Hats for Skeats, Victory for Boston

The Boston Pride came back from a three-game losing streak tonight, and they did it in style, starting strong with a 5-2 lead at the end of the first period and holding steady against the Buffalo Beauts for a 7-6 victory. Despite a hat trick from Devon Skeats, the Beauts couldn’t rebound from the Pride’s early success. This is the highest-scoring game the Pride have yet played at home. Energy was high from start to finish, on the ice and in the stands. While attendance was the lowest of the three home games so far (likely due to a conflict with the Bruins game tonight, which also preempted broadcast on NESN), the crowd was enthusiastic, especially the small group of Beauts fans who had traveled south to cheer on their home team.

Up in the press box, I was also enthusiastic. “I want this to be a 20-goal game,” I said. “I want Hilary Knight to get six points.” Say what you want about the defense situation or the sad state of my note-taking by the end of the game (none of that is correct), this game was a blast to watch. “You get a goal, and you get a goal—ten people get goals!”

After the game, Pride players agreed that strengthening their play in the first period was crucial to tonight’s victory. Hilary Knight, one of the team’s two captains, praised teammates Rachel Llanes and Jillian Dempsey, who opened the game with two neat goals in succession by Dempsey off Llanes’s assists. “We came out hard, and that was key. Last couple games, we’ve given them one, two quick goals. Really wanted to tighten it up. We came and scored the first goal today… I think we built off that first period,” said co-captain Brianna Decker. Amanda Pelkey spoke of Decker’s leadership as the Pride worked to improve: “Decker talked about being committed, from the drop of the pick committed… That was our first focus, to start off well.” That commitment was evident on the ice today.

Of course, a high-scoring game signals issues with defense. Buffalo pulled Brianne McLaughlin after she allowed five goals in the first period and sent in Amanda Makela, who allowed only two more throughout the game. Lauren Slebodnick started in the net for Boston, but was replaced by Brittany Ott after Devon Skeats’ hat trick five minutes into the third period. Defense Kacey Bellamy said of the Pride’s performance tonight, “We still haven’t played a full 60-minute game yet. Throughout the game, we can’t let our lead close like that. But [the Beauts] played us tight tonight and it was a good challenge for us.”

Coming off a slow start, it’s a pleasure to see the Buffalo Beauts rise to that challenge. Skeats, who is this week’s NWHL Player of the Week, finished out the game with three goals and two assists for a total of five points. “We just came off our first win, so we wanted to bring that momentum back into this game,” she said of the Beauts’ preparation for their first game in Boston. “We know we can compete with every team in this league.” The Beauts played a solid game against the Pride despite missing key players, including Meghan Duggan (who coached Clarkson University to a win tonight), Kelley Steadman (who does not travel with the team, according to coach Ric Seiling), and goaltender Kimberly Sass (who is finishing her thesis). While the Pride had the momentum at the start of the game, the Beauts came back from a 1-5 disadvantage towards the end of the first period to lose 6-7 to the Pride. Skeats said that they’ll be focusing on a better first period in tomorrow’s game against the Whale.

What can we expect from the Boston Pride tomorrow in their game against the New York Riveters? A lot of energy, according to Pride players. “I think that we’re going to probably play better tomorrow,” said Pelkey. “It’s easier on the legs, in a way? Reverse psychology, I guess. You have the adrenaline even the day after.” Decker added, “We would love to play 2 games every weekend. It’s obviously a little more mentally and physically a strain on your body but they’re fun games to play in. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Boston Pride Head Into Weekend Double-Feature Off Loss to Undefeated Whale

Connecticut Whale players hug in celebration on the ice after scoring a goal on the Boston Pride.
Connecticut Whale players celebrate their first goal against the Boston Pride on Sunday, November 29.

With six games under each team’s belt, the National Women’s Hockey League is now a third of the way through its first season, as illustrated by this lovely infographic. The Boston Pride’s seventh and eighth games will take place at home this weekend at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center, where they will play the Buffalo Beauts on Saturday evening and the New York Riveters on Sunday afternoon. The Pride are coming off a three-game losing streak after opening the season with a three-win streak that matched the high expectations for a team with such a stacked roster. The Beauts capped their five-game losing streak with a win last Sunday, the Riveters have won two games and lost four, and the Connecticut Whale are the lone team that remains undefeated.

Last Sunday, the Pride struggled to find their footing against the Whale, much as they had the previous week against the Riveters. Those two games had more than a few similarities: the opposing team scored on the Pride twice within a few minutes of puck drop, and the Pride struggled to catch up to an early lead. However, I saw a notable improvement on the ice between the Pride’s home opener and their play against the Whale last weekend–while the Pride had difficulty moving play out of the defensive zone when they faced the Riveters, they were far more successful in getting the puck into the Whale’s zone. The Whale stood out in Sunday’s game for their skill at intercepting passes, Jaime Leonoff’s stellar goaltending, and their exceptional defense. Despite being outshot 42-21 and a strong effort from the Pride late in the game, the Whale pulled off a narrow 4-3 win.

