Buffalo Beauts Summer Training Camp Recap!

More than two dozen hopefuls for the first professional women’s hockey team in Western New York gathered at the Harborcenter in Buffalo Saturday and Sunday to participate in the Buffalo Beauts’ training camp. Saturday’s session was a skills assessment complete with individual and group drills, while Sunday featured a scrimmage.

[Photo kindly provided by  Kaitlin S. Cimini]
[Photo: Kaitlin S. Cimini]
A sizable crowd turned out to see NCAA standouts and former local stars alike put on a show for a chance to get on the permanent roster, or to snag a practice spot. These players included RIT’s Celeste Brown (one of four former Tigers who attended), sisters and Buffalo natives Annemarie and Brigitte Cellino, and Devon Skeats, an Ontario native who most recently came off of a season spent in Austria. Skeats in particular showed incredible speed in her individual assessment, as well as good hands and a tremendous level of awareness on the ice. Meanwhile, Emily Pfalzer, a former standout at Boston College and a native of Getzville (part of the Town of Amherst 25 minutes outside Buffalo proper), stole the show in the scrimmage, playing well on both sides of the puck.

Two CWHLers also made it to this camp. The Furies’ Tanis Lamoureux (who spent four seasons with Elmira College, just two hours from Buffalo) and Erica Howe of the Brampton Thunder each had decent showings. Two other goalies in the camp (Lauren Dahm of Baldwinsville, who played at Clarkson, and former Colgate Raider Susan Allen) also showed up well against their potential future teammates.

A peculiar roster error showed Jenelle Kohanchuk — yes, she of the Furies and Team Canada — as being at camp. Further evidence on Twitter (including tweets from Kohanchuk herself) proved this false. A Beauts team representative said she apparently registered for the camp but did not attend for reasons unknown as of yet; however, it seems pretty evident from her tweets that she’s staying a Fury for as long as she possibly can.

Those who did show up, though, were thrilled at the possibility of joining a team that could well serve as the pioneers of paid, professional American women’s hockey. Brown attended all four camps and is committed to helping the women’s game achieve its true potential.
“My career at RIT was fabulous and I could really not ask for more, but to have this opportunity to play in this new league and to really grow the female sport is an honor, quite frankly,” she said. “To see girls come from all over with a whole bunch of different talents is a lot of fun, and I think we’re going to catch at least the Northeast by surprise right from the start.”

[Photo kindly provided by  Kaitlin S. Cimini]
[Photo: Kaitlin S. Cimini]
Beauts general manager Linda Mroz, a member of Niagara University’s now-defunct women’s hockey program from 1999-2003, was pleased with the turnout and the caliber of play from her potential new players. Much like Brown and others involved with the NWHL, she sees the new league as paving the way for players in generations still to come.

“I’m like, where was this 10 years ago? I’d have been all over this,” she said. “This is fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?

“We’re going to be able to push for the girls in high school hockey, travel hockey… the whole of women’s hockey is going to grow, especially here in Buffalo, where there are so many opportunities for girls to play now, and now with the Buffalo Beauts here, their dreams are just going to be over the top.”

(If you’d like to check out videos of the practice, Angelica has several on her Instagram. Check them out!)

Boston Pride Summer Training Camp Report

Players on the ice at the Boston Pride Training Camp
Players at the Boston Pride Training Camp, photographed by Erin Bartuska

The Boston Pride’s Training Camp was held this weekend at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington, MA. For the regular season, the Pride will be playing at Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett. I went on Saturday morning to check out the players in attendance. While the stands were far from full, I definitely had company, including others snapping photos of the action on the ice.

The roster available at the door was full of familiar names and even more CWHL players than I expected. A breakdown:

Blades: Exactly half of the 30 players on the roster are from the Boston Blades, 14 of them current or former players, one (Brooke Fernandez, most recently of the ZSC Lions of the Swiss Women’s Hockey League) drafted by the Blades in the 15th round of the 2014 CWHL draft.

Olympians: Two-time Olympians Kelli Stack and Kacey Bellamy ( who was present but not skating).

US natives who’ve been playing abroad: Brooke Fernandez, Chelsea Furlani of Bolzano Eagles in the Elite Women’s Hockey League, and Cherie Hendrickson, a former Blades player who most recently played for the Moscow Region Tornado of the Russian Women’s Hockey League.

Team USA: In addition to Stack and Bellamy, the roster features several other players who’ve represented the US at the national level, including Emily Field, Amanda Pelkey, and Marissa Gedman.

All of the players present have played at the collegiate level, most of them for ECAC Hockey or Hockey East schools. All but Kierstin Visser are US natives.

[vimeo 128034411 w=500 h=281]

Boston Pride (NWHL) Summer Training Camp from Erin Bartuska on Vimeo.

