Buffalo Beauts Notebook: Weekend of January 31st, 2016

The Buffalo Beauts had their first win on home ice Sunday January 31st against the New York Riveters, beating them 4-2. Shelby Bram’s second goal of the year won it for the Beauts, and Erin Zach added an empty netter late in the third. Brianne McLaughlin made 20 saves. Kelley Steadman scored twice and added an assist, earning her a second NWHL Player of the Week nod.

Stats and Facts:

  • Bram’s goal was her first in five games, dating back to Dec. 6 at Connecticut when she scored a power-play goal to put the Beauts up 2-0 (Buffalo would go on to lose the game 3-2 in a shootout after a late rally by the Whale).
  • By getting Player of the Week for her play against the Rivs, Steadman becomes the first NWHLer to earn the honor twice in one season.

 

Tidbits:

  • Shortly before puck drop Sunday, Hannah Bevis of Today’s Slapshot boosted a piece she wrote about the chemistry between Steadman and Meghan Duggan in just five games played together. Ironically, the duo was split up for the first time this season against the Riveters. Co-head coach Shelley Looney said after the game that the aim was to create three strong lines, so Duggan played alongside Jessica Fickel and Shelby Bram, while Steadman was on a line with Hayley Williams in Tatiana Rafter’s spot. Of course, Duggan did manage to combine with Steadman on the power play for Steadman’s first goal of the game.
  • The second line of Devon Skeats, Kourtney Kunichika, and Hailey Browne was untouched, due to what Looney called a “strong run” this season. Although the line didn’t have a point in last Sunday’s game, they cycled the puck well and crashed the net on multiple occasions, proving they still have plenty of chemistry.
  • Kunichika on playing with Skeats and Browne: “It’s a fast pace. They’re both really strong and really fast, and we seem to just kind of know where each other [is]… When we get deep and start cycling it, we can be unstoppable.”
  • Rafter, who was Princess Elsa for the day in honor of Disney on Ice being in town, was a healthy scratch. The forward has one goal and 12 penalty minutes in 13 games played. Earlier in the season, co-head coach Ric Seiling mentioned the purpose of practice players was to ensure there would be a full lineup in case of injury or outside obligation, but seeing as Rafter was healthy and present, it’s obvious the only thing keeping her from the lineup was lack of production compared with Steadman’s consistent success. So… the real deal regarding practice players remains to be seen.
  • Also a result of Disney Day: old favorites and forgotten gems from Disney movies on the PA system throughout the game. I was super excited to hear “Be Prepared” before puck drop, not going to lie.

Buffalo Beauts Earn First Home Win, 4-2 vs. New York Riveters

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.

Fun Facts about the New York Riveters as of January 28th, 2016

With the All-Star Game done and just five games left, the final month of the NWHL’s regular season doesn’t look exceedingly hopeful for the New York Riveters. Tied for last place in the league (…wassup, Beauts? I regret all the smack I talked about you in November), our favorite Brooklyn hockey team (transferring trash-talk to the Isles seems like a safe bet) will end the season in either last or second-to-last position.

FUN FACT: Even if the Riveters won all of their remaining games in regulation and nobody else won any games at all, the Rivs would still be in third.

Hey, but at least they’re still going to the playoffs!

FUN FACT: Every NWHL team is going to the playoffs.

So it seems pretty likely that when we watch the Riveters throughout February, we’re not looking at the first-ever Isobel Cup champions. This is not resignation, it’s realism—and while being a fan of a winning team is more fun, I’m as comforted by the ‘making history’/‘play for her’ angle as ever. And hey, speaking of making history…

FUN FACT: The New York Riveters made history by trading goalie Shenae Lundberg to the Connecticut Whale for goalie Chelsea Laden, the first trade to take place in the NWHL.

I’m no scout, and the sample size for both players in this league is almost laughably small—one game apiece. Laden played a full game against the Beauts early in the season, coming away with a save percentage of 0.947%, and Lundberg played 28 minutes, of a game for the Rivs, facing 32 shots and saving 28 of them. Both have been injured for the majority of the season, Laden with a broken finger and Lundberg with an ankle injury.

At this point, Riveters appear have a strong goaltending situation. Between Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens, goalies haven’t been the major problem that the Rivs have faced this season—but Laden’s injury seems to be less severe than Lundberg’s, and she also comes at a thousand dollar discount ($14,000 to Lundberg’s $15,000), which, with a $270,000 salary cap, never hurts.

FUN FACT: I like this trade! Why not, right? Does it kind of feel like the league just wanted to remind everyone that trades were still a thing that could happen? Sure! Whatever! You do you, NWHL.

