connecticut and I am NOT a wine mom.”

To that I say “Listen. Hold out your hands and pretend I am gently cupping them in mine. Now, I won’t hear that kind of defeatist talk. Search, deep inside your soul and there, you will find the wine mom, yearning to be free.”

Sparkling moscato, sparkling apple juice, Jack Daniels, and an apple. Green, for preference.
The Components of the Wine Mom  Connecticut Sparkling Wine Cocktail

Connecticut Sparkling Wine Cocktail

1 part whiskey
2 parts sparkling wine
3 parts apple cider
Sliced apples for garnish

Recipe: chill your wine beforehand.

You can slice your apples however you like, but when I use apples in a cocktail, I prefer to julienne.

Place apple slices in bottom of glass. Pour each ingredient over top. Gently stir.

Cocktail with APPLES IN IT
The Completed Sparkling Connecticut Whale

Last but most certainly not least, we have our host city/team, the Buffalo Beauts. But what could possibly be worthy of the host city and New York’s own, Emily Pfalzer? Well, it all started with an idea for a take on the classic Sidecar. Except, rather than cognac, using Crown Royal, for The Queen City.

Triple sec, crown royal, and lime juice.
The Component Parts of The Beaut

The Beaut

1 part Crown Royal
1 part Triple Sec
1 part Lime juice

Recipe: combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a glass.

 

The Beaut

And there you have it! A full lineup of NWHL themed cocktails to make your All Star weekend extra special. Feel free to take pictures of your drinks and send them to me, either in the comments or at my twitter @boldmatter! I would also like any close up photos you get of Blake Bolden. Happy NWHL All-Star Weekend!

 

All-Star Game Weekend Preview: Who, What, Where, When, & How to Follow

This weekend, we have not one but two All-Star Games! What an embarrassment of riches.

CWHL All-Star Game

  • Teams will be picked by the two captains, Julie Chu and Natalie Spooner, on Friday night. The captains were chosen previously by fan-vote. The 2016 Frozen Fantasy Draft will be held on Friday January 22nd 2016 from 7 to 10pm at the Hilton Toronto.
  • See the full pool of players and other information here.
  • The All-Star Game itself will be on Saturday, January 23, 2016, at 1 PM ET the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
  • The game itself will be three full twenty-minute periods of hockey.
  • You can watch the game on Sportsnet, at 3 PM ET.  Don’t know yet about any options for streaming or television outside of the Sportsnet zone.

NWHL All-Star Game

  • Saturday, you can Skate With The Stars as part of the All-Star Weekend Package.
  • On Sunday, the NWHL All Star Game will happen at 2 PM in the HarborCenter, in Buffalo, New York.
  • Hilary Knight and Buffalo-area native Emily Pfalzer each captain a team– check out the rosters at the NWHL’s All-Star Game page!
  • Each team will also have an All-Star Kid Coach! Meet the kids who’ll be on the bench here.
  • The NWHL All-Star Game will consist of a skill competition, and a brief game of 4 on 4.
  • We’re hoping this game will be streamed, but aren’t sure– more details as we know them.

Follow along with Angelica and Erin, who will both be at both the NWHL and CWHL All-Star Games!

  • You can find Angelica on Twitter @ReinaDeLaIsla, Instagram, and on Snapchat and Periscope under ReinaDeLaIsla.
  • You can find Erin on Twitter @ekbartus and on Snapchat under ekbartus.

What To Do In Buffalo While You’re Waiting For The NWHL All-Star Game

So you want to go to the NWHL All-Star Game. You’ve got your tickets, your jersey, and you check to see where it’ll be. And you realize it’s in Buffalo, New York.

I know, I know. If there’s anyone who KNOWS what people say about this town, it’s me, because I hear them say it every time I mention where I’m from and where I’m living now. “You moved from BROOKLYN… THERE?”

Yeah. I get it. A fraction of the population, ten times the snow, and nothing to do. Right?

Well… not really.

In the six years I’ve lived here (seriously, I can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve heard Buffalo referred to as “wasteland,” “Southern Canada,” you name it. I’ve also seen it undergo a subtle transformation from the snowy little speed bump you pass on your way to Niagara Falls and Toronto, to a city with somewhat higher aspirations.

That doesn’t mean Buffalo has its issues; there are many, and a lot of them deal with things largely outside the realm of hockey (like jobs, gentrification, etc.). But you don’t care about any of that right now — you just want to know what there is to do before and after the All-Star Game. Well, you’re in luck.