To succeed against the Beauts and Riveters this weekend, the Pride are going to have to step up their opening strength and tighten their defense. While one clear element in their past two losses is difficult to overcome–stellar goaltending from Nana Fujimoto and Leonoff–preventing goals against is something they can obviously work on. Pride goaltender Brittany Ott has struggled in the past few weeks; after allowing three goals from the Whale, she was pulled midway through the second period on Sunday and replaced by Lauren Slebodnick, who let only one into the net. When I asked Ott post-game about the Pride’s goaltending strategy–Ott has seen the majority of the Pride’s ice time, with Slebodnick and Fralick spending little time in net–she said, “I can’t really speak to Coach [Bobby Jay]’s plan. We get notified Thursday, it’s totally his call, every week.” While Ott is certainly an elite goaltender, I’m curious to see how Slebodnick or Fralick would perform for the Pride.

When I was spoke with Ott, defense Blake Bolden, and forward Amanda Pelkey, all three players stressed both the caliber of the Whale’s play and their commitment to the Pride’s improvement against their competition. Bolden spoke to the Whale’s “strong offensive talent” and Pelkey to their ability to “capitalize on chances.” Both qualities, however, could also be attributed to the Pride. I’m looking forward to seeing them in this weekend’s games.

Selected recaps from Whale at Pride on Sunday:
– Today’s Slapshot: Connecticut Remains Undefeated After Beating Boston by Kate Cimini
– Stanley Cup of Chowder: Boston Pride lose third straight by Kat Hemming
– Boston Magazine: Boston Pride’s Late Surge Falls Short, as Connecticut Whale Win Sixth in a Row by Kyle Clauss

Boston Pride vs. New York Riveters: Honestly, They’re All Historic Games

“How does it feel to win the first game of the NWHL broadcast on TV? Do you have family watching at home? Anyone have NESN?” I said to the Riveters players who had gathered for the press after Sunday’s game. Brooke Ammerman, Madison Packer, and Meghan Fardelmann, who scored the game-winning goal against the Pride, looked amongst each other with confusion. NESN is a popular sports channel in Boston, but its national reach is narrower.

Finally, Ammerman said, “Well, it’s good, because we didn’t win the first two historic games. I guess third time’s the charm.”

Third and fourth, it seems. The Pride lost to the Riveters for the second game in a row yesterday, going down 2-3 in a hard-fought game that kept everyone in the stands riveted from puck drop until the end of regulation. Ammerman and Packer scored the first two goals of game less than three minutes into the game and caged the Pride in their own defensive zone for most of the period, leaving the Pride scrambling to even the score up. Hilary Knight netted the first home goal for the Pride on power play while Elena Orlando served a two-minute minor for tripping, but Meghan Fardlemann put up another points for the Riveters less than a minute later. While Amanda Pelkey scored a power play goal for the Pride at the beginning of the second period, the Pride were unable to close the scoring gap.

The climate in the Bright-Landry Center throughout the second period and a scoreless third period was tense. A group of young players began to chant “Go Pride!” and another group attempted to start the wave. The crowd wasn’t only young girls and their families, nor Boston locals alone–adult Riveters fans from as close as my coffee shop and as far away as Mississippi were cheering for the away team as well. In women’s hockey, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of athletics to young women and how awesome women athletes can be as role models, but let’s face it: those sentiments aren’t much of an audience draw. The Boston Pride’s home opener was fun. Even watching them lose to the Riveters was incredible.

Speaking of the Riveters: those players are fast. The team I saw outskated the Pride for the duration of the third period and rocked their two-way play throughout. They held out against the Pride’s incredible offense–many who have played together for years–and won with 14 shots on goal to the Pride’s 43. Sure, having Nana Fujimoto in goal was key to this win–all three of the Riveters I spoke to stressed her dedication, skill, and commitment in transitioning from international ice to a smaller sheet–but all of the Riveters players who hit the ice contributed to that win.

At the beginning of the season, the Pride seemed the easy favorite of the NWHL. Many of the players came over from last year’s Clarkson-Cup-winning team, the Boston Blades of the CWHL, and five are part of Team USA. Hilary Knight, the most visible face of women’s hockey for the past few years, shares the captaincy with Brianna Decker, who currently leads the league in both points and goal scoring. The two wins with which the Pride opened the league weren’t surprising. The last two weeks have upset that leading edge, though. As the team heads into their first competition against the Connecticut Whale, who are leading the league, undefeated after four games, the Pride’s prestige hangs in jeopardy.

