Late goal by Boston Pride ends Buffalo Beauts’ regular season with loss

The Buffalo Beauts finished the season with a solid effort, but not a win, as Jillian Dempsey scored on a power-play opportunity late in the third period to lift the Boston Pride to a 3-2 win over the hosts at Harborcenter Sunday afternoon.

Buffalo came out strong in the first, playing the Pride to a near-draw in shots and possession and keeping Boston’s best shooters largely out of the face of Brianne McLaughlin. Boston’s Brittany Ott had to fend off numerous offensive chances as well, particularly ones by Meghan Duggan and Emily Pfalzer (a running theme throughout the game).

After getting stonewalled by Ott and the Pride defense for much of the game, the Beauts broke through in the second, as a giveaway up the middle came to the stick of Hailey Browne. Her snapshot popped over Ott’s glove, giving the Beauts a 1-0 lead. Corinne Buie answered just 45 seconds later with a low shot that snaked through McLaughlin’s pads. Then, a falling Brianna Decker made a second effort in front of the Beauts net that found its way behind McLaughlin, putting the Beauts behind with about 14 minutes to go in the frame.

As it turned out, the Beauts needed about 10 minutes to make it a game once more. Meghan Duggan put home a rebound on a shot from teammate Megan Bozek, in mid-air to knot the score at 2 before time expired in the second. It was a beautiful goal and one a long time coming, as Duggan had had several chances either blocked or steered wide of Ott’s crease.

Unfortunately, the momentum from her goal didn’t last long. In the third, Boston took it to Buffalo’s defenders with strong entry into the zone, dominant possession time and effective defense to keep the Beauts from getting close to the net or sustaining zone time (in fact, the Beauts were outshot 11-4 in that final period). Dempsey’s goal came with just under six minutes remaining in the period; Zoe Hickel took the puck in the left corner, drawing Pfalzer to her from in front of the net, which left Dempsey open to get into position at the back door and put away Hickel’s pass before anyone else could pick her up. It was a momentary lapse that ultimately cost Buffalo a win that didn’t mean much in the standings, but could have sent them to Connecticut on a positive note.

Despite the end result, the Beauts were pleased with the way they played throughout the game.

“I think they weren’t expecting us to come out flying like we did, and we had them back on their heels in that first period,” McLaughlin said of the effort. “Moving forward into the playoffs, that’s the perfect game — what we just did.”

Playing Boston at Harborcenter helped the Beauts come full circle from where they started in October (also on home ice, and against the Pride). However, this team is leaps and bounds above where they were when the puck first dropped. Much of that, both McLaughlin and forward Devon Skeats asserted, was due to the team needing time to get used to each other, something that was difficult to do with five key players missing for over a month due to visa issues. Dealing with having high-scoring forwards out of the lineup, like Duggan or Kelley Steadman (who had a commitment at RMU and missed Sunday’s game), is also a factor; however, the Beauts managed to be competitive despite those issues.

“We’ve gotten used to that,” McLaughlin said. “There always seems to be one of our key players missing per game, so we just kind of put it on each other to step up and fill that role.”

And they’ve found secondary players, like Skeats (who scored nine of the Beauts’ 54 goals in the regular season) to do just that. Though she came in late, she had an impact very quickly, and she says she’s happy with what she and the Beauts have been able to do in their first season.

“We’ve all come together as a team, and I think we’ve been pretty successful this year,” she said. “I know we had a bumpy start, but now I think we’re coming together and we’re all really ready for playoffs.”

Those playoffs start Friday, March 4, with Buffalo heading out to Chelsea Piers CT to play the Whale. It will be a best-of-three throughout the weekend, with the tiebreaker game set for Sunday evening if necessary.

Two- and potentially three-game weekends are not what the Beauts (or any team) are used to, but that aside, the team is sure of itself heading into the postseason.

“I think every girl in this room knows that we can beat any team in this league, so it just reassures our confidence,” Skeats said. “I know the game didn’t really go our way tonight, sometimes that happens, but we’re definitely ready for next weekend.”