The Riveters play the Beauts on Sunday—the first of three games remaining against Buffalo. Standings-wise, the Beauts appear to be the most even matchup for the Rivs, so these three games will hopefully be a chance for the Riveters to build their confidence going into the playoffs in mid-March. As far as the league’s likely contenders, the Whale and Pride, the Riveters play both teams once more before the season where history began draws to an end.

Pride Players Take a Win, a Loss, and a Pie to the Face at Inaugural All Star Game

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.

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.

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.

A good time was had by all.

NWHL All-Star Weekend A Blast, Team Pfalzer Dominates

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.”

NWHL All-Star Weekend Cocktails!

Hello, Katarin here!

The NWHL All-Star Weekend is upon us and we all have our different ways to celebrate. For myself, I love nothing better than mixing up a few cocktails for my friends and settling in to enjoy the festivities.

You see, over the years, I’ve somehow fallen into the role of mixologist for my friends group. Do I have any sort of formal bartending training? No. I’m just an enthusiastic novice. But with this in mind, my good friends here at Watch This Hockey asked me to mix up some NWHL themed cocktails.

And really, who doesn’t like to sit back with a drink when they watch hockey? But this isn’t just any game, this is the All Star Game! The usual bottle of my favorite lucky beer just won’t do. So here are a couple of special cocktails I mixed up, just for Watch This and the NWHL All Star Weekend.

Four NWHL themed cocktails

I’m giving my recipes using parts, so its easier for everyone to do their own measure. For my own mixing, I used a small shot glass that holds 1/8ths of a Cup.

First up, my own beloved Riveters. Sure, they play in Brooklyn, but how could I pass up the opportunity to take inspiration from the classic Manhattan? Except in my take, I up the cherry flavor. Gone is the vermouth, replaced instead with cherry liquer.

A picture of Jack Daniels whiskey, cherry liquor, cherry bitters, and maraschino cherries
Component Parts of The Riveter

The Riveter

1 part whiskey
1 part cherry liquer
Dash cherry bitters
Maraschino cherries (for garnish)

Recipe: mix together in a cocktail shaker with ice & them strain into a glass.

The Riveter Coktail

If you’re reading this and saying “this is great, but I don’t really like the taste of alcohol?”

Well, same. No, really! I know there’s a weird prejudice against liking alcoholic drinks that are sweet, but not all of us enjoy drinking bourbon straight, right? So, with this in mind, I thought I’d give you an option to make this a little sweeter. What’s the secret? Add soda. No really! I prefer Sprite Zero, but sparkling water will do the job just as well. For me, Sprite Zero adds a hint of sweetness without being overpowering.

Jack Daniels, Cherry Bitters, Cherry liqour, Sprite Zero, Maraschino cherries
Component Parts of The Riveter Sweet

The Riveter Sweet

1 part whiskey
1 part cherry liquer
Dash cherry bitters
Dash maraschino liquid (the stuff your cherries come in)
2 parts Sprite Zero/sparkling water/etc.
Maraschino cherries (for garnish)

Another cocktail photo
The Riveter Sweet

Next up, we have The Boston Pride. But what cocktail is worthy of your very own All Star Captain, Hilary Knight?

I won’t lie, this isn’t EXACTLY my recipe. I believe it’s fairly popular among the college bro set, but it also seemed pretty perfect. There’s a lot of great cider breweries in Massachusetts, but I couldn’t manage to find a cider from one of them in all of Chicago, so instead I made do with a hard cider from Vermont.

 

A can of Citizen Cider and a bottle of Fireball
The Components of The Fiery Pride


Fiery Pride

1 bottle hard cider
2 parts Fireball liquer

Recipe: 20 minutes before you begin, freeze your glass.

Be sure your hard cider is chilled.

Pour chilled cider into frozen glass. Add Fireball.

Cocktail in a mason jar
The Fiery Pride

And what of The Connecticut Whale? Well, I knew I had to do a wine cocktail, because everyone in Connecticut is a wine mom.

“Katarin,” I hear you say. “I am from Connecticut and I am NOT a wine mom.”

To that I say “Listen. Hold out your hands and pretend I am gently cupping them in mine. Now, I won’t hear that kind of defeatist talk. Search, deep inside your soul and there, you will find the wine mom, yearning to be free.”

Sparkling moscato, sparkling apple juice, Jack Daniels, and an apple. Green, for preference.
The Components of the Wine Mom  Connecticut Sparkling Wine Cocktail

Connecticut Sparkling Wine Cocktail

1 part whiskey
2 parts sparkling wine
3 parts apple cider
Sliced apples for garnish

Recipe: chill your wine beforehand.

