The HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo witnessed a little bit of history long in the making as the Buffalo Beauts finally earned their first home win of the season, 4-2, against the New York Riveters Sunday afternoon.
Shelby Bram redirected a shot by Megan Bozek to break a 2-2 tie halfway through the third period, eventually allowing the Beauts to break their tie with New York in the standings as well. They take sole possession of third place with the regulation win (10 points overall).
“It feels really good,” Kourtney Kunichika said after the game. “We kinda got that monkey off our backs… We’re just happy our hard work paid off.”
All-Star MVP Kelley Steadman started the scoring off with two power-play goals in the first period, including one of them with just 3.3 seconds left in the frame. The Beauts dictated the play the entire period, outshooting the Riveters 18-5 and getting lots of looks in on Nana Fujimoto.
While New York had a few chances, it spent much of the opening frame in its own end, hemmed in by good plays in the neutral zone or along the blueline. The Riveters also spent a good chunk of time in the penalty box — in fact, Steadman’s first goal was on a 5 on 3 after first Gabie Figueroa and then Celeste Brown went off with minor infractions.
Then in the second, the Beauts got a “little overconfident” in head coach Shelley Looney’s words, leading to a number of chances going the other way for the Riveters. Beth Hanrahan cut the lead in half after a bad turnover on an attempted clear, putting the puck high over Brianne McLaughlin’s shoulder.
There were a few defensive breakdowns like this for Buffalo, whether failing to catch the Riveters on the rush or giving them too much space around the net. McLaughlin had a few juicy rebounds that just missed Riveters’ sticks as well. Overall, the period was much more evenly played, with the Riveters having the better of the chances.
Looney said she reminded her team during the second intermission to play defense first.
“I felt like we were always on the offensive side of the puck waiting to rush, rush, rush, because we knew when we get into their zone we’re going to have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “But you’ve got to take care of one job first, and that’s getting it out of the zone.”
Bray Ketchum took New York one step closer to completing the comeback with another high shot on McLaughlin at 6:10 of the third period to tie it. However, the Beauts were able to regroup, play defense, and get extended time in the offensive zone. It paid off soon enough; with Bram floating in the middle, Bozek threw a laser to the net that Bram didn’t miss.
“Bozek has the hardest shot in the league, so I knew I had to get in front of the net,” Bram said, joking that Bozek had told her she was the only one brave enough to get in front of Bozek’s shot (clocked at 88 mph at last Sunday’s All-Star Skills Competition).
“She’s an unbelievable player, a heads-up player… and just all around very smart, so playing with her is definitely an honor,” she went on about her teammate, with whom she also combined for both assists on Steadman’s second goal of the game.
Erin Zach added an empty net goal for insurance (her first of the season and in the league), and the Beauts came away with a crucial two points.
While it’s highly unlikely the Beauts will catch either Connecticut or Boston with four more games to go, the last few games of the season will determine which team will play host to them come playoff time. Being third or fourth is the difference between playing a team that has somehow escaped the loss column against them thus far, versus playing a team they’ve managed to beat. But either way, it’ll be a test Kunichika believes her team is equal to, provided everyone buys in.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but I think if we play our game, we’re focused, we play defense, and we just trust each other, I think we’ll have a good run,” she said.
The last stretch before playoffs continues with a road game next Sunday against Connecticut. Puck drop is listed as noon EST, and the venue is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more on that and more Beauts coverage throughout the week.