Bozek Helps Buffalo Beauts Clinch Third Seed Over New York Riveters

 

An even game in the first period turned into a rout, as the Buffalo Beauts overwhelmed the New York Riveters’ defense and goaltender Nana Fujimoto, winning 5-1 at Harborcenter Sunday and clinching the third seed in the Isobel Cup playoffs.

The Beauts also made a little bit of history Sunday, becoming the first team in NWHL history to have a mascot. Krusher (with a K), donated by the KIA Memorial Roadmarch, made her debut at Harborcenter, dropping the ceremonial puck with the players and tossing out tee shirts to the crowd. Perhaps Krusher proved to be the lucky charm the Beauts needed to pull ahead of New York for good.

Defender Megan Bozek had three points in the win, including the goal to start off the Beauts’ scoring. The entire blueline in fact stepped up and jumped into the play, with Emily Pfalzer adding an assist and Paige Harrington and Lindsay Grigg having excellent games.

Bozek’s goal came in the first period as she carried the puck into the zone, slapping it past Fujimoto’s right pad as she crossed the ice. It was a break for the Beauts, who had only four shots recorded on net despite a number of rushes into the zone; meanwhile, the Riveters had eight, with much of the play being stymied in the neutral zone for both teams.

The Riveters briefly tied it in the second period — Bray Ketchum made good on a penalty shot she received after Bozek hooked her on a breakaway. But with eight minutes to go, Bozek sent Duggan on a beautiful drive that resulted in her going top shelf on Fujimoto to break the tie.

From that point forward, it was all Beauts. While the Riveters executed good defensive strategy for much of the game, staying low, clogging the middle of the ice and collapsing onto whoever carried the puck into the zone, the Beauts’ relentless forecheck finally found its way to the net in the third period. Hayley Williams threw a shot from a bad angle to the front of the net that Fujimoto stopped, but Tatiana Rafter was there to collect and put home the rebound for her second goal of the season, and then Kourtney Kunichika quickly added her ninth of the year to pad the lead. Despite a timeout and pulling their goalie, the Riveters failed to generate much on offense, and Kelley Steadman sealed the win with an empty-net goal.

General manager Linda Mroz said the kind of effort the Beauts put forth Sunday was what she had envisioned seeing all season after putting together the roster.

“I’m blaming it on the mascot,” she joked, adding that having Krusher there to pep up the lighter-than-usual crowd definitely put a positive spin on the afternoon.

Indeed, Sunday’s game seemed to be the best the team has played all year, with all three components working on the ice at the same time. The penalty kill was solid as well, keeping New York off the board on all four attempts. Forward Hailey Browne said despite the few lulls in the game, Buffalo finished exactly how it intended to.

“We didn’t want a one-goal game, we didn’t want OT,” she said. “We wanted to bury them.”

And bury them the Beauts did, both in goals and shots; after being outshot 8-4 in that opening period, Buffalo came back to dominate possession, outshooting the Riveters 30-18. Brianne McLaughlin wasn’t kept very busy, but still earned the third star of the game for her performance in net.

Defense was definitely a focus in earlier practices as well, according to both Browne and Pfalzer, and it showed — not only did the blueline step up offensively, but it also kept the Riveters well clear of McLaughlin, allowing her to see most shots and forcing wide other opportunities. Harrington, Grigg, and others on the ice also made great individual efforts to fend off fast breaks and passes inside the middle.

“Everyone had a great game,” Pfalzer said of her team’s effort, particularly that of her defensive corps. “It was awesome to see everyone produce.”

The Beauts now have one weekend left in the regular season, and it’s against the team they began it with — the Boston Pride, fresh off of clinching first place in the league after beating the Connecticut Whale 5-3. The points don’t matter quite as much as they might have before, but Browne said the team still wants to finish the season on a high note.

“They’re a very good team,” she said. “We want to just work on our positioning, brush up on our special teams and everything like that, use it as practice — but we really want to win these games.”

As for Connecticut, although they are the one team the Beauts have not managed to beat this season, it should make for an interesting matchup. The competitiveness and intensity have been present in every game between these two teams, particularly after playing so many games against each other early in the year (and all the bad blood built up that implies). But the Beauts also seem to be turning a page at the right time, and it’s something that could possibly alter the course of events heading into the final.