The Boston Blades & the Future of US Women’s Hockey

From their inception in 2010 until this spring, the Boston Blades were the only American team in the CWHL. Since the collapse of the Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) in 2013, they’ve been the only opportunity for most women who are US citizens to play at the highest level, aside from Team USA. The CWHL does not offer visa sponsorship to players, but because players need to be able to live (and work to support themselves) near their teams, with few exceptions, players for the teams north of the border are Canadian. Exceptions are generally either in school or working for an employer who could sponsor them for a visa. In 2014, a full third of the 21 players Team USA sent to Sochi were from the Boston Blades; this year at Worlds, 5 of 22 players on Team USA were from the Blades. Even with the relationship between the CWHL and the Blades obviously strained, there was no competition for star players like Hilary Knight. Until this spring.

With the advent of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), there will be five professional women’s hockey teams in the United States. This includes the Boston Pride (NWHL) and the Boston Blades (CWHL), making Boston indisputably women’s hockey’s current hometown. While the NWHL and CWHL won’t be in direct battle on the ice, there’s going to be fierce competition for roster spots, and not just from US players. The NWHL has announced their intent to sponsor players for visas, which would allow them to bring in international players and pay them. Sponsoring players for P-1 (Internationally Recognized Athlete) or O-1 (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement) visas isn’t cheap, so we may not see a bunch of them, but it’s likely that the CWHL will see some roster shakeups across the border as well.

What’s certain is that change is going to happen in the US, starting with the Boston Blades roster. Genevieve Lacasse has already expressed interest; Hilary Knight and Jess Koizumi were spotted at the NWHL launch party in April. The Blades are also losing both their head coach, Digit Murphy, and their general manager Aronda Kirby, who were let go by the CWHL following a legal dispute over the Blades’ logo trademark. While that’s going to make for an interesting 2015-2016 CWHL season, given that the Boston Blades are the 2015 Clarkson Cup champions, that doesn’t spell doom for the Blades by any means. They’re established in the CWHL, they have a short but strong history of competitive success, and women’s hockey is teeming with incredible players at the collegiate level. The Blades may be the main professional team represented on Team USA, the majority of players are actually from NCAA teams: 11 of 21 at the 2014 Olympics and 12 of 22 at 2015 Worlds.

There are so many incredibly talented women in the US right now who use up their NCAA eligibility and have nowhere to play afterward. Even for those who can get a roster spot on a CWHL team, the financial burden is huge. The advent of the NWHL is not only going to provide more women an opportunity to play at the professional level, but the ability to do so sustainably. While we’re definitely going to see an influx of younger players at first, in the long term, if the NWHL is successful, I hope it will also allow women in the US and abroad to have longer playing careers in hockey. Right now, most of the older women who headline the CWHL have spent their careers juggling undergraduate and graduate education as well as coaching and other employment on top of training, play, and family life. My hope for the NWHL is that it will allow players to be super athletes without having to be superwomen as well…

…and also that more support for women’s hockey at the professional level will net Team USA some gold at the Olympics.

Connecticut Whale Free Agent Player Camp Report

My mother, a lifelong hockey fan by the name of Peach, was delighted when she found out the NWHL was coming to Stamford and resurrecting the name of the Connecticut Whale. They had their summer training camp starting on May 9th, and my parents were kind enough to document the first day for us! The following quotes are from Peach.

Peach described the atmosphere as the players were arriving, carrying huge bags of equipment and chatting about school, as “happy and collegial.” She thought all four goalies and all three defense players were very good, especially goalie Chelsea Laden from Quinnipiac, who “has great hands and knees.”

A few skaters particularly caught her eye on each team. On Team White, she was effusive about Meghan Fardelmann, a forward from Boston College, calling her “another Brian Leetch” (what a compliment!), as well as “speedy, agile, and smart.” Christine Valente, a forward from Yale, had “good skating” and a “good stick,” while Janine Weber, a forward from Providence College, was “consistently strong.” Peach praised the “nice skating and stickwork” and “consistent energy” of Tara Tomimoto from Yale, the lone defender on the team.

As for Team Black, Hayley Williams from Miami University was the standout: Peach called her “very fast, sneaky and strong with a powerful stick,” and noted her great stamina — she was still “on fire at 7:41!” She also appreciated Kaleigh Fratkin, a defense player from Boston College, calling her a “very strong and tricky player” with “consistent energy,” and Kelly Babstock, a “powerful” forward from Quinnipiac.

Other players Peach particularly noticed were Kristen Levesque from the University of Rhode Island, Danielle Ward from the University of Maine, Sam Faber from the University of New Hampshire, Bray Ketchum from Yale, and Elena Orlando from Quinnipiac.

Three of Peach’s favorites, Weber, Ketchum, and Fratkin, have played for the Boston Blades. Each played the 2014/2015 regular season, and won the 2015 Clarkson Cup with the Blades. Weber, who also plays for the Austrian national team, had 7 points in 17 games in the regular season for the Blades, and three goals in three games (including the OT game winner in the championship) in the post-season. Ketchum had 4 points in 20 games, and was a +3. Fratkin had 8 points in 22 games and was a +19.

Anya Battaglino, a forward who played the 2013/2014 season with the Blades, was also at the camp. She had 0 points in 13 games and was a -2. Nicole Stock, a goaltender from Brown who was drafted by the Blades, was also present. She played one game with the Blades in the 2014/2015 season, shutting out the Brampton Thunder.

We’re all looking forward to seeing what they can do as a team!