You can slice your apples however you like, but when I use apples in a cocktail, I prefer to julienne.

Place apple slices in bottom of glass. Pour each ingredient over top. Gently stir.

Cocktail with APPLES IN IT
The Completed Sparkling Connecticut Whale

Last but most certainly not least, we have our host city/team, the Buffalo Beauts. But what could possibly be worthy of the host city and New York’s own, Emily Pfalzer? Well, it all started with an idea for a take on the classic Sidecar. Except, rather than cognac, using Crown Royal, for The Queen City.

Triple sec, crown royal, and lime juice.
The Component Parts of The Beaut

The Beaut

1 part Crown Royal
1 part Triple Sec
1 part Lime juice

Recipe: combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a glass.

 

The Beaut

And there you have it! A full lineup of NWHL themed cocktails to make your All Star weekend extra special. Feel free to take pictures of your drinks and send them to me, either in the comments or at my twitter @boldmatter! I would also like any close up photos you get of Blake Bolden. Happy NWHL All-Star Weekend!

 

All-Star Game Weekend Preview: Who, What, Where, When, & How to Follow

This weekend, we have not one but two All-Star Games! What an embarrassment of riches.

CWHL All-Star Game

  • Teams will be picked by the two captains, Julie Chu and Natalie Spooner, on Friday night. The captains were chosen previously by fan-vote. The 2016 Frozen Fantasy Draft will be held on Friday January 22nd 2016 from 7 to 10pm at the Hilton Toronto.
  • See the full pool of players and other information here.
  • The All-Star Game itself will be on Saturday, January 23, 2016, at 1 PM ET the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
  • The game itself will be three full twenty-minute periods of hockey.
  • You can watch the game on Sportsnet, at 3 PM ET.  Don’t know yet about any options for streaming or television outside of the Sportsnet zone.

NWHL All-Star Game

  • Saturday, you can Skate With The Stars as part of the All-Star Weekend Package.
  • On Sunday, the NWHL All Star Game will happen at 2 PM in the HarborCenter, in Buffalo, New York.
  • Hilary Knight and Buffalo-area native Emily Pfalzer each captain a team– check out the rosters at the NWHL’s All-Star Game page!
  • Each team will also have an All-Star Kid Coach! Meet the kids who’ll be on the bench here.
  • The NWHL All-Star Game will consist of a skill competition, and a brief game of 4 on 4.
  • We’re hoping this game will be streamed, but aren’t sure– more details as we know them.

Follow along with Angelica and Erin, who will both be at both the NWHL and CWHL All-Star Games!

  • You can find Angelica on Twitter @ReinaDeLaIsla, Instagram, and on Snapchat and Periscope under ReinaDeLaIsla.
  • You can find Erin on Twitter @ekbartus and on Snapchat under ekbartus.

What To Do In Buffalo While You’re Waiting For The NWHL All-Star Game

So you want to go to the NWHL All-Star Game. You’ve got your tickets, your jersey, and you check to see where it’ll be. And you realize it’s in Buffalo, New York.

I know, I know. If there’s anyone who KNOWS what people say about this town, it’s me, because I hear them say it every time I mention where I’m from and where I’m living now. “You moved from BROOKLYN… THERE?”

Yeah. I get it. A fraction of the population, ten times the snow, and nothing to do. Right?

Well… not really.

In the six years I’ve lived here (seriously, I can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve heard Buffalo referred to as “wasteland,” “Southern Canada,” you name it. I’ve also seen it undergo a subtle transformation from the snowy little speed bump you pass on your way to Niagara Falls and Toronto, to a city with somewhat higher aspirations.

That doesn’t mean Buffalo has its issues; there are many, and a lot of them deal with things largely outside the realm of hockey (like jobs, gentrification, etc.). But you don’t care about any of that right now — you just want to know what there is to do before and after the All-Star Game. Well, you’re in luck.