“It’s just a matter of showing up, and what team shows up,” Mroz said. “When we worry about our game, we don’t have to worry about the other team, so basically if the Beauts that showed up today play, and we finish, I can say we’re going to be competitive no matter what.

“We’ve been competitive with Connecticut all throughout the season, so we’ve gotta go, and we’ve gotta go to win.”

The Beauts and Pride face off in their final regular season game Sunday, Feb. 28 at Harborcenter. Live streaming is available via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass, or buy tickets either at the door or on nwhl.co/buy-tickets.

On Denna Day, Fins Down, First Place, and Farewell to Harvard

On February 14th, the crowd at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center turned out not in the familiar Harvard crimson, but in yellow. While the Boston Pride’s last home game was a tensely fought match with their most heated rival, the Connecticut Whale, the Pride’s focus was on teammate Denna Laing. For the first time since her injury during the Women’s Winter Classic on December 31st, Laing joined her teammates on the ice for a photo prior to warm-ups as well as fistbumps and hugs at the start of the game. The merchandise table quickly sold out of the wristbands and adult-sized shirts whose proceeds go to help Denna Laing. (If you’re interested in other ways to help Denna Laing in addition to donating money, see my post from last week.) Over 1900 people were in the stands of the Bright-Landry Center, the highest attendance since the Pride’s home opener on November 22nd.

Sunday’s game was the Pride’s fifth against the Whale, whom the Pride have now seen for three of their past four games. The Whale remained undefeated until December 27th, when the Pride won 2-1 with a shortened roster than included both Laing and Pride GM Hailey Moore, who signed a single-day contract with the league to play. Since then, the Pride have held steady against the Whale. Some of the Pride’s success can certainly be attributed to overall defensive improvement, but their growing familiarity with the Whale has also worked in their favor. The Pride remain the only team to defeat the Whale: they’ve now done so four times, all in regulation. This weekend’s 4-2 win pushed the Pride into first place in the league standings, putting them at 25 points to the Whale’s 24.

Jordan Smelker led the Pride on that push to first place with a three-point outing on Sunday that made her NWHL’s Player of the Week. She scored the Pride’s first goal late in the first period and the game-winning midway through the third, finishing off with an assist on Gigi Marvin’s empty-netter. Pride captain Brianna Decker scored the Pride’s remaining goal early in the third. The Whale leveled only 12 shots on goal to the Pride’s 37, spending a full ten minutes of the game short-handed and much of the rest hemmed in their own zone. Goaltender Brittany Ott allowed two goals, putting her at a .833 SVP for the game, lower than her .927 season average, but the early lead and strong defense from the Pride never let them seem vulnerable.

After the game, the atmosphere in the locker room was jubilant, no doubt helped by a huge box of Top Shelf cookies. ” I feel pretty strong about fins down,” Ott said of every Pride fan’s favorite hashtag. Her outlook on the Pride’s final matchup with the Whale next weekend was pragmatic. “I think we just have to keep plugging away at what we’ve been doing. I think we’ve been gaining a lot of momentum as we’ve been going along this season. We can’t go in there overconfident or cocky or anything like that, they’ll definitely capitalize on that. They’re a good team, they’re smart players. So we just have to keep focusing on us and improving this week and we’ll be ready.”

The Pride will host the 3rd or 4th seed for the semifinal round of the inaugural Isobel Cup playoffs at Raymond Bourque Arena in Beverly, but this is their final game at Harvard. Former Harvard women’s hockey captain Jillian Dempsey said of her return to Bright-Landry, “Everybody always gives me a hard time because of all my Harvard hockey love—” (She was interrupted by riotous laughter from locker room.) “I’m a little biased, but it’s the best sheet of ice in the whole country. ” Ott was clearly moved by the turnout for the game. “It was incredible to see the wave going around there a few times,” she said. “That was like something I definitely had to take in for a second because that was just an awesome feeling.”

With a five-win streak behind them, the Boston Pride have hit their stride as they head into the final two games of the regular season. “They’re a tough team to beat,” said Connecticut Whale forward Brittany Dougherty, who scored her first goal in Sunday’s game. “They’re fast, they’re skilled, they have a couple Olympians that can just put the puck in the net. The only way to beat them is to work harder than them.”

