The National Women’s Hockey League celebrated its brightest stars with its All-Star Festivities last Saturday and Sunday, culminating in the All-Star Game and Skills Competition Sunday at the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo.
Buffalo Beauts defender Emily Pfalzer’s team dominated Boston Pride forward Hilary Knight’s squad, 9-1, sweeping the Skills Competition and cleaning up in the two-period scrimmage.
It was a banner day for Beauts players, as Kelley Steadman scored two goals, earning the game’s MVP award. Devon Skeats added a goal for Team Pfalzer and Hayley Williams got the lone goal for Team Knight.
The on-ice celebrations began with the Skills Competition, which included four events — shooting accuracy, fastest skater, breakaway challenge, and hardest shot. All three shooters for Team Pfalzer beat the shooters for Team Knight (in fact, Steadman hit all four targets); meanwhile, during the hardest shot, Megan Bozek topped out at 88 miles per hour to take that event for her Beauts teammate.
Meanwhile, the game was at once fun and fast-paced, as both teams were determined to put on a good show for the fans. Steadman broke through first for Team Pfalzer off a pass from Meghan Duggan, and from there it was a strong showing from the players in blue, including goals by Boston’s Emily Field and Shiann Darkangelo of Connecticut.
Team Knight did have its opportunities; Kelli Stack hit two posts, and Knight herself had a number of chances stopped first by Nana Fujimoto, then by Brittany Ott. But aside from Williams’ five-hole tally on McLaughlin early in the second, nothing else stuck.
Meanwhile, Steadman pushed hard for her second goal, jostling with McLaughlin (one of her best friends) multiple times. At one point, McLaughlin jumped up and mugged Steadman after a few excellent saves in a row. Steadman had the last laugh, though, jamming the puck in on the rebound late in the second.
“It was a blast,” Steadman said afterward of the chance to play against McLaughlin. “We knew going into it that we were going to play against each other, and we just wanted to have a good time with it.”
The entire atmosphere was lively and fun; players took plenty of selfies and tried their best to pump up the crowd. Kaleigh Fratkin of the Connecticut Whale wore a chicken head during warmups and her attempt in the breakaway challenge, while her teammate Jaimie Leonoff donned a 70s-era cop hat and shades. After the game, during the handshake line, McLaughlin snuck up and nailed Ott in the face with a pie, drawing cheers and laughter from her teammates and the crowd.
Fun was definitely in the forefront for the players, who signed autographs and interacted with fans afterward. NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan emphasized the festivities, particularly the skills competition, as a way for players to showcase both their abilities and their personalities.
“At the end of the day, everyone started playing the game for fun,” she said shortly after the skills competition ended. “It’s still a competition, we still want there to be a winner — you know, that’s part of the game too — but to see the players having fun, it does mean a lot.”
Despite the lopsided score, both teams managed to find the weekend entertaining. Knight said the skills competition being added to the overall score made it difficult to catch up, but she enjoyed being able to play with players she doesn’t normally get to.
“We were stretching before we went out on the ice and we were like, ‘This is awesome,’” she said. “We need to collaborate league-wide and have more events like this.”