  • First of all, there’s plenty of food options. Right inside the HarborCenter building (which is easily accessible from the train station, bus depot, and a short drive down the 33 from the airport), you have (716), the hot spot for pre- and post-game eats and drinks. I’ve been a couple of times, and I’m actually going to have my birthday party there in a couple of weeks. The drinks and atmosphere kind of make up for the food, in my opinion (that isn’t to say the food is bad — it’s just okay). But once you get a load of the giant screen you can check out games on, I think you’ll be sold.
  • If (716) isn’t for you, check out Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, located just a short walk down from the arena. This place has excellent food and pretty good beers (the Blue-Eyed Blueberry Blonde and Don Cherry Cherry Wheat are my favorites).
  • In fact, there are plenty of brewery options in Buffalo, which prides itself on local products (just look at Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer, a native of nearby Getzville). Big Ditch on East Huron, Resurgence on Niagara Street, and Flying Bison on Seneca Street are all close by. I’ve heard tell Big Ditch has more variety and great food in addition to their beer, while Resurgence and Flying Bison offer cool snacks to pair with your brews. (Resurgence also plays pretty great music — I took my friend Maria there and that night they had R&B and hip hop jams that took me right back to middle school.)
  • If you fancy braving the cold and snow for a walk along the water, Canalside is the place to be. Buffalo’s made awesome use of the space during the winter, offering fitness classes and public skating, among other things. Last weekend was Canalside’s Chillabration, featuring live entertainment and food on top of everything else it has to offer. During the summer, there are concerts, boot camp, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and tons of water activities on the canal. Their Fourth of July celebrations are also lots of fun.
  • Walk a bit further down and you’ll find the Naval and Military Park, which features three ships, a museum, and the Liberty Hound, a cool little pub. Right now, the Park is closed to tours until March, but you can still take some pretty sweet photos with the giant ships in the background.
  • Finally, Buffalo RiverWorks over on Ganson Street has everything — sports, food and drink — under one roof. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s looking gorgeous. Oh, and did I mention you can also catch roller derby there? Yeah, Buffalo has FREAKIN’ ROLLER DERBY. Get excited.
  • If you’d like to explore outside of downtown, there are a couple of great neighborhoods developed around some of Buffalo’s main drags. The Delaware District features some of the beautiful mansions millionaires once lived in; Allentown, the heart of Buffalo’s LGBTQ community, features some cool variety stores and art galleries; and the Elmwood Village has everything from bookstores and boutiques to bars and even a little greenery in the form of Bidwell Park. Also, don’t overlook Grant Street — it features two of my favorite used bookstores, Rust Belt Books and West Side Stories, plus a ton of cool shops owned by a diverse group of entrepreneurs. Buffalo has a growing refugee population, and Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), Inc., has done a lot to help support them and their businesses.

I realize now that I could go on for quite a bit about the stuff Buffalo has to offer, because believe it or not, it’s quite a bit. This place is small and a little out of the game, but it’s full of pride and willingness to prove itself — kind of like its NWHL team.

Anyway, if you do decide to make a weekend of it, consider checking out the stuff listed above, and don’t be afraid to do a bit of your own digging. And of course, don’t miss puck drop for the All-Star Game at 2 p.m. sharp at HarborCenter.

Kunichika line shines, Buffalo Beauts top Riveters in shootout

A wild third period comeback led to a game-winner by captain Emily Pfalzer, as the Buffalo Beauts prevailed over the New York Riveters, 6-5 in the shootout.

Pfalzer threw in a couple of head fakes to move goaltender Jenny Scrivens before cutting to her left, putting a high backhand over Scrivens’ blocker side, for the winner.

The game had started out in Buffalo’s favor as they came flying out of the gate, dominating puck possession and peppering Scrivens with 13 shots to New York’s six. The line centered by Kourtney Kunichika especially shone, as Kunichika, Hailey Browne and Devon Skeats maintained possession heading into the zone and drove hard to the net, often including a trailer to pick up potential rebounds. It was Kunichika who tipped the puck past Scrivens to put the Beauts up 1-0 6:48 into the opening frame.

Lyudmila Belyakova potted a rebound by Beauts netminder Kim Sass to tie it midway through the period, but six minutes later, Megan Bozek aimed a bomb of a shot at the back of the net, making it 2-1 heading into the second.

That was when it all fell apart for Buffalo. A parade to the penalty box by the Beauts led to a slaughter on the skater-advantage for the Riveters, who scored four goals in the period (three of them on the power play). Bray Ketchum and Morgan Fritz-Ward tallied two apiece, taking advantage of the Beauts’ frustration and some key rebounds by Sass, who was replaced by Brianne McLaughlin before the period ended. The Riveters also had two goals in a row disallowed, one due to a high-stick, and the other to a quick whistle. Later in the period, the Beauts got a couple of looks in on Scrivens; Erin Zach in particular had a great chance, flying in on a breakaway, but was stopped by Scrivens’ blocker. The Riveters goalie finished with 21 saves.