The Home Stretch: New York Riveters Take a Run at Redemption

The less said about the February 7th game pitting the New York Riveters against the Boston Pride, the better. At home in Brooklyn, the season-long Riveters slump continued as the Pride blew them out in a 6-1 finish that briefly catapulted the Pride to #1 in the league. Even though the Riveters’ discipline (not always their strong point, particularly in high-scoring losses) held out, with the team only taking three minors throughout the game, they were unable to capitalize on any of the eight penalties assessed overall against Boston. The lack of power play goals was particularly frustrating as the Pride took five of their eight penalties in the second period, including a six-minute stretch during which the Riveters were playing 5-on-4 or 5-or-3 and still failed to score. I’ve been uncomfortable criticizing people for doing things that I can’t do myself (i.e. ‘playing professional hockey’ ‘playing hockey at all’ ‘lacing ice skates properly’), but playing almost half of the period with the player advantage and yet failing to score is particularly egregious. Unfortunately, it was on this particularly unflattering note that the Pride and Riveters parted for the regular season—whether or not they’ll face each other in the playoffs remains to be seen.

The lone Riveters goal in that match-up came from Belyakova early in the game, marking her fifth of the season. Her growth this season has been, uh, one of the few fun parts of being a Riveters fan. Luckily, this past weekend’s game against the Buffalo Beauts provided a glimmer of joy in a sea of defeat, like a beautiful shootout lighthouse. The Riveters’ final home game and their third-to-last of the season, the game was also the Beauts’ opportunity to clinch third place in the league. You can guess what that would have meant for the Riveters… that’s right, another first-place draft pick!!!

But as you may have heard, in the game of hockey it is a good idea to believe in miracles. (You can rip the Miracle references from my cold, dead, cliché hands, y’all.) And so, in a back-and-forth game that, frankly, looked like it could have gone either way, the Riveters beat the Beauts in the shootout, 4-3, on Valentine’s Day. Love is real.

Though, actually, I’m not sure it could have gone either way. The Beauts way outshot the Riveters (41-29, and 6-3 in overtime), including 16 shots in the first period alone, and it seems only right that Nana Fujimoto was named second star of the game. The Rivs’ Fardelmann opened up the scoring early in the first period, a goal that wasn’t answered until the next period, when the Beauts scored twice in three minutes. The third period opened with the Riveters down a goal—never somewhere they like to be, but considering they’re usually down 3-4 goals at that point… not bad. Less than halfway through that final frame, the Rivs’ Fritz-Ward scored to tie it up, but Buffalo pulled ahead again a minute later. With the score sitting at 3-2, the Riveters needed to find their urgency and their legs on the power play, especially after the last Pride game (of which we will no longer speak. That way madness lies). Bray Ketchum came out swinging on the power play to score the tie goal, forcing overtime. (And there was much rejoicing.)

Overtime yielded nothing, but an anxiety-producing shootout (is there any other kind?) brought two good shots from Ammerman and Dosdall, which was enough to lift the Riveters over the Beauts for a 4-3 final. Deep breath. A win. What a feeling.

This exhilaration, however unfamiliar and lovely it may be, is also probably shortlived—because as soon as you do the math (for me, this will be several days of confused squinting later), it’s all there. The numbers don’t lie. The only way the Riveters could overtake the Beauts in points would be for the Riveters to win both of their next two games outright and the Beauts to lose both in regulation. In any other case, (OT losses, etc) the Beauts can match or easily overtake the Rivs.

Do I doubt that the Riveters can do it? Frankly, yes. They would have to improve their win percentage an improbable amount and do so in a streak, including a final game against the Connecticut Whale (who have been in continuous contention with the Pride for first in the league over the last few weeks). I think the Rivs are tired and injured and cold and their rink is really far away and also, probably, they are simply not the best team in the NWHL. In fact, it seems pretty likely that they’re the worst. In this big, weird, dubiously financed, confusingly managed experiment that has been the inaugural NWHL season, someone has to be.

