At the National Women’s Hockey League’s very first All-Star Game in Buffalo, the stars were all smiles. Some of those smiles were very familiar if you follow the Boston Pride. Of the 28 players gathered that weekend to represent the league, 11 came from the Pride, nine from the Buffalo Beauts, five from the Connecticut Whale, and four from the New York Riveters. Given that All-Star Captains Hilary Knight of the Pride and Emily Pfalzer of the Beauts drafted most of the players (the final four – Madison Packer, Morgan Fritz-Ward, Hayley Williams, and Devon Skeats – were drafted by fan vote), a strong showing from both teams was no surprise.
Three of the Boston Pride players who made the trip to Buffalo this weekend shared their experiences with me: Amanda Pelkey of Team Knight and Emily Field and Brittany Ott of Team Pfalzer. Here’s what they had to say about this weekend’s fun—and competition—on the ice, including what it was like to play along members of rival NWHL teams.
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According to Team Knight forward Pelkey, there wasn’t much advance discussion with players on other NWHL teams. However, as soon as the players came together for Friday night’s dinner, Team Knight began to plan. “Most talk was about the skills competition,” said Pelkey. “What everyone was planning on doing, especially for the girls that were doing the breakaways. We were told that we had three shots for the breakaways. Personally, I wanted to do a couple of fun ones then one serious one. There were pranks on players all weekend which made everything more fun.” Pelkey’s own stunt was the result of Team Knight’s collaboration. “Everyone had that idea subtly but no one seemed to claim it. So I thought, ‘well, since I’m on the smaller side, I should be able to fit!’ I’m glad Hilary could help out!”
Team Pfalzer got a later start, beginning to plot during off-ice warmups prior to Saturday night’s Skate With The Stars. “I think our mentality going into the game was to have fun, obviously,” said goaltender Ott, “We also wanted to make it an awesome experience for the crowd and for those watching online, too, so we wanted to play hard and get the win.” Field added, “As far as pranks go, we didn’t pull any major pranks on Team Knight, but they got us pretty good!” Spontaneity was the rule of the game for Team Pfalzer. Players didn’t learn until after the skills competition which units they would play with during the actual game.
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Even Emily Field’s spectacular goal celebration was planned on the fly. “After [All-Star Game MVP Kelley Steadman]’s first goal, our bench got talking about doing funny celebrations and that was the first one, so it wasn’t specifically planned for me,” she said. “I just happened to be the next person to score!”
Despite their different approaches, both teams dazzled on the ice this weekend. Team Knight succeeded in making the audience laugh; Team Pfalzer shone both in the skills competition and during gameplay, winning with a combined score of 8-1. “My favorite part [of the skills competition] was [Megan] Bozek hitting 88mph on the hardest shot competition,” said Ott. “I’ve been playing against her since high school and she’s always had an awesome shot that has always given me some trouble. But her hitting that speed was pretty phenomenal to watch!”
Pelkey and Field also enjoyed playing along familiar faces. “I enjoyed being able to be on the same team as Emily Pfalzer again as we haven’t played together since college,” said Field, a recent Boston College grad. Pelkey had fun playing with former national teammate Madison Packer. “Last time we played together was on the U-18 National Team back in 2009.” Both Ott and Field spoke highly of the new faces on Team Pfalzer as well, singling out Kelley Steadman, Devon Skeats, and Shiann Darkangelo for praise. Getting to play alongside Nana Fujimoto on Team Pfalzer’s roster was a high point for Ott. “Goalie partnerships are something that I always look forward to; and Nana is an awesome goaltender, always gives my team a hard time in games, and such a nice person off the ice too.”
Some of the most enjoyable and comic moments of the weekend came from the goalies’ participation in the skills competition, from Team Knight goaltender Jaimie Leonoff facing off forward Janine Weber in net during the breakaway competition (Leonoff scored) to Brianne McLaughlin and Ott’s race across the ice for the title of fastest skater. “I really thought I was going to be able to trip her when I threw my stick at her, but she was a little too nimble to be taken down like that,” said Ott. McLaughlin got her revenge later with a pie to Ott’s face during the handshake line.
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A good time was had by all.