But Buffalo slowly mounted a comeback over the final period. Pfalzer started things off, moving deep into the offensive zone and putting away a beautiful pass by Shelby Bram. Then Tatiana Rafter put the Beauts within one. Finally, Kunichika brought the regulation scoring full-circle on a net-crashing play (something her line thrives on). McLaughlin kept her team alive with some key saves, while Scrivens also tried her best to ensure at least one point for her squad.

After an exciting OT that saw a couple of chances on both sides, the game went to the skills competition. Brooke Ammerman drew first blood for the Riveters, but McLaughlin stopped the final two shooters for New York, while Shelby Bram tied the shootout score and Pfalzer put the game away.

This game highlighted the importance of the Beauts sticking to their game, which (despite their best intentions) is not overly physical. The longer they spend in the penalty box, the more flustered and less effective they seem to be, whereas by simply using their speed and being smart about their positioning, they succeed. This was not necessarily a game that needed a shootout to decide it, or at least it wouldn’t have if the Beauts kept their feet moving and their wits about them. However, they managed to regroup and get the extra point, and McLaughlin did an incredible job in relief (9 saves). Here’s to hoping it isn’t quite so hard to hang onto the two points next time.

Speaking of next time, it won’t be until two weekends from now. The NWHL All-Star Game is slated for next Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m. at HarborCenter. It will feature some of the best and biggest names in the league (including eight Beauts). Tickets are $25, and it will also be streamed via Cross-Ice Pass. Stay tuned for more All-Star coverage as the week progresses.

Women’s Winter Classic: Let’s Look Beyond The NHL

We here at Watch This have been advocates of women’s hockey being seen on its own merits for awhile now, so the debate about the admittedly poorly executed Winter Classic (the NWHL/CWHL one, mind) is certainly relevant to our interests. The “Winter Classic” as a phrase and as a hockey concept is really the NHL’s own marketing invention, and has been increasingly explicitly a marketing bid in recent years: more outdoor games, less big-name/historic locations, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because marketing can be useful and women’s hockey in particular would benefit from larger institutions throwing their marketing weight behind it – but it does mean that you really can’t decouple the lackluster “Outdoor Women’s Classic” from the influence and background of the NHL’s Winter Classic brand.

When I (that is me, Elena) heard the news that a women’s Winter Classic was going to happen – but only sort of! individual tickets wouldn’t be sold! also it was last minute and not heavily advertised! – I just sort of sighed. Putting on an event in itself isn’t enough to guarantee profit or attention; the NHL knows that. After all, the NHL as a league is orders of magnitude more well-known than the CWHL or the NWHL, but they still advertise special events heavily. Putting on a women’s Winter Classic, but not planning ahead of time, promoting it, or really doing much of anything but the bare minimum of providing a space and a few tweets, is setting it up to fail. And, in the eyes of a lot of people, it did fail. If the event was meant as a way for the NWHL and CWHL to learn from the NHL’s experience putting on an event, then they appeared to have not left themselves with time to do it. This dry run didn’t result in a big crowd watching an outdoor women’s hockey game; time, money, and effort on the part of players and administrators – including the NHL – ended up squandered on an event for which individual tickets weren’t even sold.

But while the NHL’s lukewarm support certainly contributed to the women’s classic being more of a whimper than a bang, it wasn’t the only factor. The CWHL and the NWHL are ostensibly both grown-up, professional leagues. We therefore ought to be asking exactly why announcement of the game was delayed for so long, why details of the game were communicated so poorly to women’s hockey fans, who follow various CWHL and NWHL communications (email, twitter, and so on), and why, if there truly were hold-ups on various practical details such as broadcasting, the CWHL and the NWHL agreed to do this event this year at all.

More organized and comprehensive NHL support would be great. But if agreements between whatever parties needed to agree to make the event happen were only finalized a few days before the date, why wasn’t the agreement then to hold and promote a Winter Classic next year? As a women’s hockey fan who’s watched more than one women’s league in various sports come and go, what the rush to hold the Winter Classic this year tells me, rightly or wrongly, is that one or both leagues isn’t confident that they’ll even be around next year. It strikes me as incredibly poor marketing, on the CWHL and NWHL’s part, to rush this event out at the last minute – and I’m not really in favor of focusing on the NHL’s role in the event to the exclusion of looking at what the CWHL and NWHL have been doing. They had no coordinated media campaigns ready; they had no cross-league branding ready (merchandise and graphics in particular); they had no advertising ready. In short, they had nothing prepared to convince me, a fan, that the event was worth paying attention to.