And yet I’m still all in on this team—through the next two games, through the playoffs and (hopefully) beyond. The Riveters aren’t done yet, and neither am I. Maybe one day they’ll reward that faith. And maybe someone will finally #GetCelesteBrownAGoal2k16.

(Celeste Brown is the only Riveters forward to have played all 16 games and not have a goal. Obviously, goals aren’t the only thing that matters in hockey, but Celeste Brown seems chill and I personally would like this for her. This is my #JohnScottMVP moment and also the hill I will die on.)

Catch the Riveters against the Beauts again on 2/21 on the road in Buffalo. Keep the faith, y’all.

Supporting Denna Laing, Supporting Your Community

This Sunday, the Boston Pride will face the Connecticut Whale for their final home game this season at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center. Past Pride home games have recognized veterans, breast cancer survivors, and an organization raising awareness for youth mental health (DIFD). In the same vein, the Pride are now rallying around teammate Denna Laing, who experienced a severe spinal cord injury during the inaugural Women’s Winter Classic on December 31st. Sunday’s game has been declared “Denna Day,” during which proceeds from a silent auction, chuck-a-puck, 50/50 raffle, Denna Laing player t-shirts, and bracelets will go to benefit Laing. Denna Day will be focused on Laing, but a league representative has said that the NWHL has been in communication with national organizations that support people with spinal injuries. Hopefully, we’ll see more information about community involvement from the league in the longterm.

While direct assistance is important, people with injuries like Laing’s rely on accommodations mandated by the government so that they can continue to participate fully in their communities and live independently. These accommodations include things like curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, prioritized parking spaces, as well as services like transportation and acute medical care. You can help Laing today by contributing to The Denna Laing Fund; by advocating for people with disabilities in your community, you can help her for the rest of her life.

Here are some ways you can get involved if you’re in the United States (and in Massachusetts)!

1) Find your senators and representatives [GovTrack]

2) Keep an eye on upcoming federal legislation, including these important bills:

S. 2427: Disability Integration Act of 2015

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) asserted the right of individuals with disabilities to participate fully in community life and live independently. The Disability Integration Act of 2015 seeks to enforce and expand the reach of the ADA, focusing on community support and services for individuals with disabilities. States need to consider the ADA as a civil rights mandate. This includes prioritizing services for individuals with disabilities within their budgets, focusing on integrated living solutions, and minimizing institutional placement.

S. 2001: TIME Act

Did you know that businesses which have been certified by the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division can legally pay individuals with mental and physical disabilities below the minimum wage? Yes, even in Massachusetts. The TIME Act seeks to abolish subminimum wages, allowing a three-year period for businesses to transition to paying workers a fair wage.

S. 1604: Transition to Independence Act
Many individuals with disabilities do not receive support in sustaining or achieving independent living; instead, they are steered toward subminimum wage work, day programs, and institutional residency. The Transition to Independence Act seeks to provide incentive for states which are Medicaid buy-in states to find employment opportunities in integrated settings for individuals with disabilities who receive Medicaid-funded services.

3) As well as this problematic bill:

H.R.2646 – Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015
This bill is a sweeping action that defunds community services, limits HIPAA protections and the protection and advocacy agencies, and would substantially increase institutionalization and forced outpatient treatment. The National Council on Independent Living’s ADA/Civil Rights Committee explains more here (under “The Murphy Bill”).

4) If you’re in Massachusetts, now is a great time to learn about the state budget for fiscal year 2017, which is under construction right now.

Read more about FY 2017 funding for services for people with disabilities at the Arc of Massachusetts.

Buffalo Beauts at the 2016 NWHL All-Star Game

Buffalo Beauts general manager Linda Mroz’s best hockey memory involves, of all teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs. She was able to attend the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and meet legends of the sport, like Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada, and one of her heroes, Leafs great Doug Gilmour.

She remembers the feeling of awe upon being able to see a player she idolized from afar, in the flesh in front of her. And she still remains grateful to the Sittler family, who was able to bring her to the game and make that evening one she won’t ever forget.

On Jan. 24, Mroz was able to make that feeling a reality for a group of under-14 girls’ hockey players who had competed for the Harborcenter Cup ahead of the NWHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition, asking Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan to meet and take photos with the star-struck girls.

