Big win on home ice: the Boston Pride sink their teeth into Team Russia

Saturday night, the Boston Pride met the Russian national team for the Pride’s second pre-season outing and the first of Team Russia’s series against the NWHL. After a close game against Boston College on Thursday night, the Pride returned to the ice to win a 5-1 victory over Russia. Yet this was no easy contest—the Pride pulled off a definitive win against a team that led in puck possession and shots on goal (24-18), and without co-captain Hilary Knight.

Captain Brianna Decker led the team in goals, scoring two at even strength. Like her fellow US national team members, she had spent the past week at a training camp at Warrior Arena. “Today was pretty tough, actually, ” she said. “Once we got our feet under us, we were moving the puck really well… my legs weren’t feeling good in the first period.” Any fatigue didn’t show on the ice. Meghan Duggan netted the first goal of the game in the first period, follow by goals from Decker, Alex Carpenter (on power play), and Kacey Bellamy, who scored right out of the penalty box.

Team Russia didn’t skate like they were two days off an international plane flight, either. They outshot the Pride 24-18, with 4 of those shots coming from former Connecticut Whale player Ekaterina Smolentseva. While they suffered in defense, Russia kept pace with the Pride offensively, which is rare to see from any of the Pride’s opponents. “Today I really noticed they read each other very well,” said Bellamy of the team’s offense. “They don’t have to necessarily look where they’re giving it. They can backhand across ice and their teammate will be there. Very deceptive with the puck, and they’re not going a million miles an hour, they’re just moving the puck exactly where they needed to. But it was good for us to see that kind of pressure and that kind of offense.” Notably absent from the Russian team were former New York Riveter Liudmila Belyakova and assistant captain Iya Gavrillova, who was selected in the third round of the 2016 CWHL draft by the Calgary Inferno.

Ultimately, the Pride’s defensive skill and solid netminding from Lauren Slebodnick and Brittany Ott (who split time in goal) proved decisive in the team’s first game—and first win—at their new home rink. “It’s an amazing facility, the ice is great,” said Carpenter. Duggan added, “It’s a fantastic facility. Obviously, the Bruins have welcomed us with open arms here. It’s state of the art. Locker rooms are great, ice surface is great, it’s beautiful.”

From what I saw on Saturday, these things are all true. Aesthetically, Warrior is certainly an upgrade from Harvard. However, the most notable change is seating capacity: the Bright-Landry seated approximately 3,000 people, whereas the Warrior Arena seats only 650. This will no doubt be a crunch for fans, but that may be an incentive for the NWHL—the fuller the stands, the more appealing games will be for TV and streaming deals. Even at this pre-season game, there were a few hundred spectators. Sold-out games are in the Pride’s future.

Boston Pride win inaugural Isobel Cup with sweep of Buffalo Beauts

The first-ever Isobel Cup went to the top-ranked Boston Pride, who beat the upstart Buffalo Beauts in Game Two 3-1 Saturday evening at the Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

As expected, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker led the way, with Decker scoring three points (two goals, one assist) en route to earning the MVP trophy for best player in the series. Knight also tallied a goal and an assist.

Although the Pride got on the board fairly early, with Decker’s first goal coming at 11:55 of the first period, the Beauts were able to hold off Boston’s offense for much of the game, mostly on the weight of a stellar performance from Brianne McLaughlin (30 saves).

But in the third period, defensive breakdowns and penalties caught up with Buffalo, and Boston’s top two were able to carry their team to the win. Erin Zach spoiled the shutout bid with her first goal of the playoffs at 19:23 on a power play, but at that point, it was clear who would be lifting the first NWHL championship trophy.

Brittany Ott made 29 saves in her first playoff shutout and a solid performance of her own, where she withstood multiple net-crashing opportunities (mainly by the Kourtney Kunichika line) and rushes by Buffalo’s top two scorers, Meghan Duggan and Kelley Steadman.

This win is emblematic of the continued dominance of Boston pro women’s hockey; as most know by now, many of the Pride’s players had won the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup championship a season ago as members of the Boston Blades. However, the Buffalo Beauts were very much an underdog in the Isobel Cup playoffs, stunning the Whale in three games in the semis and pushing Boston to the limit in Game One of the Finals (where a fortuitous penalty shot call to none other than Knight gave the Pride a win). Unfortunately for Buffalo, time and experience were not their allies, and the Pride were able to roll for the win in the second game.