That lack can be easily explained: the event was finalized at the last minute. But holding the event anyway, despite the last-minute nature of the preparations, was a poor choice. It signals disorganization within leagues, lack of cooperation, and lack of confidence in the future to fans. That really troubles me. We can talk all day about what the NHL could do for women’s hockey, but in 2016, when we have two independent leagues, we need to move beyond that. The CWHL and NWHL have both repeatedly asserted their confidence in the future and their ability to grow, both individually as leagues and as part of the larger community of women’s hockey. It’s time their actions reflected those statements.

Buffalo Beauts Stumble And Fall to the Connecticut Whale, 5-3

The Buffalo Beauts stumbled out of the gate early and never quite recovered, losing to the Connecticut Whale 5-3 Sunday evening at Chelsea Piers.

Yekaterina Smolentseva’s two goals in the first period, as well as a tally by Danielle Ward, set the tone, as Buffalo’s offense struggled to break into the offensive zone and its defense couldn’t support Amanda Makela. Kelli Stack also scored a pair for the Whale, while Kelley Steadman (two goals) and Meghan Duggan kept the score close.

What Went Right For The Beauts:

  • I hate sounding like a broken record, but Steadman just makes this team better, even if only by her own individual effort. Her second goal was a thing of beauty as she charged into the zone, going wide on her defender and protecting the puck beautifully before poking it past Nicole Stock. That said, she also gave Duggan a really good look for her goal. She’s so strong on the puck and skates with tons of power, and is formidable alongside Duggan.
  • Recovery. The Beauts did have a good second and third compared to their first, with shot totals closer than expected (36-32 Whale at the end of the night). At one point, it looked as though Steadman had brought the game to within one at the start of the second period, but a (very) quick whistle kept that from happening. Still, the Beauts got their speed back and tried hard to generate chances off the rush (their specialty).
  • Emily Pfalzer didn’t score a goal, but came close numerous times, including a beautiful end-to-end rush later in the game (I believe it was late in the second). Her speed and puck moving skills were on fine display against the Whale Sunday.
    Despite allowing five goals, Amanda Makela had a strong game, keeping the Beauts in it for as long as she could. She finished with 31 saves.

What Went Wrong For The Beauts:

  • That first period. Although the Beauts came out of it only down 12-10 in shots, it didn’t seem very close at all aside from end to end action to start the game. The Whale had a lot of time and space to work with, resulting in three goals before the end of the frame, two of them from the right side. Smolentseva in particular had an easy go of the Beauts defense, assisting on Ward’s goal and scoring twice more.
  • Passing decisions. More than once I found myself asking, “Why are you passing there?” or, “Who was that going to?” Whether it was a telegraphed stretch pass with two Whale players in the lane or a drop pass to an unsuspecting linemate, it wasn’t smart, wasn’t clean and certainly wasn’t effective.
  • Special teams. The Beauts had (if I’m counting correctly) eight power play opportunities and didn’t make good on any of them, not even a five-on-three in the third immediately after Kelli Stack’s second goal that would have pulled them back to within one. The Whale also managed to get one power-play goal and one shorthanded goal (Stack’s first), dominating possession even with a player in the box. They were stronger on the puck and got better looks in on Makela than Buffalo did on Stock.
  • Shot quality and net presence. Steadman can drive with ease, Pfalzer is slippery and can sneak through opposing D, but all of this is on transition. The Beauts had a tough time getting in close on Stock, relying on lucky chips at bad angles to try to get something to stick. Maybe it’s because they’re a smaller team; maybe they didn’t want to take more penalties (because they already took quite a few). Either way, it showed.

Odds and Ends:

  • On the ice, these teams are not friends; the penalty sheet was littered with cross-checks and roughing calls. However, the Beauts and Whale put their in-game bad blood aside to take a photo at center ice with their helmets arranged in a “14” shape for injured Boston Pride forward Denna Laing. Good stuff.
  • It was a night for Kell(y)(ey)(ie)s on both teams. Kelly Babstock tallied an assist, Kelli Stack had two goals, and Kelley Steadman finished with three points. The final Whale goal was fun to read: Kelli Stack, from Kelly Babstock and KALEIGH Fratkin. Little things, guys.
  • I like the look of the Skeats-Kunichika-Browne line. All three have speed; Skeats has a bit more finesse, but all of them grind it out, and it’s fun to watch them generate opportunities.
  • Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot has what could be the quote of the season from Steadman:

The Beauts play next against the New York Riveters Sunday at Aviator Sports and Events Complex. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. EST. You can watch via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass.