“They were over the moon,” she said of the girls’ responses. “They couldn’t stop thanking me and the players. It was unbelievable to be able to give these girls that feeling of meeting their heroes.”

Having those heroes be women, finally, after decades of fighting for representation and a level playing field for the sport, made it even better. That’s what Mroz is working for, as the GM for one of the Founding Four teams in the National Women’s Hockey League — among other things, a chance to give young female players in Western New York and beyond the chance to see, and be, their own role models.

Eight Beauts players participated in All-Star Weekend on Jan. 23 and 24, which included a media day and a “Skate with the Stars” session at Harborcenter Saturday before the on-ice events Sunday. The names included Olympians Meghan Duggan, Megan Bozek and Brianne McLaughlin, as well as rising homegrown talent like Emily Pfalzer (who served as a captain of her own team) and fan picks Devon Skeats and Hayley Williams.

For any hockey player, the opportunity to represent your team amongst the cream of the crop of your league is one that should rarely if ever be passed up.

But the Beauts All-Stars got an added bonus by playing in their own rink, Harborcenter, in downtown Buffalo. That meant showing off their shots, hands, and speed in front of a crowd with a large number of their own fans, not to mention enjoying the creature comforts within their facility.

“We’re all more used to playing here than anywhere else,” Kelley Steadman said of Harborcenter. “We also have the best fanbase in the league, by far, so being at a rink you’re comfortable with in front of your home fans was awesome.”

It was certainly home sweet home for Steadman, who won the shooting accuracy contest for Team Pfalzer and then took the MVP award with two goals in the two-period 4-on-4. But she wasn’t the only Beaut who shined on the ice — Devon Skeats skated an impressive 13.06 seconds in the fastest skater and also scored on a wild diving play for Team Pfalzer, while Hayley Williams scored the lone goal for Team Knight, who got steamrolled, 9-1.

Meanwhile, Meghan Duggan and Megan Bozek duked it out for the hardest shot, with Duggan maxing out at 80 miles per hour and Bozek taking the prize with an incredible 88 mph slapper. Brianne McLaughlin had a solid performance in net for Team Knight despite being on the losing end, and in doing so, she had an entertaining duel with good friend Steadman.

“We play together every day at RMU [Robert Morris University, where both work], and we’re around each other all the time, so going in we knew there would be a duel,” Steadman said of the showdown. Eventually, Steadman got the last laugh with a goal on McLaughlin.

Meanwhile, the other Beauts on the ice were having just as much fun. Skeats, who was voted into one of the final four All-Star spots by the fans, said she and her teammates were having a blast making up goal celebrations (and indeed, she ended up taking part in the hilarious “grenade” celly started by goal scorer Emily Field).

“The whole weekend was an incredible experience, and I am so happy I could have been a part of it,” she said via email.

Williams, also a vote-in, said it was an “amazing feeling” to be able to play with the best in the league.

“The majority of my Beauts teammates were on Pfalzer’s team, so to be able to build friendships [with some of the other players] was great,” she said.

Williams has also been building an affinity with the city of Buffalo; she shares an apartment here with four of her teammates, including Skeats, and both are enjoying what the 716 has to offer.

“Everyone’s very nice here, very welcoming,” Williams said. “Buffalo’s such a big hockey town, but small enough to really hype up [the women’s game] and get people here.”

Although the crowd at the All-Star Game wasn’t Harborcenter’s largest (about 1,000 people in an 1,800-capacity arena), the fans who showed up were loud and passionate, according to everyone who was on the ice.

“We all wanted to give the fans a good show, and I think we did just that,” Skeats said of the fans’ reaction overall.

But this was as much for the players and the league as much as it was for the fans, and Mroz did her best to ensure they had everything they needed. She called planning the fundraising dinner held the Friday before All-Star Weekend “like planning a wedding without the benefit of the cash at the end of the night.” A few calls to friends for raffle basket donations and other bits helped out — “Buffalo really is a city of good neighbors,” she said — and NWHL sponsor Dunkin’ Donuts also pitched in by donating hundreds of donuts decked out with the league’s branding.