Pride defense Kacey Bellamy echoed my own thoughts after the game when she said, “Obviously, we hate losing, but [the Riveters] beating us twice, it’s good for the league. It’s good competition.” It’s good TV, too. I’d certainly rather watch the Pride fight their way to the top than coast to an easy victory. Judging by the other game that took place on Sunday, in which the Whale narrowly pulled off a shoot out win after the Buffalo Beauts came back from losing 1-5 to meeting the Whale 6-6 by the end of the second period, the Whale won’t will be able to rest on their laurels for long, either.

I can’t wait to watch what happens next.

Boston Blades Home Opener: From Yankees to Red Sox

A Calgary Inferno player races Blades #16 Sarah Duncan toward #33 Genevieve Lacasse in the Blades Goal.
A Calgary Inferno player races Blades #16 Sarah Duncan toward #33 Genevieve Lacasse in the Blades Goal. From the Blades home opener on October 31 at New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA.

First, let’s be frank: Last Saturday night’s home opener against the Calgary Inferno was a difficult game to watch if you were rooting for the home team. The Inferno scored seven goals, a boggling six of those during the second period, while the Blades remained scoreless throughout. The audience, crammed onto a narrow balcony high over the rink, seemed distant from the players, and the paltry media presence was a stark contrast to the NWHL’s media day in September. In the space of a few months, the Boston Blades have gone from the CWHL’s champions to the underdogs. They’re still hoisting the Clarkson Cup–the team posed for photos with the Cup before and after the game–but most of the players who won it this March are gone.

The NWHL went unmentioned in my conversations with general manager Krista Patronick and coach Brian McCloskey, as did the NWHL’s role in shakeup in the Blades’ formerly star-filled roster. The Blades have retained only five members of last year’s Clarkson Cup winning team: defense Tara Watchorn (this year’s captain) and Dru Burns, forwards Ashley Cottrell and Megan Myers, and goalie Genevieve Lacasse. The new league isn’t the only source of changes–Monique Lamoreaux has joined her sister Joceyln on the Minnesota Whitecaps, while Jenny Potter has transitioned to coaching–but it has claimed over half of last season’s roster, including all of Team USA’s active players. Both coach Digit Murphy and general manager Aronda Kirby have departed for the green fields of lacrosse after a less-than-amicable break with the Blades. As they enter a comprehensive and unanticipated rebuild, the Blades’ newest iteration has inherited both impossibly high expectations and a complicated relationship with the CWHL as its only US franchise.

The Boston Blades opened the 2015-2016 season at home on fresh ice at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlborough, MA, which will be their home rink this season. GM Patronick said that the free parking, dedicated locker room, and improved connectivity offered by NESC were major incentives. There are, indeed, a lot of things to like about NESC–it’s a big facility with six indoor rinks, concessions, and an elevator-accessible upper floor which allows viewing from warmer/heated hallways. That said, Saturday’s game was displaced by the Beantown Fall Classic to Rink 6, which has no bleacher seating, only a long balcony that stretches the length of the rink. There were a few benches for seating, but the majority of people attending the game had to stand. From ice level, where I was filming throughout the game, it was hard to hear the fans or see them. The rink felt surreally empty.

Still, this doesn’t tell you much about the team’s play against Calgary. Calgary’s roster hasn’t experienced as much turnover, and they’ve been joined by the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser in her first year of CWHL play. The Inferno kept most of the play in the Blades’ zone for the duration of the game and they spent a lot of time scrapping around the crease. Despite their aggressive play, Calgary only racked up 2:00 PIM to Boston’s 8:00 by the end of the game. Lacasse’s net was unmoored twice during gameplay, once on either end of the rink; the Blades rarely got close enough to Delayne Brian to test the purchase of the net behind the Inferno’s crease. The Blades got 18 shots on goal, less than a third of the Inferno’s 60.

If they weren’t successful, the Blades were at least determined. Alternate captain Kristina Brown fistbumped each player as they stepped back onto the ice for the third period, exhorting her teammates to “Get some fire out there, get hungry.” Indeed, they finished out the final period without allowing another goal. Goaltender Lacasse deflected 53 of the 60 shots leveled on goal on Saturday. The Blades played a second game against Calgary at Tsongas Arena in Lowell at 10:30 on Sunday, during which Lacasse allowed only 4 of 50 shots. That’s a .900 SVP on 110 SOG in less than 24 hours.

What does this mean for the players who posed around the Clarkson Cup on Saturday night? These Blades are playing against the odds, that’s for sure–against four Canadian teams whose rosters haven’t received a massive shakeup, under the shadow of a hotshot new league with a franchise in the same city, and without most of the players who lifted the Cup in March. Replicating that success will be an uphill success, and it won’t happen overnight. That said, some of those expectations rest on an underlying assumption that Blades’ past success was solely on the merits of their players. When the Blades became the pinnacle of elite women’s hockey talent in the United States as the Western Women’s Hockey League dissolved, there were no alternative professional teams for US-based players who had outlasted their time as NCAA to play and continue to develop. Only the best and brightest stars of women’s hockey–and those with the financial resources and spare time to devote to the sport without pay–could land a place on the Blades’ roster. While it’s tempting to frame the relationship between the NWHL and the CWHL as a rivalry (and, indeed, the one between the Pride and the Blades), the reality is more complex. Going from one professional women’s hockey team in the US to six will only grow (eventually) both the sport and the field of players from which both leagues can pick for their rosters. I’m excited to see how this season’s players develop on the ice. That doesn’t mean that the Blades are poised to capture the Clarkson cup this year, or even the next.

