Looking Back, Moving Forward: Q&A with the Buffalo Beauts’ Devon Skeats

This is part of a regular offseason feature on Watch This spotlighting each of the players on the Buffalo Beauts, who made a surprise run to the Isobel Cup Final in the NWHL’s first season. Check out our Q&As with Kelley Steadman and Brianne McLaughlin as well. We move next to forward Devon Skeats, who came flying out of the gate after missing a month and a half of the season due to visa issues (along with four other players). Skeats was nearly a point-per-game player in her first season (14 points in 15 regular season matches), and her speed and skill nicely balanced her line with Hailey Browne and Kourtney Kunichika. Here’s what she had to say looking back on her first NWHL season:

 

If you could pick one word to describe the Beauts’ first season, what would it be?

Memorable. I think we all had an incredible journey together this season. We were such a hard-working, never give up type of team and we accomplished a lot this season together. We had a rough start and faced a lot of adversity over the course of the year but once we came together as a team I felt like we were unstoppable. I’m so proud of my team for making it to the Isobel Cup finals it was definitely an experience we won’t forget.

 

It was a long wait for you to get onto the ice, especially considering you were one of the first players to sign and ended up being one of the last to experience her first game. But you ended up having a really solid year. What were some highlights for you personally?

I experienced many highlights during [my] season with the Beauts. A couple of my personal favorites were: when the fans voted me in to participate in the first ever NWHL All-Star Game, as well as beating the Connecticut Whale in the [playoffs] after going 0-6 in the regular season.

 

Back at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of talk about Buffalo as a hockey town and how hockey fans would embrace their new local team. What can you say about the relationship between the Beauts and their fans in their inaugural season?

I feel as if I can speak on behalf of the whole team in saying that we felt we had the best fans in the whole league. We would go out after our games in the lobby and talk to our fans and sign autographs for them — we certainly had a very interactive relationship with them. We are very appreciative of their support during the season.

 

Not only did you have a good year, but your entire line with Kourtney Kunichika and Hailey Browne was one of the strongest on the team. Looking back, what was it about playing with both of them that made you guys better as a unit?

I was really fortunate to be put on a line with both Kourt and Brownie. They are incredibly talented and hardworking players, so it was easy to build chemistry, and we’re all really good friends off the ice as well so that helped with the camaraderie on the ice.  

 

Going from fourth place to Isobel Cup runner-up is an impressive feat for the Beauts. What do you attribute the late-season and postseason success to? What are you proudest of your team for accomplishing in that playoff run?

I simply attribute it to our team coming together and playing as a whole. Throughout the season we possessed a relentless work ethic, [and] we carried that on over to our postseason play. Combining both that and playing with our full roster did a lot for us. I am so proud of my team [for] coming back after losing to the Whale in the opening game of playoffs and beating them in the next two to buy us a ticket to the Isobel Cup.

 

How did it feel to finally beat Connecticut, especially in such a clutch moment in the postseason? Also, what do you think you and your teammates can take away from your loss in the Cup Final to the Pride?

It felt incredible and so deserving. We had such an unlucky run against them in the regular season, losing in shootouts and OT with them. Our record with them did not reflect anything about the Beauts — we knew we could beat them, and we did just that when it mattered most. We are all really proud of ourselves about making it as far as we did and all we can do is take the defeat and use that as ammunition for the next season.

 

Moving ahead, what do you look forward to most in your second NWHL season (provided you come back to the Beauts)?

I really look forward to hopefully wearing a Beauts jersey again and representing such an incredible city in the 2016/2017 season, and to bring the Isobel Cup home to Buffalo.

 

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Q&A with Kelley Steadman of the Buffalo Beauts

 

This is part of a regular offseason feature on Watch This spotlighting each of the players on the Buffalo Beauts, who made a surprise run to the Isobel Cup Final in the NWHL’s first season. For the opening interview with Brianne McLaughlin, click here. Next up is Kelley Steadman, whose name graces a host of firsts for the franchise (including first goal scored) and finished her season leading the team in scoring and being in the top five in the league with 20 points in 10 games played, 13 of them being goals. The forward was able to answer a few questions looking back at her first season in the NWHL:

 

How do you describe your first season with the Beauts, both from a team perspective and from your own as a player? Looking back, what does being given the opportunity to be in the league as a practice player mean to you?

