Last Saturday, the Boston Pride opened at home with their third game into the season against the Buffalo Beauts. I didn’t know what to expect from the Beauts, who’ve had substantial roster movement over the offseason, although I knew I’d see a strong showing from the Pride, who remain undefeated this season thus far. That said, I definitely didn’t expect a thrilling progression from a third-period tie to OT to shootout to sudden-death shoot out. Saturday’s game was fast and gripping despite remaining scoreless until the second period.
Before puck drop, team staff unfurled banners that will hang in the rafters at Warrior–one celebrating the Pride as 2015-2016 regular season champions, another celebrating their Isobel cup win, and a third honoring injured teammate Denna Laing that bore her number on the Pride, “24.” Laing appeared on the ice in a new Pride jersey to pose for a photo with her teammates. For the first faceoff and puck drop, Laing joined the other five members of the 2015-2016 roster who have not rejoined the Pride this season: Corinne Buie (in her new Beauts jersey), Kelly Cooke, Kelsie Fralick, Cherie Hendrickson, and Casey Pickett (who has has returned to the Boston Blades). Harvard alum Dempsey acknowledged missing the Pride’s former home, but said of Warrior, “I”I feel like the crowd brought the energy tonight… it’s nice to feel like the place is packed. It’s a great sheet of ice.” Amanda Pelkey, who works at Ristuccia, the Bruins’ former practice rink, was excited to be at Warrior, too, although she’d like it if the Pride could also practice at Ristuccia.
Then Buie skated off to join her new teammates, the rugs were rolled up, and the game was on. The Pride (a.k.a Team USA) are a tight unit who have well-established strategies and plays, something that showed in their strong preseason showing against Team Russia, who many of the Pride played against at the IIHF World Women’s Championship earlier this year. This tactical approach works effectively against known opponents like Russia, this iteration of the Beauts proved a challenge for the Pride to surmount. While the Pride plays a slightly conservative defensive system, the Beauts’ defensive movements seemed a little more fluid, especially when it came to generating traffic in their own zone. The game was characterized by constant turnover and end-to-end movement. Despite leveling 42 shots on goal to the Beauts’ 17, the Pride could only match them in goals during regulation time. Some of the Beauts’ defensive strength was Beauts goaltender Brianne McLaughlin’s outstanding performance, but their ability to generate plays on the fly stymied the Pride’s usual tactics. Pride goaltender Ott agreed, saying of their new lineup, “You don’t always know what to expect of their players.”
Jordan Smelker was the Pride player who scored that second period goal, crediting linemates Brianna Decker and Zoe Hickel for their help. “They’ve got a great defensive lineup, they have lots of national team players [Megan Bozek, Emily Pfalzer, and McLaughlin],” she said of facing off against the Beauts. “We just knew that we had to keep on them and go hard on the forecheck but not too hard, just stay on them and tire them out.” Close to the end of the third period, Shiann Darkangelo scored the Beauts’ only goal, assisted by Buie and Sarah Casorso. Pride goaltender Brittany Ott said of her strategy for starting a new season against a fresh crop of players, “You have to be crisp at all times. I just tried to play simple and remain focused on my own game.”
Darkangelo’s goal tied the game, sending the Pride and the Beauts into 5 minutes of four-vs-four, scoreless OT–then an equally scoreless shootout–and finally a sudden-death shootout round. Amanda Pelkey ultimately netted the winning shoutout goal for the Pride. “You kinda watch to see how she moves with other people,” she said. “I was talking to Zoe and I was like, ‘Honestly, I think we should just go five-hole.’ Like, for me, it’s either I go five-hole, get the goalie moving and then shoot five-hole, or go deep back-end, but there was too much snow to do that and a couple girls already tried. So I was like, ‘oh, what the heck.'” Well, that was a heck of a shot.
Coach Bobby Jay had only praise for the Pride’s performance. Undefeated in the preseason, the Boston have continued their winning streak with three regular season wins in eight days. That lead will certainly be challenged as the largely fresh lineups of the other three teams in the league develop. Ott said, “Towards of the season playing these teams a bunch of times you kind of get to learn a little bit about these players and their tendencies.” It’ll be interesting to see how the Beauts fare in future matches against the Pride as the Beauts’ chemistry and systems develop and the Pride grow more informed.
Next up for Warrior Ice Arena (and Watch This Hockey): tonight, the Pride take on New York.