#14strong

A lot of transitional events get celebrated with a party. Marriage, birthdays, graduations. Put on a special garment and be, by the virtue of occasion or ceremony, transformed. The Women’s Winter Classic was marketed, during the three days between announcement and event, as one of these transformative and transitional events: the first women’s outdoor game on a grand stage, the first meeting of the CWHL and NWHL, partnering with the NHL to bring this dream to fruition. CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress talked about the role of the lengthy relationship between CWHL and the NHL in creating this opportunity; NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan spoke about all of the little details that went into making the game happen, right down to the signage. Later, players from Les Canadiennes and the Boston Pride would talk about the wondrous moment of stepping out onto the ice and looking up at the expanse of Gillette Stadium around them.

Denna Laing is one of those players. She posted on the Facebook page her family has created about her experience at the Winter Classic: “the best day of my life.” Most of the photos attached to the post show Laing with her teammates in their jerseys; one shows her prized gold pumps, Winter Classic hat, and coffee in her Winter Classic dressing room stall. In the first period of the game that followed, Laing fell and suffered a significant spinal injury. At present, she has limited mobility in her upper body and no feeling below the chest.

Of course, if you’ve been following women’s hockey, you know all this. You might not have seen Laing’s injury, because the Women’s Winter Classic—for all its pomp and circumstance—was only seen by a handful of people either in the stands or watching along via Periscope, but you’ve no doubt read the articles. The tragedy of Laing’s injury has arguably provoked more interest and coverage from mainstream media than the game itself. Across social media, hockey teams and fans are posting their support of Laing with the number she wore at Princeton, tagged #14strong. NWHL players are wearing a yellow sticker with #24 on their helmets, the number Laing wore for the Boston Pride. A friend of the Laing family started a fundraiser on GoFundMe that reached over $43,000 in donations before it was suspended at the request of the Laing family, who have their own donation page set up at dennalaing.org.

I didn’t see Laing’s injury in real time, although I was at the Women’s Winter Classic covering the event for Watch This Hockey. It was difficult to see the players on the ice from the high vantage of the media seating at Gillette. I’d been distracted for most of the first period, trying to figure out whether it was better to watch the close-ups on the big screen above the field or squint at the ice, where the players looked like festively-attired ants. That confusion wasn’t why I missed Laing falling, though—I was tweeting.

Real life has a way of interrupting narrative.

Like the Women’s Winter Classic, profound injury leading to disability is also a transitional event. We have stories we tell about disability, too, many of which have already been trotted out on Laing’s behalf. There is a short leap between the tragedy of injury and the “tragic” existence of people with disabilities. If Laing wants to describe her injury as a tragedy and her recovery as a challenge, her experience is hers to own and define, but we should be careful how we generalize disability as an obstacle to be overcome. People with disabilities are people before they are stories. There is no obligation for anyone with a disability to be a heroic example for the world.

Unless, of course, you’re already a heroic example for the world. You’re part of a groundbreaking event; you’re playing for a league whose tagline is History Begins; you’re a female athlete of extraordinary ability in a world where “role model” is one of the key marketing attributes for people in your profession. You’re Denna Laing, posing for a photo with your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. You’re on NHL ice in the middle of the Patriots’ home stadium with the broad sky above you. It’s the best day of your life.

When people talk about the tragedy of Laing’s accident, that tragedy isn’t just about the loss of Laing’s mobility or her athletic career—frequently, those things are incidental. The emotional note they hit is the loss of the dream of Denna Laing who skated onto the ice at the Winter Classic: the dream of the female athlete taking center stage. Laing, herself, isn’t lost at all. Like all of us who live with a disability, she will go on to have a life that may not include hockey but will be as meaningful and valuable as the life of any non-disabled person. Like all of us who live with a disability, she will regain autonomy not through hashtags or short-term fundraising efforts, but by long-term communal support and collective action.

Let Laing’s teammates on the Pride mourn the loss of her place at their side, but stop talking about her like she’s dead. Let Laing define her own experiences. Don’t donate a couple of bucks, chuck a puck, and check out. Learn how you can be a disability advocate and ensure that people with mobility impairments like Laing’s have full access to your community. Most of all, don’t make Laing into a symbol of whatever you feel about female athletes, women’s hockey, or the Winter Classic. Let Laing tell her own story.