 

I don’t think I could have asked for a better first season with the Beauts, both from a team stand point and an individual stand point. The group of women in our locker room were resilient, tough, hardworking, and a great group to be around. We really gelled as a team which is why we saw such success especially toward the end of the year. Personally, I had the most fun I’ve ever had in my career. Regardless of the points and the personal success, I had a blast playing the game and that’s a testament to my teammates and all of the people that made this league possible. What people don’t understand is that we all have played this game for 20+ years, and before this year, when we were done playing college hockey, or for the National Team, it was just over. That was me last year. I never thought that I would play competitive hockey again, especially not among the best players in the world. Getting the chance to do that again, meant more than words can say. This league gives all of us something to continue to work for and it gives all of the young girls in the stands, something to look forward to and aspire to be a part of. No one ever thought women’s hockey would get here, and to see the success of the league in it’s first year is incredible.

 

You took on a huge role with the Beauts as the season progressed, becoming their go-to goal scorer. Did you expect to have that kind of impact with the team, and what’s it like to know you’re such a big part of the Beauts’ success?

 

I definitely didn’t expect to have such personal success when I signed my contract back in October. I had taken months off from playing competitive hockey, wasn’t really training for anything other than keeping my body healthy, and I wasn’t expecting to play again. Hockey is such a mental game, and I think the reason I was able to do so well was that I simply enjoyed playing every game. That, combined with playing with a talented group like my teammates, attributed to my personal success. The thing that I am most proud of this year had nothing to with how I did individually, but how hard our team battled throughout the season and how we exceeded everyone’s expectations. Being a part of that is what I will take away from this season.

 

An article on Today’s Slapshot back in January suggested the pace of play in the NWHL has been dictated this first season by more veteran players, rather than those just out of college. As a player who fits in that category, what do you think of that assessment? What can you say about your comfort level playing in this league (or rather, what more, since your stats definitely show you’re comfortable)?

 

There are so many talented players in this league, both veterans and just out of college. I think the great thing about veteran players is that we have been in most hockey situations before. We have been in Olympic gold medal games, World Championships, and National Championship games, and we can handle the pressure and the expectations in any type of game. As a veteran, you also feel like it is your responsibility to make sure the league succeeds and that the girls in the stands see the best level of hockey possible. I know I didn’t really understand the impact I had on young fans when I was in college, or just out of college, and how much of an impact we can have as role models. You want to give a hundred percent all the time for them, and I think that’s something veteran players understand. I definitely felt comfortable with the pace of play in the league. Playing against players like Brianna Decker and Kacey Bellamy makes you play your best, and I think that’s something I always looked forward to.

 

The Beauts kind of surprised everyone late in the season, becoming an Isobel Cup contender. What can you say about the team’s progress from the beginning of the season to the Isobel Cup? Do you feel you guys kind of embraced the “underdog” role as you went through the postseason?

 

It’s funny because at the beginning of the year, when we lost the first seven games or whatever it was, people completely wrote us off. The only people that really believed we had a chance to peak at the end of the season were the girls in the locker room, and our coaches. I distinctly remember Ric and Shelley coming in the locker room after one game saying, “We are going to get there. We are getting better with every single game, and come playoff time, we are going to succeed.” I think we all really bought into that and put in the work to make it happen.

 

The great thing about every team making the playoffs is that anything can happen, and the team that shows up ready to play at the end of the season is going to win, regardless of what happened in the past. We embraced the underdog role because we knew that opponents wouldn’t take us seriously. We went into game two at Connecticut knowing we were going to win, and when we won, we knew we were taking game 3 as well. That’s not to say Connecticut wasn’t a great opponent, because they were incredibly talented, but we had the heart and the will to win.

 

How did it feel to finally beat Connecticut, and what’s more, in such a clutch moment like the playoffs?

 

Jumping in the celebration at the end of game 3 in Connecticut was my favorite moment of this past season. Connecticut played us tough all season and were the only team that we hadn’t beaten. We came close so many times, forcing overtimes and shootouts, but never had that extra inch to win. Winning at such a clutch moment just added to the excitement and the pride in our team.

 

Overall, what do you take away from this season, both on a team level and individually as a player?

 

From a team standpoint, I am just so incredibly proud to have been a part of the Buffalo Beauts in the first year and there is no other team I would have rather played for. From our coaching staff down, we had an incredible group of people and we really showed a lot of people what women’s hockey is about. As a player, I am just as proud to have been involved in the inaugural season. The best part of this league is that it has gotten more people excited about women’s hockey and has given so many little girls something to look forward to. There is nothing more special than coming out for warm ups in a game and seeing a little girl in the stands wearing your jersey. That is something that I will never forget. I am excited for the future of this league, without a doubt.

 

Earlier in the season, you said you weren’t sure about where you wanted to go with the NWHL long-term — you were just going to enjoy the moment. Now that a full season is in the books, has that perspective changed? If so, how?

 

I think there was so much going on during the season, that I couldn’t think that far ahead or think about my next step, because I was truly just enjoying playing hockey. Now that the season is over, I can absolutely say that I will continue to play in the NWHL as long as possible. We have such an amazing opportunity, as role models and ambassadors of the sport, to help this league grow and help women’s hockey grow. That’s not something I’m willing to step away from yet.