Fortunately for the Blades, Boston loves underdogs.

Buffalo Beauts Winless Going Into 4 Nations Break

The Buffalo Beauts are winless in their first three games of the season, but are gaining momentum heading into the 4 Nations Cup break. They held the Boston Pride to the wire, but ultimately the Pride came out with a win, 5-3, on the strength of a hat trick (including an empty-netter) by Brianna Decker.

Outshot 48-28, the Beauts still relied on Brianne McLaughlin for support, but found plenty of offensive opportunities and looked good on the power play. Kelley Steadman continued her excellent play over the past couple of weeks with two goals, and Kourtney Kunichika broke through for a goal and an assist. McLaughlin had a banner night with 44 saves, many of them acrobatic, in her third straight start facing 40-plus shots.

“I love it. It reminds me of my college days,” the Beauts netminder said with a grin after the game. “I’d rather be busy than just hanging out. Maybe with fewer goals, though.”

Although the Beauts have allowed 13 goals against so far this season, everyone on the ice and behind the bench agreed the defensive effort has improved, particularly in this game.

“The D played phenomenal in their own zone,” co-head coach Ric Seiling said. “They took control of the puck and caused separation between the (opposing) player and the puck. No one really got away from their position tonight.”

The Pride got on the board first on a goal by a flying Brianna Decker down the right wing, but that high didn’t last long, as the Beauts swarmed Brittany Ott’s net, getting chances that just missed wide or high. Despite the lopsided shot total after one (19-6 Pride), there was a definite edge to Buffalo’s game that suggested this would not be an easy one for the Pride.

Boston would escape the opening period with the 1-0 lead, but just 2:19 into the second, Kelley Steadman shook off her defender and capitalized on a rebound from a Meghan Duggan shot to tie it up. The Pride answered quickly on a goal by Emily Field, and then put some distance between them and the Beauts on Decker’s second of the game.

Late in the middle frame, however, Steadman came in alone shorthanded, throwing a shot on net that Ott stopped, but with three Pride players tangled up with Kunichika, Steadman was able to swing around and collect her own rebound, potting it on a nice backhand to cut the lead to one.

The third period began with some chippy play from both teams, with frustration starting to show a bit on Boston’s end. The Beauts, meanwhile, executed great play in their own zone and the neutral zone to push the Pride back, negating quite a few zone entry opportunities. It took a power play for Gigi Marvin to finally get Boston’s lead back up to two, but as was the theme for the afternoon, the Beauts weren’t letting up.

Kunichika scored her first goal of the season and her NWHL career by following up a rebound from a booming shot by Megan Bozek, pulling Buffalo back to within one, and it looked as though a tying goal could happen. However, Kunichika then took an untimely hooking penalty with about two minutes to go, and eventually Decker got the empty-net goal to complete the first hat trick in NWHL history and the win for the Pride.

Still, Seiling and players alike found plenty of positives aside from the score to consider.

“I think tonight we put them in a position I don’t think they’ve had before, only up by one going into the third period, and we were knocking on the door,” he said. “We might have put them into some uncomfortable waters. Our girls kept pressing, sticking to the game plan and creating opportunities.”

Defender Paige Harrington emphasized the hard work her teammates have put in on and off the ice as a reason for the Beauts’ progress, saying she feels as though they’re finally becoming a unit.

“I think we’re getting there,” she said. “We’re a tough team, we shouldn’t be taken lightly, and I think we proved that going out there today, getting physical, giving Boston a good game.”

Meanwhile on offense, Steadman has become unstoppable, creating as many chances as she is able to finish and almost always at the front of the net. Her output comes at an incredible pace, but she deflects all credit.

“It’s really coming from great work from my teammates,” she said. “I just try to stick around the net and do what I can to get the puck there… It’s great for us to get some opportunities and get some goals to try to win a game here.”

The Beauts’ best game of the season comes at an almost inopportune moment, with the league about to take two weeks off to give the U.S. National Team’s players time to prepare for the 4 Nations Cup. With 11 players between the two teams that competed Sunday at HarborCenter, conditioning won’t be an issue; meanwhile, those on the Beauts who aren’t going to be at the tournament will have a chance to hone their skills and strength.