  • First of all, there’s plenty of food options. Right inside the HarborCenter building (which is easily accessible from the train station, bus depot, and a short drive down the 33 from the airport), you have (716), the hot spot for pre- and post-game eats and drinks. I’ve been a couple of times, and I’m actually going to have my birthday party there in a couple of weeks. The drinks and atmosphere kind of make up for the food, in my opinion (that isn’t to say the food is bad — it’s just okay). But once you get a load of the giant screen you can check out games on, I think you’ll be sold.
  • If (716) isn’t for you, check out Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, located just a short walk down from the arena. This place has excellent food and pretty good beers (the Blue-Eyed Blueberry Blonde and Don Cherry Cherry Wheat are my favorites).
  • In fact, there are plenty of brewery options in Buffalo, which prides itself on local products (just look at Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer, a native of nearby Getzville). Big Ditch on East Huron, Resurgence on Niagara Street, and Flying Bison on Seneca Street are all close by. I’ve heard tell Big Ditch has more variety and great food in addition to their beer, while Resurgence and Flying Bison offer cool snacks to pair with your brews. (Resurgence also plays pretty great music — I took my friend Maria there and that night they had R&B and hip hop jams that took me right back to middle school.)
  • If you fancy braving the cold and snow for a walk along the water, Canalside is the place to be. Buffalo’s made awesome use of the space during the winter, offering fitness classes and public skating, among other things. Last weekend was Canalside’s Chillabration, featuring live entertainment and food on top of everything else it has to offer. During the summer, there are concerts, boot camp, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and tons of water activities on the canal. Their Fourth of July celebrations are also lots of fun.
  • Walk a bit further down and you’ll find the Naval and Military Park, which features three ships, a museum, and the Liberty Hound, a cool little pub. Right now, the Park is closed to tours until March, but you can still take some pretty sweet photos with the giant ships in the background.
  • Finally, Buffalo RiverWorks over on Ganson Street has everything — sports, food and drink — under one roof. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s looking gorgeous. Oh, and did I mention you can also catch roller derby there? Yeah, Buffalo has FREAKIN’ ROLLER DERBY. Get excited.
  • If you’d like to explore outside of downtown, there are a couple of great neighborhoods developed around some of Buffalo’s main drags. The Delaware District features some of the beautiful mansions millionaires once lived in; Allentown, the heart of Buffalo’s LGBTQ community, features some cool variety stores and art galleries; and the Elmwood Village has everything from bookstores and boutiques to bars and even a little greenery in the form of Bidwell Park. Also, don’t overlook Grant Street — it features two of my favorite used bookstores, Rust Belt Books and West Side Stories, plus a ton of cool shops owned by a diverse group of entrepreneurs. Buffalo has a growing refugee population, and Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), Inc., has done a lot to help support them and their businesses.

I realize now that I could go on for quite a bit about the stuff Buffalo has to offer, because believe it or not, it’s quite a bit. This place is small and a little out of the game, but it’s full of pride and willingness to prove itself — kind of like its NWHL team.

Anyway, if you do decide to make a weekend of it, consider checking out the stuff listed above, and don’t be afraid to do a bit of your own digging. And of course, don’t miss puck drop for the All-Star Game at 2 p.m. sharp at HarborCenter.

Kunichika line shines, Buffalo Beauts top Riveters in shootout

A wild third period comeback led to a game-winner by captain Emily Pfalzer, as the Buffalo Beauts prevailed over the New York Riveters, 6-5 in the shootout.

Pfalzer threw in a couple of head fakes to move goaltender Jenny Scrivens before cutting to her left, putting a high backhand over Scrivens’ blocker side, for the winner.

The game had started out in Buffalo’s favor as they came flying out of the gate, dominating puck possession and peppering Scrivens with 13 shots to New York’s six. The line centered by Kourtney Kunichika especially shone, as Kunichika, Hailey Browne and Devon Skeats maintained possession heading into the zone and drove hard to the net, often including a trailer to pick up potential rebounds. It was Kunichika who tipped the puck past Scrivens to put the Beauts up 1-0 6:48 into the opening frame.

Lyudmila Belyakova potted a rebound by Beauts netminder Kim Sass to tie it midway through the period, but six minutes later, Megan Bozek aimed a bomb of a shot at the back of the net, making it 2-1 heading into the second.

That was when it all fell apart for Buffalo. A parade to the penalty box by the Beauts led to a slaughter on the skater-advantage for the Riveters, who scored four goals in the period (three of them on the power play). Bray Ketchum and Morgan Fritz-Ward tallied two apiece, taking advantage of the Beauts’ frustration and some key rebounds by Sass, who was replaced by Brianne McLaughlin before the period ended. The Riveters also had two goals in a row disallowed, one due to a high-stick, and the other to a quick whistle. Later in the period, the Beauts got a couple of looks in on Scrivens; Erin Zach in particular had a great chance, flying in on a breakaway, but was stopped by Scrivens’ blocker. The Riveters goalie finished with 21 saves.

But Buffalo slowly mounted a comeback over the final period. Pfalzer started things off, moving deep into the offensive zone and putting away a beautiful pass by Shelby Bram. Then Tatiana Rafter put the Beauts within one. Finally, Kunichika brought the regulation scoring full-circle on a net-crashing play (something her line thrives on). McLaughlin kept her team alive with some key saves, while Scrivens also tried her best to ensure at least one point for her squad.

