Knight penalty shot gives Pride lead over Beauts in Isobel Cup Final

The first overtime result in the history of the NWHL’s postseason came under interesting circumstances, to say the least.

With the Buffalo Beauts called for a penalty in their goaltender’s crease, it was left to one of the best current players in the game to deliver for her team — and Hilary Knight made no mistake.

The Pride forward came in close with speed, going glove side on Brianne McLaughlin to lift the Boston Pride over the Beauts, 4-3 in overtime in a wild finish to Game One of the Isobel Cup Finals at the New Jersey Devils Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The call came as McLaughlin was dragged out of position and a defender was deemed to have closed her hand on the puck. Despite protests from the bench and captain Emily Pfalzer, the referees called for a penalty shot, making for an unsatisfying ending to what had been shaping up to be a game for the record books for Buffalo.

The two teams played a tight first period, with Buffalo throwing Boston slightly off guard. The Beauts’ forwards played aggressively, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and trying to look for rebounds on Brittany Ott. Meanwhile, on the other end, Boston got a couple of good looks in on McLaughlin, but nothing stuck.

The second period was all Boston, however, as Brianna Decker took advantage of a bad breakdown in Buffalo’s zone, streaking in and shooting on McLaughlin. The rebound ended up on Blake Bolden’s stick, and she was able to make it 1-0 Pride. From that point forward, Boston dominated puck possession and made it difficult for the Beauts to exit their own zone and enter Boston’s. A seemingly innocent shot by Gigi Marvin midway through doubled the lead, but Buffalo had an answer. Erin Zach challenged a Pride defender with a diving defensive play, sending the puck up ice with Hannah McGowan and Pfalzer. Although Kacey Bellamy managed to break up their rush, no one on the Pride was able to clear, and Shelby Bram cut the lead in half.

A beautiful shot by Pfalzer tied the game at 2 in the third period, and then a couple of bad penalties by Pride players gave Buffalo the in they needed to try and win it. Zoe Hickel and Bellamy each went to the box within a minute of each other, and though the Beauts could not convert the 5 on 3, Kelley Steadman flew up the wing and got the time and space she needed to put a snap shot past Ott for a 3-2 lead with Bellamy still sitting for her penalty (ironically, one Steadman drew).

However, the lead didn’t last long. Late in the third, the Pride got a power play of their own as Megan Bozek took a delay of game penalty. As the Pride tried to cycle down low, Bellamy threw a centering pass in front and both Decker and Knight whacked at it, with Knight getting the puck past McLaughlin to tie the game back up. A late push by Buffalo ended up fruitless, leading to overtime, where Knight ensured her team a harder-fought victory than any they’ve seen in the postseason thus far.

With a mistake like that resulting in a crushing loss, it’ll be tough for the Beauts to regroup for Saturday evening’s Game Two, but they’ll have to do it quick if they want to have a chance to win the Cup. Despite the errors, the few rebounds from McLaughlin and the breakdown leading to the opening goal, it was a well-played and hard-nosed game from Buffalo, and the crowd in Newark (heavy on Beauts fans) certainly approved. The Kunichika line in particular, so effective at crashing the net and challenging opposing defenders all season, did much of the same tonight, and Pfalzer and Steadman came through exactly when they needed to. Meghan Duggan, who was not in the lineup tonight, could be back tomorrow, so that’ll be one more boost.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. in Newark.

Isobel Cup, Game One: Whale edge Beauts, Pride steamroll Riveters for series leads

Game One of the Isobel Cup had what some might call the expected results, with both higher seeds — No. 1 Boston Pride and No. 2 Connecticut Whale — pulling out wins on their home ice.

Whale 3, Beauts 0: The Buffalo Beauts threw 35 shots at Jaimie Leonoff, but none found the back of the net as the Connecticut Whale goaltender earned herself the first shutout in her team’s history, 3-0, at Chelsea Piers CT in Game One of the Isobel Cup semifinals.

The win gives Connecticut the upper hand over Buffalo in the best-of-three series, as well as a chance to sweep Saturday night. The Beauts managed to have a solid game in the first and third periods despite having both of their top scorers — Kelley Steadman and Meghan Duggan — out of the lineup, likely both due to coaching conflicts.

Both teams played an even game throughout, with an emphasis on defense. The Beauts came out strong on the forecheck, attempting to throw the Whale off early; however, Leonoff was equal to the task, withstanding several rushes from the Skeats-Kunichika-Browne line and the tandem of Erin Zach and Jessica Fickel. However, Connecticut found its legs toward the end of the first, closing the gap in shots 11-9 before the first buzzer.