 

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Q&A with Brianne McLaughlin of the Buffalo Beauts

This will be part of a regular offseason feature on Watch This spotlighting each of the players on the Buffalo Beauts, who made a surprise run to the Isobel Cup Final in the NWHL’s first season. Opening up the feature is Brianne McLaughlin, who was the first NWHLer to sign with the Beauts. She backstopped them to some real success this year, finishing with a .907% save percentage in 14 regular season starts and a .914% save percentage in the playoffs, along with an All-Star appearance. I had the chance to chat with her about her season and how she felt everything went.

Overall, how do you feel about the Beauts’ first season? Was there anything that surprised you, or did it all come together pretty much as you expected?

Our season ended up being exactly what I thought it would be. Being a new group together, it was going to take a little getting used to one another. We started out statistically the worst team in the league, but I knew that we would overcome that and be able to put together some upsets. Once I saw the drive and tenacity in my teammates, I knew you would see the Beauts in the finals.

At media day at the beginning of the season, there was a lot of talk about Buffalo embracing the Beauts because it’s a self-described “hockey heaven.” Do you feel like that held true, looking back?

When I signed with the Beauts, I heard all about how great the community was and how much they would get behind us. That opening day, skating out to a sold-out arena proved how great the city is. Women’s hockey is just recently being supported and publicized the way it deserves [to be]. I’ve played in lesser crowds with a USA jersey on. So to see that many people supporting a new team like that was so incredible.

As we talked about throughout the season, it took a while for the team, especially the defense, to come together as a cohesive unit due to roster issues, etc. Can you elaborate a bit on what it was like to witness and be a part of that progress as the year went on? What are you most proud of with regard to the major strides you guys made that helped you get to the Isobel Cup Final?

Defense was a big focal point for us. In the beginning, the communication just wasn’t there. We were working so hard and not getting the results. With our roster, most of our PP and PK players are the ones that aren’t able to make consistent practices, myself included. Unfortunately, a lot of our practice in these situations was in actual games. We had an entire team that came from different places and different experience levels. Put that all together and it was a little hectic at times. We just kept chipping away at the little details and being louder on the ice, and we eventually molded together to be a pretty solid unit out there. For myself, it was so much easier to just play and do my thing once we all learned each other’s styles, listened for each other out there, and trusted one another.

You personally had a solid first year, struggling early on but regrouping and playing really well after the All-Star Break. By playoffs, it looked like you’d really hit your stride. Talk a bit about what that kind of rebound meant for you?

I’ve gone through many growing points in my career and have played on many different teams. Each team is different, and you have to adapt to that particular team. College was a little chaotic, much like the beginning of our Beauts season, being new teams and everyone doing their own thing at first. [On] the National Team, everyone works as a unit, and they’re pretty much on the same page where you can sit back a little bit and keep it simple. Coming back to a new team and facing 40-plus shots a game and some situations where you have to come up big was another adjustment back to what I spend years getting out of.

It was frustrating at first, because I knew I was a better goalie than what I was putting on the ice. I just had to work through it and work with my teammates. Eventually we came together and were working as a unit. Finally getting back to playing like myself was such a relief. Having fun on the ice like that with my teammates doesn’t get much better — that’s when I’m my happiest and at the top of my game.

How did it feel to finally beat the Whale in such a clutch moment like the playoffs?

Beating the Whale when it counted was the perfect way to define this team! We seemed to like pressure situations and came up big when it was in front of us. The Beauts were one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played with, and definitely the hardest working. That’s what it’s all about. It’s one thing to be more skilled than another team and expected to win. When you have to play together, support one another, and win out of pure grit, it feels so much better. We earned every win that season; nothing came easy.

Along those same lines, you guys took on kind of an underdog/dark horse role as the playoffs progressed. Was that something you enjoyed?

We loved being the underdog! No one expected us to be there in the Final, and especially to take the Pride into overtime. They had 10 times the skill and experience that we had. We didn’t care, and [we] truly believed we could take them. That kind of mentality going in fired us up and allowed us to play even harder. If we lost, we were suppose to lose. If we won, it would have been the Cinderella story of women’s hockey. Either way, we were there and got to play another weekend together.

What do you take away from this season, ultimately? As you look forward to next season, what are you most excited about?

Looking toward next season I am just excited to build off of what we started. Starting a foundation is the hardest part. We built something we were very proud of, and now we get to add to it and see where we can go with it next season. We’ve proven that with leadership and a team that will go to war with [each other], we can accomplish things we weren’t suppose to. If we continue down that path, I think you will see some pretty great things from the Beauts organization.