“No days off, right?” Harrington said. “I’m flying home but I’ll be working out every day and just making sure I’m staying focused because when we come back, we want to make sure we stay where we’re at, not taking steps back.”

The Beauts resume play at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 15 against the Connecticut Whale at HarborCenter. Tickets are available via nwhl.co, and streaming is free via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass on YouTube. All games are archived for easy and free access after the games are over.

Brianna Decker & Zoe Hickel lead Boston Pride To Roll Over New York Riveters

Let’s get it out of the way: the New York Riveters lost 7-1 to the Boston Pride at their home opener on Sunday night. Do I want to talk about it? No. Have I committed to do so for you, the good people of the internet? Yes. So let’s go.

A potent combination of seasonal allergies, midterms and unforeseen circumstances kept me away from Aviator Sports & Events (the New York Riveters’ home rink) on Sunday night, but according to the team there were over 1,000 fans in attendance for the game, many of whom lined up well in advance to get into the building. I watched via the free YouTube live-streaming that the NWHL has set up, which was glitchy/non-functional for about half of the first period, and then required link switches and refreshes throughout as the tech team reconfigured. Once the second period came around, it was great to have the Riveters’ home commentator join the broadcast—for this game, it was just one announcer (named Carmine, I believe) since his co-commentator was helping triage streaming problems, but she will generally be on mic in the future. Very cool, and a helpful touch for newer fans, who might have a harder time following the action without commentary.

Is it blatantly obvious that I don’t want to talk about the hockey? It is, right?

The Boston Pride were delayed in traffic and arrived at the arena late, causing the 7:00pm game to be held off for over an hour (puck drop around 8:20pm), but regardless of the wait, the atmosphere seemed electric, even through the live-stream (which had its own jocular fan comment section). Although their warmups were cut short, the Pride exploded out of the gate, with Zoe Hickel netting their first goal on the first shot of the game, just 55 seconds in. Which was FINE.

The Riveters didn’t seem terribly outmatched in the first period—they had a goal waved off just a few minutes in and Janine Weber’s line was making serious moves with around five minutes left. Then Brianna Decker scored for the Pride to close out the first, which wasn’t ideal, but, again, it happens. A two-goal lead is the worst in hockey, right? Right. Shots on goal at the end of the first period were only slightly tipped in Boston’s favor, at Pride 13, Riveters 11.

The Riveters started the second period on the penalty kill, which was no fun at all, given their history with powerplays—but it turns out that wasn’t the real concern this time, because even as the man advantage tipped in their favor immediately after (as the Pride lost a player to a tripping call) Brianna Decker scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0. Well, if a two-goal lead is bad… a three-goal lead has got to be worse. Or so I hoped.

This was about halfway through the game, at which point both teams switched goalies—Lundberg came in for Fujimoto on the Riveters’ end and Ott for Slebodnick. With that change, it seemed possible that the Riveters might be able to bring the game back under their control, and Gabie Figueroa’s goal late in the second felt portentous. It was 3-1. Shots on goal for the second were almost equal (22-21 BOS). It was all happening. Don’t call it a comeback!

No, seriously. Don’t. Seventeen seconds into the third period, Zoe Hickel struck again. 4-1. And in the next five minutes, the barrage began on Lundberg. While I’m sure the stats will tell the real story, it certainly felt like the Pride were simply parked in front of the Riveters’ net, constantly battering the players (goalie and defense alike) with shots, and the Riveters just… weren’t doing a lot. In the space of one minute, Buie and Bolden both scored to bring the score to a formidable 6-1 lead for Boston.

It was clear that the team and fans alike were frustrated, with the already reactive crowd booing every move the Pride made, the Riveters getting scrappier (including the beginnings of a fight by Amber Moore) and more penalty-happy, and even Coach Wiseman, who apparently drew a bench penalty in the third, though the details surrounding that were thin on the ground.

None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that the Riveters had given up at this point. Janine Weber had an incredible breakaway in the middle of the third (denied by Ott), and though it was hard to tell who exactly was involved from the live-stream, many Riveters (like Ashley Johnston) were blocking shots like it was nobody’s business. But by the time Jordan Smelker of the Pride scored to bring the game to 7-1, it seemed like the physical play that had been keeping Boston on their toes in the first was just giving the Pride more and more chances to score in the late minutes of the game.

And that was the end of it. Definitely a tough night to be a Riveters fan. As tempting as it is to ascribe this loss to a dominant Boston team, I do think this game, as well as the Riveters’ pre-season and regular season record thus far, reflected more about the team and the way they’re playing. The Riveters are also very quick to draw penalties, which they need to get away from doing, if this is the result. Apparently the coaching staff said the Riveters’ compete level was ‘zero’ for this game—which I can’t really judge—but when you’ve never won a game, maybe morale is at zero too. From what I can see, there are definitely certain players who are always almost where they need to be, or almost scoring. The hard part, I guess, is actually making those things happen.