From there, it was making sure everything was set down to the smallest details for the rest of the weekend, from the Skate with the Stars event Saturday night to the actual on-ice festivities — including having Seymour Knox IV, whose family brought professional hockey to Buffalo, drop the puck.

“That was my favorite moment,” Mroz recalled of the ceremonial puck drop. “It was awesome to talk to him about the growth of hockey, especially women’s hockey, here in Buffalo. He was so excited to be here, cheering on the players during the skills competition and everything.”

Having an icon of hockey in the 716 in the building was the cherry on top of an incredible opportunity to show off all the progress Buffalo’s made so far in becoming both a hub for the sport and a resurgent city.

“It was a chance to showcase the Harborcenter to everyone — not just to the women coming here, but to show everyone what Buffalo is all about,” Mroz said, referring to the continued development of Buffalo’s waterfront and downtown. Canalside, directly adjacent to Harborcenter, has been the site of plenty of events year-round, and businesses and traffic are starting to be more of a presence again along the city’s main drags. (For a bit more information on Buffalo’s attractions, check out my piece prior to the All-Star Game on what to do while you’re here.)

The appeal of Buffalo as a hockey hub in particular wasn’t lost on NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan, who said during media availability at the All-Star Game that having a presence in the Queen City wasn’t even a question.

“Buffalo was a no-brainer for us when we were picking our Founding Four teams, and it was a no-brainer again for our All-Star Game,” she said. “The Harborcenter does such a great job of hosting events, and the city of Buffalo is a hockey town — they’re so passionate here… when we were looking at our schedule for the All-Star Game, we didn’t even have a backup.”

That assuredness proved to be a great moment for Mroz, an Amherst native and coach of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association girls’ varsity hockey team when not managing the Beauts. Though she stopped playing before the NWHL transpired, being a part of it in such an executive way brings a special thrill.

“In high school I was voted most likely to be on parole,” she joked. “To be the general manager of an NWHL team is unbelievable.

“Twenty years ago, this was unheard of. Now, I have sophomores, juniors, seniors who I can see pushing into playing in college, and who might one day be playing for me in about six years or so… For young athletes able to make it to the game and see the talent these women have, they’re able to have actual heroes now. I think it’s pretty amazing.”

Buffalo Beauts Notebook: Weekend of January 31st, 2016

The Buffalo Beauts had their first win on home ice Sunday January 31st against the New York Riveters, beating them 4-2. Shelby Bram’s second goal of the year won it for the Beauts, and Erin Zach added an empty netter late in the third. Brianne McLaughlin made 20 saves. Kelley Steadman scored twice and added an assist, earning her a second NWHL Player of the Week nod.

Stats and Facts:

  • Bram’s goal was her first in five games, dating back to Dec. 6 at Connecticut when she scored a power-play goal to put the Beauts up 2-0 (Buffalo would go on to lose the game 3-2 in a shootout after a late rally by the Whale).
  • By getting Player of the Week for her play against the Rivs, Steadman becomes the first NWHLer to earn the honor twice in one season.

 

Tidbits:

  • Shortly before puck drop Sunday, Hannah Bevis of Today’s Slapshot boosted a piece she wrote about the chemistry between Steadman and Meghan Duggan in just five games played together. Ironically, the duo was split up for the first time this season against the Riveters. Co-head coach Shelley Looney said after the game that the aim was to create three strong lines, so Duggan played alongside Jessica Fickel and Shelby Bram, while Steadman was on a line with Hayley Williams in Tatiana Rafter’s spot. Of course, Duggan did manage to combine with Steadman on the power play for Steadman’s first goal of the game.
  • The second line of Devon Skeats, Kourtney Kunichika, and Hailey Browne was untouched, due to what Looney called a “strong run” this season. Although the line didn’t have a point in last Sunday’s game, they cycled the puck well and crashed the net on multiple occasions, proving they still have plenty of chemistry.
  • Kunichika on playing with Skeats and Browne: “It’s a fast pace. They’re both really strong and really fast, and we seem to just kind of know where each other [is]… When we get deep and start cycling it, we can be unstoppable.”
  • Rafter, who was Princess Elsa for the day in honor of Disney on Ice being in town, was a healthy scratch. The forward has one goal and 12 penalty minutes in 13 games played. Earlier in the season, co-head coach Ric Seiling mentioned the purpose of practice players was to ensure there would be a full lineup in case of injury or outside obligation, but seeing as Rafter was healthy and present, it’s obvious the only thing keeping her from the lineup was lack of production compared with Steadman’s consistent success. So… the real deal regarding practice players remains to be seen.
  • Also a result of Disney Day: old favorites and forgotten gems from Disney movies on the PA system throughout the game. I was super excited to hear “Be Prepared” before puck drop, not going to lie.