Special teams took over in the second period, with Buffalo losing its composure and Connecticut capitalizing. Kelli Stack broke the scoreless tie at 9:12 on a 2-on-1 with Shiann Darkangelo at even strength, but the Beauts’ mounting frustration created a line to the penalty box, allowing the Whale to get comfortable on their end of the ice. Five minutes after Stack’s goal, Jessica Koizumi found Sam Faber on the doorstep to double the score. The Beauts had their fair share of chances on the power play, but both Leonoff and the Whale’s defense did well to keep them off the scoresheet, Leonoff moving well post-to-post and hanging onto her rebounds, while the defense got plenty of sticks in the lanes and deflected shot after shot.

Buffalo pushed hard to even the score in the third period, but by that point Leonoff was untouchable, withstanding a shooting gallery (the Whale were outshot 14-2 in the third period) to preserve the shutout and the crucial first win for her team. Kelly Babstock added an empty netter shorthanded in the final minute of the game.

The Beauts will look to force a third game Saturday night at Chelsea Piers, and they will hopefully do so with at least Steadman in the lineup; the practice forward was with Robert Morris University at the CHA Tournament (ironically being held in Buffalo this weekend), but RMU lost to Mercyhurst Friday afternoon, so barring any other conflicts, I’d imagine she’d be making her way to Connecticut for tomorrow evening’s game.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chelsea Piers CT. 

Pride 6, Riveters 0: Jenny Scrivens withstood 56 saves and allowed six goals as the Pride barreled over New York, 6-0, at Ray Bourque Arena in Boston. The overmatched Riveters committed six penalties, three of which the Pride were able to convert on, and Brianna Decker and Jillian Dempsey combined for seven points on the evening (Dempsey with four, Decker with three). Brittany Ott made 17 saves for Boston in the win, earning the first shutout in the playoffs in the Pride’s history.

Buffalo Beauts vs. Connecticut Whale For the Isobel Cup: What to know, who to watch

The inaugural Isobel Cup playoffs begin Friday, and they feature a matchup made for this kind of situation — the third-seeded Buffalo Beauts against second seed Connecticut Whale.

If you’ve been paying attention during this first NWHL season, you’ll have noticed a theme in the series between these two teams. It’s sort of a two-parter.

Part One: Despite the Whale sweeping the season series 6-0, these games have been very tightly played.

Part Two: On the ice, these teams don’t much like each other.

The Beauts and Whale have gone to overtime three times in six regular-season games; two of those three have needed a shootout, including a memorable one Nov. 22 in which Buffalo overcame a 6-1 deficit to force the extra session (they lost 7-6 in the shootout, with Kelly Babstock’s goal being the only one scored in the three rounds). Theirs is the only season-long matchup that has needed this many overtimes and shootouts in order to decide a winner, which means we could be in for either free hockey or a third game (or both!).

Many of these games have also been played with a physical edge, perhaps due to the fact that four of the six came within a seven-week span (Oct. 18 to Dec. 6), thus leaving plenty of space for a rivalry to develop. The Whale are slightly larger and use the body more than the Beauts, who rely on speed; nonetheless, these teams have gotten a bit nasty with each other, and it’s resulted in game misconducts (Megan Bozek for slashing on Nov. 22) and suspensions (Molly Engstrom for a cross check to Meghan Duggan’s head Dec. 6). Playoff hockey could either raise the already-high intensity of both of these teams, or it could calm them down, since no one wants to get sidelined in a best-of-three with so much on the line.

Here’s how the matchup looks, from my vantage point:

Offense

Both of these teams have it. The Whale have scored five goals or more three times on the Beauts, but have never had larger than a three-goal lead (and that came in the very first game of the season between them, on Oct. 18). A pair of Kelly/ies (Kelli Stack and Kelly Babstock) head the Whale in points and are tied for third in the league in points with 22 apiece. Both have had solid showings against Buffalo, Babstock with eight points, Stack with seven (only posting zeroes on the scoresheet once, on Dec. 6).
Meanwhile, for the Beauts, the game-changer will really be if Kelley Steadman is in the lineup. She and Duggan (eight points in six games) have had the most success against the Whale, including combining for seven points on Nov. 22. In fact, in just three games played against the Whale, Steadman has nine points, with four of them coming in that shootout loss. (That’s almost half her total for the season, FYI.) If the Beauts are looking to make some damage quickly, they can do it a lot more easily with her on the roster than not. Right now, with the tweet she recently posted of her with Brianne McLaughlin, it looks as though she will be. Also, don’t overlook the second line — Kourtney Kunichika in particular has had some success, if inconsistent, against the Whale.