The Riveters return to Aviator next Sunday night to face the Connecticut Whale again… and this time, it’s personal.

The Boston Pride Finds Victory, I Bake Pie

On Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, Manon Rhéaume dropped the first puck in the history of the Boston Pride. In Boston, I had just put my Pride-themed pie into the oven and set up my friend Kate’s TV to stream the game. Unlike the path that led to the National Women’s Hockey League’s successive puck drops in Connecticut and New York, my own itinerary for the day was simple: two friends, two games, one pie.

Laden with supplies, we arrived at Kate’s house at 1pm. Half an hour seemed like enough time for me to set up the livestream for the inaugural match between the New York Riveters and the Connecticut Whale, and the following two hours would be plenty for us to get through food prep before it was time for our team to play. We’d both spent the past month checking the NWHL’s site for more information about the Cross-Ice Pass and growing nervous as October 11th approached with no clarification in sight. Thankfully, getting the YouTube stream set up was a breeze. We cleared a space for my laptop and started washing potatoes and carrots for lentil stew, our concession to the sad fact we’re adults who share our pie instead of consuming the whole thing for dinner.

I don’t cry easily (someone usually has to die on TV), but I had to pause mid-carrot peel when Dani Rylan stepped out on the ice. I gripped the carrot and peeler in my hands while she placed the puck on my ice and through the first few minutes of the game. After all the anticipation—from #KnightWatch to the first NWHL draft to waiting for my Pride sweatshirt to show up in the mail (still waiting, I hope it gets here before I go on vacation)—it was incredible to see everyone out on the ice, suited up in their new jerseys, ready to rumble. Kate cried, and not because of the onions she was chopping.

We made it through the rest of food prep on autopilot, our eyes drifting between our food and the game. Fortunately, I’ve made a lot of pies. I switched from carrots to apples halfway through the first period, peeling while Kate chopped. We had a mix of Cortlands from Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow and Granny Smiths from Whole Foods, tart apples that pair beautifully with a butter crust and a little sugar. The stream had a few pauses for buffering, but nothing too distracting; pie assembly was equally uneventful, aside from Kate having to remind me to include salt in the crust. I wove a lattice on top and covered it with egg yolk; I used the egg white to coat three slashes of dough before I covered them in cinnamon sugar. The Connecticut Whale was owning the game, but the Pride owned this pie. We hoped they’d follow suit on the ice.

Transition between games wasn’t as simple. The Whale and the Riveters were still finishing out the third period when the clock hit 3.30, around the same time the oven started smoking. I had to abandon Kate to clean up the drip so I could figure out where on earth the Pride vs Beauts game was as well as audio input for her TV. Ultimately, I searched for the Beauts on YouTube and found the stream. Kate got the oven clean and the pie inside. Success!

The part you may or may not have been waiting for, depending on how many recaps of the game you’ve already read and how hungry for pie you are: the game was amazing. Kate and I were surprised by the lack of commentary, but Twitter was there for us in our time of need, and we spent a large portion of the game yelling “#KNIGHTTRICK” after Hilary Knight scored the first two goals for the Pride, the second off an assist from Kacey Bellamy.

“Should I get a Hilary Knight jersey?” Kate asked after goal number two, the NWHL shop open on her laptop. I was, of course, paying close attention to the game out of interest in joy, personal betterment, and subsequently writing for this blog. “Or will everyone have that one?”

“You should get Brittany Ott,” I said of #29, presently slaying in goal. “She is amazing, and goalies! So important! I hope that when she gets her new pads, they’re also blue.” Make an aesthetic commitment, @b_ott29, and also thank me for that jersey sale.

Into the net went a third goal from Jordan Smolker (assisted by Alyssa Gagliardi and Brianna Decker); out of the oven came pie (assisted by Kate’s woven potholders). The pie was beautiful, crisp, and I wanted to put in my mouth immediately. Alas, it was too hot, so I settled for a motivational post on Twitter.

Amanda Pelkey got the Pride’s fourth goal of the game, with an assist from Kacey Bellamy, and I yelled a lot while Kate stirred the lentil stew. Pelkey was the first player to sign with the NWHL, and it just seemed fitting that she cap off her team’s first game in the league with a goal as well. Also, Pelkey got a fan for the media sweltering in the press conference room at Allied Veterans Memorial Arena last month, so I am now a fan myself and think she should get all goals, forever, and also pie.

The audience that filled HarborCenter in Buffalo was cheering for the Beauts from start to finish (except for that guy in the Moligny jersey sitting by the camera who left in the middle of the third period—I’m judging you), and they were rewarded by a powerplay goal from Kelley Steadman in the third period that proved the final goal for the game. Kate and I cheered for that goal, too. While it was awesome to see our team kick butt, we were even happier to see teams that looked competitive, especially because the Pride is loaded with top-tier talent.