However, it should be noted that the Beauts have made perhaps the biggest leap of any team in the league, as they played their best hockey at the right time in order to get to Newark in the first place. This is a tenacious, speedy team that’s been a ton of fun to watch, and this is likely just a sign of bigger things to come for them.

Congratulations to the Boston Pride on their Isobel Cup win, to the Buffalo Beauts (as well as the Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters) for excellent seasons, and to the National Women’s Hockey League for making history!

 

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.

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.”

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.”

Weekly News: CWHL & NWHL All-Star Game updates, and more!

If you’re pining for the CWHL All-Star Game, check out highlight’s from last year’s, including the ceremonial face off between Charline Labonté, captain of the Red Team, and Jessica Campbell, captain of the White Team.

NYR @ BOS: Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott Face Off in Boston

Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott in goal (two photos placed in opposition in black and white)
Jenny Scrivens in warmups before NYR @ BOS on 12/6; Brittany Ott midgame during CTW @ BOS on 11/29.

Saturday night’s game for the Boston Pride against the visiting Buffalo Beauts was a high-scoring, rollercoaster ride: 13 goals, four goalies, and a hat trick from Devon Skeats that still didn’t net the Beauts a win. Sunday’s match against the Riveters had a different tone altogether. Scoreless through the first two periods, this was the first NWHL game to go without a goal for this long. The Pride’s Jillian Dempsey was the first to put to get the puck in the net nearly 50 minutes into the game. While Saturday saw a stellar offensive effort from both the Pride and the Beauts, it was the Pride and the Riveters’ goaltending that shone on Sunday. Specifically, Jenny Scrivens and Brittany Ott.

When Jenny Scrivens joined the Riveters roster as the third goalie in their lineup behind Nana Fujimoto and Shenae Lundberg, more was made of her dual role in the NWHL organization (PR) and her marriage to Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens than her goaltending skills. With Fujimoto the clear forerunner when it came to ice time, it seemed unlikely that Scrivens would spend much time in net; she was the last NWHL goaltender to make her debut, with six minutes to go in the Riveters’ game against the Beauts on November 29th. Sunday’s game was Scrivens’ first start in net after Fujimoto and Lundberg were both sidelined by injury. Since the NWHL requires two goaltenders to dress for each game, Boston College veteran Corinne Boyles was called up to serve as Scrivens’ backup for the game. Scrivens’ debut was awaited eagerly by many. How would she do against the Pride, arguably the strongest offensive force in the league? This seems an intimidating prospect for any opposing goaltender’s starting debut, let alone one coming back into the game after five years off the ice.

Coincidentally, Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center is the last place where Scrivens started in goal, then playing for Cornell in the 2009 playoffs. “That was the last time I’ve actually played a game,” Scrivens confirmed post-game. You wouldn’t know it from her composure on the ice. Scrivens seemed confident and composed throughout the game, fending off 30 shots from the Pride, sometimes with dramatic saves. Most of the excitement of this game was watching Scrivens dazzle in net. Scrivens credited some off her command in net to her play last Sunday. “I think the six minutes I got last week really helped, because I wasn’t as nervous as I expect I would be, and I was able to settle right into my game and try my best to give our team a chance.” While the final score was 4-1 Boston, two of those were empty net goals from Hilary Knight (Scrivens was pulled twice by the Riveters in an effort to even the score). Scrivens added, “I see it as a one-goal game. I don’t see it as a four-goal game.”

Even Pride coach Bobby Jay praised her play. He had more to say, though, about the other goaltender on the ice on Sunday: the Pride’s Ott, who allowed only one of the Riveters’ 22 shots in the net. Ott has struggled in her past few games at home, including during the Pride’s three-loss streak, and Lauren Slebodnick started in goal against the Beauts the previous day before being replaced by Ott in the third period. While Scrivens’ stellar success was unanticipated and dramatic, Ott’s improvement was just as notable. “I’m so happy for her – both of them – all three of them have worked tremendously hard. We hit a little rough spot – I know her and Lauren haven’t played as good as I know they could and they know they can recently,” Bobby Jay said. “Even for established veterans with a lot of experience and success, everyone goes through it from time to time, so I give her a lot of credit mentally for fighting through it and putting in a great performance today.” Hopefully, Sunday’s game is a return to the stellar goaltending Ott has delivered in the past for the Boston Blades and the University of Maine.

Stalwart goaltending might not be as exciting to watch as the firestorm of the Pride’s game against Buffalo on Saturday night, but it’s a crucial component of both the Riveters’ and the Prides’ future success that has been a recent struggle for the Pride. I’m looking forward to seeing Ott continue to shine on the ice, as well as the new, personal struggle of whether to root for the Pride as a whole or just Jenny Scrivens.