Buffalo Beauts Earn First Home Win, 4-2 vs. New York Riveters

The HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo witnessed a little bit of history long in the making as the Buffalo Beauts finally earned their first home win of the season, 4-2, against the New York Riveters Sunday afternoon.

Shelby Bram redirected a shot by Megan Bozek to break a 2-2 tie halfway through the third period, eventually allowing the Beauts to break their tie with New York in the standings as well. They take sole possession of third place with the regulation win (10 points overall).

“It feels really good,” Kourtney Kunichika said after the game. “We kinda got that monkey off our backs… We’re just happy our hard work paid off.”

All-Star MVP Kelley Steadman started the scoring off with two power-play goals in the first period, including one of them with just 3.3 seconds left in the frame. The Beauts dictated the play the entire period, outshooting the Riveters 18-5 and getting lots of looks in on Nana Fujimoto.

While New York had a few chances, it spent much of the opening frame in its own end, hemmed in by good plays in the neutral zone or along the blueline. The Riveters also spent a good chunk of time in the penalty box — in fact, Steadman’s first goal was on a 5 on 3 after first Gabie Figueroa and then Celeste Brown went off with minor infractions.

Then in the second, the Beauts got a “little overconfident” in head coach Shelley Looney’s words, leading to a number of chances going the other way for the Riveters. Beth Hanrahan cut the lead in half after a bad turnover on an attempted clear, putting the puck high over Brianne McLaughlin’s shoulder.

There were a few defensive breakdowns like this for Buffalo, whether failing to catch the Riveters on the rush or giving them too much space around the net. McLaughlin had a few juicy rebounds that just missed Riveters’ sticks as well. Overall, the period was much more evenly played, with the Riveters having the better of the chances.

Looney said she reminded her team during the second intermission to play defense first.

“I felt like we were always on the offensive side of the puck waiting to rush, rush, rush, because we knew when we get into their zone we’re going to have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “But you’ve got to take care of one job first, and that’s getting it out of the zone.”

Bray Ketchum took New York one step closer to completing the comeback with another high shot on McLaughlin at 6:10 of the third period to tie it. However, the Beauts were able to regroup, play defense, and get extended time in the offensive zone. It paid off soon enough; with Bram floating in the middle, Bozek threw a laser to the net that Bram didn’t miss.

“Bozek has the hardest shot in the league, so I knew I had to get in front of the net,” Bram said, joking that Bozek had told her she was the only one brave enough to get in front of Bozek’s shot (clocked at 88 mph at last Sunday’s All-Star Skills Competition).

“She’s an unbelievable player, a heads-up player… and just all around very smart, so playing with her is definitely an honor,” she went on about her teammate, with whom she also combined for both assists on Steadman’s second goal of the game.

Erin Zach added an empty net goal for insurance (her first of the season and in the league), and the Beauts came away with a crucial two points.

While it’s highly unlikely the Beauts will catch either Connecticut or Boston with four more games to go, the last few games of the season will determine which team will play host to them come playoff time. Being third or fourth is the difference between playing a team that has somehow escaped the loss column against them thus far, versus playing a team they’ve managed to beat. But either way, it’ll be a test Kunichika believes her team is equal to, provided everyone buys in.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but I think if we play our game, we’re focused, we play defense, and we just trust each other, I think we’ll have a good run,” she said.

The last stretch before playoffs continues with a road game next Sunday against Connecticut. Puck drop is listed as noon EST, and the venue is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more on that and more Beauts coverage throughout the week.