So ended Game Day #1 for the NWHL, with my team jubilant, my pie in hand, and my butt parked on my BFF’s couch. I can’t wait to see the Pride play in person, but I’m glad I had this experience, too. For the NWHL to succeed, the league needs more fans than just those who can attend in person—it needs people all around the world to watch.

Victory Pie
Crust:
2 c flour
1.5 c cold butter
pinch salt
7~8 tsp chilled water

Filling:
7-8 small apples or 6-7 larger ones
~1 tbsp of citric acid (optional)
~2 tsp cinnamon
~1/2 tsp ginger
~1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c flour
4 pats of butter

Glaze:
1 egg
~1 tsp cinnamon
~1 tbsp sugar

note: “~” = “approximately” = “I eyeball it.”

1. CRUST: PART ONE. Seriously, just follow the Smitten Kitchen tutorial to make the dough, but use these ingredients. Then roll out half of this dough, put it into a clean pie dish, cover with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge. Cover the other half of dough with plastic wrap and also put it in the fridge.

2. FILLING. Peel apples. Cut them into thin wedges. Toss them with the citric acid as you go to keep them from browning/oxidizing. Shake some spices over your apples. Add sugar and flour (the flour will absorb some of the juices so your pie isn’t a lake). Scoop apples into your pie crust with a slotted spoon to minimize transfer of extra liquid. Then lay four pats of butter on top of the apples.

3. CRUST: PART TWO. Roll out your extra dough and cut out a bunch of 1 cm” strips. Weave into lattice. Use extra strips to circle pie. Crimp edge with fork. Then cut three slash marks out of remaining dough and set aside.

4. CRUST: PART THREE. Mix cinnamon and sugar for glaze on a plate. Separate egg. Brush egg yolk on lattice and edge of crust. Then cover slash marks with egg white before dredging through cinnamon sugar. Put them on pie. Feel fancy.

5. BAKE. 375F for 40-50 min, until crust is golden brown and apples yield easily to a knife.

6. LET COOL. Yes, this pie looks great, but the inside is apple lava.

7. IT’S COOL ENOUGH, OKAY. Don’t come crying to me when you burn your mouth, but sure.

8. EAT. Top with ice cream or sour cream whipped with powdered sugar.

Buffalo Beauts v. Boston Pride, 2015/2016 NWHL Season Opener

The sky was clear and blue. The sun shone high overhead, with a healthy October breeze ruffling the flags of downtown Buffalo. It was certainly a beautiful day for hockey history to be made.

Unfortunately for the Buffalo Beauts, Western New York’s newest pro hockey team, it didn’t end with a win. Still, there were plenty of good vibes going around.

The star-studded Boston Pride rolled to a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Beauts in front of a standing-room-only crowd at HarborCenter. Hilary Knight scored twice, with Jordan Smelker and Amanda Pelkey rounding out the Boston goals. Meanwhile, Kelley Steadman scored the Beauts’ first-ever goal midway through the third period.

Despite the end result, Buffalo’s players were all smiles leaving the locker room, and head coaches Shelley Looney and Ric Seiling still seemed to be awestruck by the atmosphere surrounding the team.

“I actually started getting emotional just because I know where it came from, and this day finally came and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Looney said. “But I’m mostly proud of the players that are on the ice, not just our team, both teams, but also the crowd. It just made it more special and more spectacular.”

That crowd, all ages and genders, set the tone early on, chanting “Let’s Go Beauts” as the game got underway. Knight’s snipe from a near-impossible angle on Brianne McLaughlin quieted things a bit, and the ensuing offensive onslaught (41 shots to Buffalo’s 23, including a 15-4 imbalance in the first) proved effective as the score climbed to 4-0.

But undisciplined play by the Pride in the final frame led to a series of power-play opportunities, including one that Steadman finally made good on to make it 4-1. Taking a pass from Meghan Duggan, she caught her defender out of position and shot just under Brittany Ott’s arm, waking up the crowd once more and making it a game to remember for one of the newest Beauts.

“As soon as we went out on the ice, the crowd was so loud, so energetic, and we knew we wanted to get them a goal and give them something to cheer about,” she said. “It took a long time to get the nerves down, pretty much through the whole first period, so… it was awesome.”

Steadman was one of four listed practice players on the game lineup for Sunday’s opener. Her ice time came as the result of a less-than-ideal situation — five rostered Beauts were unable to play due to visa issues. Maggie Giamo, Courtney Carnes, and Annmarie Cellino also suited up.

Forward Erin Zach tweeted about the situation the evening before, and in addition Devon Skeats, Jessica Fickel, defenseman Lindsay Grigg and goaltender Amanda Makela did not play. It was an unhappy side effect for a league that welcomed international players from the jump.