The Boston Pride to Play The Minnesota Whitecaps Twice

The Boston Pride are coming to Minnesota to play the Minnesota Whitecaps! THIS IS LIKE A PRESENT FROM THE NWHL JUST TO ME, I AM SO EXCITED!

So, first, the practical details. The Pride are playing the Minnesota Whitecaps, who you may recall are currently an unafiliated team, of the former WWHL (Western Women’s Hockey League). The Whitecaps roster include such notable players as former Gophers Rachel Bona, Meghan Lorence, and Mira Jalosuo, as well as some big names from USA Hockey, including Monique Lamoureux and Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson, Jessie Vetter, and Alex Rigsby.

There will be two games, on Saturday, December 12th at 6:00 PM CST, and Sunday, December 13th at 1:00 PM CST. Both games will be played at Ridder Arena, home of the Minnesota Golden Gopher’s women’s team. Tickets are $5 per person, with children 12 and under getting in for free. Tickets can be purchased through the Gopher Ticket Office, either online at z.umn.edu/mnwhitecaps or by calling 612-624-8080 or 1-800-U-GOPHER. Be aware that while all tickets are general admission and first come first serve, the online ticket picker does have you pick out a section to sit in. Whitecaps players will be available to sign autographs after both games, and Pride players will be available for autographs after Saturday’s game.

If you’re not in Minnesota, or just can’t make it to Ridder, Saturday’s game will be televised locally on KSTC45 locally and on NESN on the east coast. NESN is also available nationally via DirecTV and Dish Network. The NWHL also intends to stream both games live on Cross-Ice Pass.

This past weekend, the Minnesota Whitecaps played Shattuck-St. Mary’s girl’s prep team twice, splitting the series, and you can read recaps of those games here and here. Previously, the Whitecaps also split a two game pre-season series against the New York Riveters– you can read Annalise’s recap of the Whitecaps’ victory over the Riveters or the league’s recap of the series.

I’m not quite sure who my money is on, for these games– the Pride have been good, going 5-3-0 so far this season, and they have the explosive offensive power exemplified by Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker. The Whitecaps, on the other hand, have some truly excellent players, including a very aggressive defensive corps headed up by Monique Lamoureux, but haven’t had as much practice time or game time together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another series split, but in any case, I think we’re going to see some great hockey this weekend.

Buffalo Beauts Weekend Recap: Hard Knock Life For Beauts

It’s a hard knock life for the Buffalo Beauts right now as they left New England with a pair of losses after a doubleheader Saturday and Sunday, losing to the Boston Pride 7-6 Saturday and then suffering a shootout loss to the Connecticut Whale, 3-2.

Granted, neither game was uneventful, especially when you consider the ways in which Buffalo continues to get back into games when all seems lost. That was the case Saturday, when Brianne McLaughlin got lit up for five goals against, getting pulled late in the first period for Amanda Makela.

Devon Skeats scored the first two of an eventual hat trick, breaking up two goals by Jillian Dempsey, as well as goals by Jordan Smelker, Hilary Knight, and Emily Field. Knight in particular factored heavily into the Pride’s early success, tallying all of her three points within the first period. Meanwhile, Dempsey and Rachel Llanes displayed some incredible chemistry on their line, with Llanes executing a great forecheck while Dempsey found space in front of the net and caught McLaughlin moving. Llanes had the primary assist on each of Dempsey’s goals.

Field’s goal was the final one against McLaughlin, who had made some great saves in an attempt to keep her team alive, but also allowed two five-hole goals and had allowed nearly one goal for every five saves. It was 5-2 after the first, and Buffalo needed desperately to find some way to get its offense into the Pride’s zone for keeps.

Amanda Pelkey made it 6-2 against new Beauts goaltender Makela two minutes into the second period, but then the Beauts began to mount their comeback, with Kourtney Kunichika answering just ten seconds later off the rush. The rest of the period was relatively tame, with the Pride carrying most of the play and outshooting the Beauts 16-5 during it. Makela held up well despite the pressure, benefiting from an improved defensive effort from the skaters in front of her which allowed her to see many of the shots coming her way.

Buffalo made it a nearly even game in the last third, keeping up with the Pride in both shots (10 to Boston’s 11) and speed. The line featuring Hailey Browne, Skeats and Kunichika combined for two more goals, as Browne potted a shot from the point that had been knocked down by Skeats, and then Skeats converted a cross-ice pass from Browne to complete her hat trick and pull Buffalo within one. This line was speedy, gritty and creative all night, with Kunichika and Browne getting into the corners and Skeats showing off her speed to get in close on Slebodnick. Slebodnick was pulled after Skeats’s last goal in favor of Brittany Ott, finishing her night with 15 saves on 21 shots.