Defense

Like pretty much all of the other teams in this league, the Whale have a deeper lineup than the Beauts; however, the Beauts have improved the most in their own zone over the past few weeks heading into the playoffs. Fratkin is a defender with a knack for pushing the puck and jumping into the play, as evidenced by her 10 points against Buffalo, and like Bozek, she has a blast of a shot that can find the back of the net. Engstrom and Jordan Brickner can do much of the same; meanwhile, for Buffalo, Pfalzer and Bozek have no problem with contributing offensively as well. Pfalzer had four assists in the Nov. 22 game and can use excellent speed to cut to the net and get in on either Jaimie Leonoff or Nicole Stock. Lindsay Grigg and Paige Harrington have each hit their stride as well on the defensive side of the puck, and the entire team has honed in on protecting their goaltender, closing up most of the seams and angling out potential passing or shooting threats. In recent weeks, multiple Beauts have spoken to the improvement on defense, saying it needed time to really figure out communication and tendencies (and Brianne McLaughlin spoke to the improvements in on-ice communication last week, saying it’s been the best yet). This looks to be the strongest asset Buffalo has heading up against a team loaded with scorers.

Goaltending

McLaughlin has been a trooper in net for most of the season, posting a .904 save percentage with an average of 31 shots per game. Her resilience is paying off, as the defense is finally coming together as a unit at the right time. Behind her, Amanda Makela has proven herself as a strong backup option with some relief stints and a couple of starts of her own, but this is Bri’s show, and the Olympian can certainly handle it. In the other net, Jaimie Leonoff has the best save percentage in the NWHL (.936), and she hasn’t allowed more than two goals against the Beauts all season. If she’s in net (which, if I were Heather Linstad, I would definitely do), the Beauts will have a much tougher time.

Special Teams

The Whale’s top-ranking power play (21 percent all season) against the worst penalty kill in the league (78 percent for Buffalo). If there were anything for Shelley Looney and Ric Seiling to worry about, it’s this, especially considering the success that skater-advantage has had against the Beauts (nine PPG) and the history these teams have had all regular season when it comes to penalties (seriously, look at some of the penalty sheets). Basically, it’s beneficial to the Beauts to stay out of the penalty box at all costs.

Overall

Having watched at least all of the Beauts’ home games against the Whale, I can say this will be a game of “who blinks first”; despite Connecticut’s late-season struggles, the Whale are still the same team on the ice, and they’ll be looking to take it as hard as they can to prove they’re still capable of being top dogs in the league. Meanwhile, the Beauts have been doing a lot of things right in their last couple of games despite not getting wins, particularly on defense. Should they have a full roster, they have a shot at getting at least one win in Connecticut, if not the two they need.

Prediction

Hate to say it, but Connecticut in three. I think Buffalo will play much better than both their seeding and the scoreboards suggest, and well enough to force a third game. But special teams have a way of undoing teams like no other aspect does, and if the Beauts let Connecticut’s physicality throw them off their game, they’re done for.

The puck drops for Game One Friday night at 7:10 p.m. at Chelsea Piers CT. Game Two begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and if necessary, Game Three will be held Sunday at 6 p.m.

NWHL Teams Begin Race For The Isobel Cup

The Isobel Cup Playoffs start today! Here’s what you need to know:

WATCH THE ISOBEL CUP ONLINE:

You’ll be able stream games via the Cross-Ice Pass or ESPN 3.

ISOBEL CUP STRUCTURE:

Both the semifinal and final rounds of the Isobel Cup playoffs have the same structure. Three games are scheduled for each match: Friday, Saturday, and an additional tiebreaker (if needed) on Sunday. If a round does not require a tiebreaker, individual game ticket holders for Sunday’s matches will be refunded.

SEMIFINALS: THIS WEEKEND

The Boston Pride will host the New York Riveters at the Raymond Bourque Arena at Endicott College in Beverly, MA. I’ll be covering this round for Watch This Hockey from the press box – you can follow me on Twitter & Snapchat (ekbartus)!
Friday, March 4 – 7:00 pm ET
Saturday, March 5 – 8:00 pm ET
Sunday, March 6 – 7:00 pm ET

The Connecticut Whale will host the Buffalo Beauts at the Whale’s home rink, Chelsea Pears in Stamford, CT.
Friday, March 4 – 7:10 pm ET
Saturday, March 5 – 7:30 pm ET
Sunday, March 6 – 6:00 pm ET

FINALS: NEXT WEEKEND

The winners of each semifinal round will compete for the Isobel Cup at Prudential Center Practice Facility, Newark, NJ. Attention, everyone headed to New Jersey: please eat some disco fries for me.
Friday, March 11 – 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, March 12 – 7:30 pm ET
Sunday, March 13 – 1:30 pm ET

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.”