After an exciting OT that saw a couple of chances on both sides, the game went to the skills competition. Brooke Ammerman drew first blood for the Riveters, but McLaughlin stopped the final two shooters for New York, while Shelby Bram tied the shootout score and Pfalzer put the game away.

This game highlighted the importance of the Beauts sticking to their game, which (despite their best intentions) is not overly physical. The longer they spend in the penalty box, the more flustered and less effective they seem to be, whereas by simply using their speed and being smart about their positioning, they succeed. This was not necessarily a game that needed a shootout to decide it, or at least it wouldn’t have if the Beauts kept their feet moving and their wits about them. However, they managed to regroup and get the extra point, and McLaughlin did an incredible job in relief (9 saves). Here’s to hoping it isn’t quite so hard to hang onto the two points next time.

Speaking of next time, it won’t be until two weekends from now. The NWHL All-Star Game is slated for next Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m. at HarborCenter. It will feature some of the best and biggest names in the league (including eight Beauts). Tickets are $25, and it will also be streamed via Cross-Ice Pass. Stay tuned for more All-Star coverage as the week progresses.

Women’s Winter Classic: Let’s Look Beyond The NHL

We here at Watch This have been advocates of women’s hockey being seen on its own merits for awhile now, so the debate about the admittedly poorly executed Winter Classic (the NWHL/CWHL one, mind) is certainly relevant to our interests. The “Winter Classic” as a phrase and as a hockey concept is really the NHL’s own marketing invention, and has been increasingly explicitly a marketing bid in recent years: more outdoor games, less big-name/historic locations, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because marketing can be useful and women’s hockey in particular would benefit from larger institutions throwing their marketing weight behind it – but it does mean that you really can’t decouple the lackluster “Outdoor Women’s Classic” from the influence and background of the NHL’s Winter Classic brand.

When I (that is me, Elena) heard the news that a women’s Winter Classic was going to happen – but only sort of! individual tickets wouldn’t be sold! also it was last minute and not heavily advertised! – I just sort of sighed. Putting on an event in itself isn’t enough to guarantee profit or attention; the NHL knows that. After all, the NHL as a league is orders of magnitude more well-known than the CWHL or the NWHL, but they still advertise special events heavily. Putting on a women’s Winter Classic, but not planning ahead of time, promoting it, or really doing much of anything but the bare minimum of providing a space and a few tweets, is setting it up to fail. And, in the eyes of a lot of people, it did fail. If the event was meant as a way for the NWHL and CWHL to learn from the NHL’s experience putting on an event, then they appeared to have not left themselves with time to do it. This dry run didn’t result in a big crowd watching an outdoor women’s hockey game; time, money, and effort on the part of players and administrators – including the NHL – ended up squandered on an event for which individual tickets weren’t even sold.

But while the NHL’s lukewarm support certainly contributed to the women’s classic being more of a whimper than a bang, it wasn’t the only factor. The CWHL and the NWHL are ostensibly both grown-up, professional leagues. We therefore ought to be asking exactly why announcement of the game was delayed for so long, why details of the game were communicated so poorly to women’s hockey fans, who follow various CWHL and NWHL communications (email, twitter, and so on), and why, if there truly were hold-ups on various practical details such as broadcasting, the CWHL and the NWHL agreed to do this event this year at all.

More organized and comprehensive NHL support would be great. But if agreements between whatever parties needed to agree to make the event happen were only finalized a few days before the date, why wasn’t the agreement then to hold and promote a Winter Classic next year? As a women’s hockey fan who’s watched more than one women’s league in various sports come and go, what the rush to hold the Winter Classic this year tells me, rightly or wrongly, is that one or both leagues isn’t confident that they’ll even be around next year. It strikes me as incredibly poor marketing, on the CWHL and NWHL’s part, to rush this event out at the last minute – and I’m not really in favor of focusing on the NHL’s role in the event to the exclusion of looking at what the CWHL and NWHL have been doing. They had no coordinated media campaigns ready; they had no cross-league branding ready (merchandise and graphics in particular); they had no advertising ready. In short, they had nothing prepared to convince me, a fan, that the event was worth paying attention to.

That lack can be easily explained: the event was finalized at the last minute. But holding the event anyway, despite the last-minute nature of the preparations, was a poor choice. It signals disorganization within leagues, lack of cooperation, and lack of confidence in the future to fans. That really troubles me. We can talk all day about what the NHL could do for women’s hockey, but in 2016, when we have two independent leagues, we need to move beyond that. The CWHL and NWHL have both repeatedly asserted their confidence in the future and their ability to grow, both individually as leagues and as part of the larger community of women’s hockey. It’s time their actions reflected those statements.