The Beauts then had a glorious chance to tie it, as two Pride penalties in a row gave them substantial 5-on-3 time; however, Boston held play to the perimeter for much of it before being relieved by an offensive zone penalty on Emily Pfalzer. Buffalo’s power play succeeded twice on six chances, but faltered both here and on its last attempt with Knight off for slashing.

A goal by Rachel Llanes on an impossible angle made it 7-5 Pride, and then in intense final two minutes of play saw Buffalo pull back to within one, as Emily Pfalzer scored with Makela on the bench for an extra attacker with 1:03 remaining. Buffalo’s rally fell short, however, as Boston was able to regain and maintain possession, getting the puck deep into the Beauts’ zone and keeping it there as time expired.

Sunday’s game saw Meghan Duggan return to the lineup against the Connecticut Whale after missing two games with prior commitments (namely, coaching for Clarkson University). She announced her presence in grand fashion, scoring just 51 seconds into the first period off the rush. Erin Zach, who passed to Duggan from the left wing, earned her first point on the season and the only assist on the goal. It was a welcome start for the Beauts, who executed good transition play early and were getting the saves they needed from Makela. Duggan’s presence in particular gave Buffalo an aggressive edge, as she covered the ice impressively and fought for every loose puck.

Defensively, a couple of miscommunications led to the Whale pressuring late, testing Makela from all sides. Still, they managed to get to the first intermission up a goal for the first time this season, while the Whale experienced their first deficit after 20 minutes.

Connecticut came out strong in the second period, trying to push their way into Buffalo’s end of the ice but coming up against good defensive work from blueliners and forwards alike. Frustration turned into chippiness, and it came to a head when Meghan Duggan and Molly Engstrom got into it with each other behind a play that was whistled dead. Engstrom cross-checked Duggan in the back; Duggan took offense and shoved back. Engstrom then retaliated with head contact that sent Duggan to the ice and Engstrom herself to the locker room for an early shower. Duggan sat out the rest of the game presumably as a precaution, leaving the Beauts a skater short.

Shelby Bram scored on the ensuing five-minute power play for Buffalo, making it 2-0, but a power play on their end gave Sam Faber the opportunity she needed to cut the Beauts’ lead in half. She skated in wide on Makela and her defender, going forehand-backhand for a beautiful top shelf goal to make it 2-1 on the skater-advantage. Much of this period was spent with either one or both teams shorthanded, Connecticut more so than Buffalo, but chances for the Beauts were either stuffed, broken up or went wide. The defense stepped up in the offensive zone for Buffalo; Emily Pfalzer often led the rush up the ice, while Megan Bozek had multiple booming shots from the blueline gobbled up or pushed just wide of the Whale’s net.

The third period saw the Whale and Beauts trade chances, with both goaltenders making excellent saves. Connecticut had been getting away from its game, taking unnecessary penalties, but refocused just in time for Kaleigh Fratkin to tie the game on a redirected shot by Shiann Darkangelo with 1:17 to go in regulation. The Beauts tried to argue that Fratkin had used a high stick to put the puck in, but there was no video review available to confirm, so the call on the ice stood.

The wind was out of Buffalo’s sails by the time overtime hit; they attacked with very little force until the final minute or so of extra time, instead trying to withstand a relentless flurry of shots from the Whale’s top guns. No doubt it was as much (or probably more so) exhaustion from playing a doubleheader over the weekend, plus extra time, as it was a bout of frustration over losing a lead and potentially a point. However, they got out of the five-minute frame still tied, warranting a shootout.

There, the Whale dominated, with all three shooters (Kelly Babstock, Jessica Koizumi, and Kelli Stack) finding the back of the net on Makela. Kourtney Kunichika was the lone shootout scorer for the Beauts, while Pfalzer never got to take a shot due to Stack’s winner. Makela finished with 20 saves, while Leonoff had 25.

The shootout loss dropped the Beauts to 1-5-2, while the Whale remain undefeated at 7-0-0 and the Pride climbed to 5-3-0 with an additional win Sunday against the Riveters.

The Buffalo Beauts have a week off before returning home to play the Boston Pride Dec. 20. Puck drop is at 3 p.m. at HarborCenter. Tickets are still available; streaming will be provided via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass on YouTube.