Still, Buffalo persevered with a short bench and was able to utilize its speed, creating chances off the rush, despite not having a ton of sustained offensive zone time. The Pride are a bigger, stronger squad overall, and much like the CWHL’s Boston Blades of last season (where many of these new Pride players were last year), they have a large physical edge to their game. This showed especially against the undersized Beauts. A lot of the time players were simply muscled off the puck or forced physically out of — or back into — the zone, depending on the side of the ice they were on.

But there were moments where the Beauts looked equally strong, such as (as mentioned before) in transition play or when standing up the Pride on the blueline and forcing them back into the neutral zone to set up (which happened more than once during the first period). McLaughlin did all she could in net, making more than a few point-blank saves.

“For us to stick to our game plan and not back down, we constantly kept pressuring them, we got some great scoring chances, and it’s just going to build from there,” Looney said.

Duggan and McLaughlin both believe this week’s game was a foundation for things to come.

“We’re just trying to get to know each other a little bit, but we battled hard,” Duggan said. “We’re just looking forward to women’s hockey moving forward from this point. This is just the beginning.”

The Buffalo Beauts face off against the Connecticut Whale at 3:30 p.m. next Sunday, Oct. 18 at the HarborCenter. Tickets are available in-house or on the NWHL’s website. Free YouTube streaming is also available all season long via NWHL Cross-Ice Pass, and games will be posted to the home team’s YouTube channel afterwards.

Weekend Preview: NWHL Openers! Pride @ Beauts, Riveters @ Whale

NWHL Opener This Weekend:

The NWHL opens their season this weekend with two games on Sunday, October 11th, 2015.

First we have the sold-out New York Riveters at the Connecticut Whale. The game starts at 1:30 PM ET / 12:30 PM CT, and will be played at Chelsea Piers. The Whale won both of their pre-season games, against the Minnesota Whitecaps and the CT Junior Rangers U18 Boys, while the New York Riveters lost both of theirs against the FDNY men’s hockey team, and the Whitecaps. You can check out Annalise’s recap of the Riveter’s pre-season games or her season preview of the Riveters. If you want to know a little more about the Whale, Jay Fairburn has been following the evolution of their roster. Personally, my non-existent money is on the Whale, but perhaps we’ll see a steadier defensive team from the Riveters this weekend.

Right after the first game, we have the Boston Pride taking on the Buffalo Beauts at the HarborCenter. Manon Rheaume will drop the puck at 3:30 PM ET / 2:30 PM CT. The Beauts will face Mercyhurst twice in the pre-season– they beat the Mercyhurst women once already, and will face them again this afternoon. (10/9, 7 pm ET) The Pride played the East Coast Wizards U16 Boys and the East Coast Wizards U18 Boys, and lost both. Angelica previewed the Beauts season for us, and she also wrote up the team’s first practice if you’d like to learn a little more about the team while you wait for their first game. Erin covered the Pride’s first practice, if you’d like to catch up on this Olympian-studded roster. Looking at the roster, the Pride have a terrifying amount of talent– but I suspect the Beauts have had more practice time together, and it will be interesting to see how that will balance out.

How to Watch

If you’re looking for NWHL opener tickets, there are still tickets for the Pride @ Beauts game, $15 for a ticket.

If you’re not in the area or didn’t get a ticket in time for the Riveters @ Whale, the NWHL has sworn up down and sideways that there will be streaming available in time for the opener games. We don’t know how much it will cost, or what platform it will be on, or anything else. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

UPDATE: According to Phil Giubileo, who will be one of the announcers for the Riveters/Whale game, the game will be streamed for free on YouTube. We don’t know about the Pride/Beauts game yet, nor if this will be the norm for the rest of the season games.

 

The Boston Pride: Media Day and First Practice

Yesterday, the players trickled into Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett slowly from the outside world. Forward Emily Field was the first to arrive, showing up around 2pm along with the media contingent; defender Marissa Gedman was one of the last, delayed by an organic chemistry class according to a league representative. In addition to limited press duties, players were outfitted with new gear (including pads, skates, and sticks) and spotted filling out W-4s,  a form for employers in the US to withhold taxes from employee income (yes!) before they hit the ice.

The NWHL supplied press with a detailed roster of the players on the ice; notably missing from both the roster and practice were star players who have been confirmed by an internal source but not yet publicly acknowledged by the league: Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Gigi Marvin, and Hilary Knight (#knightwatch continues)? Zoe Hickel was also absent. GM Hayley Moore, head coach Bobby Jay, and assistant coach Lauren McAuliffe were also present for the media and player equipment fittings.

Alyssa Gagliardi trying on a new Bauer helmet.
Alyssa Gagliardi getting a helmet fitted.

Representatives from Bauer and Base Hockey were present to fit players from a wide selection of gear and sticks. (Base Hockey brought a heat gun and hand-saw to the party, which was very exciting for this incurably handy blogger.) While clarification is still forthcoming on Bauer’s relationship to the NWHL as a sponsor, Bauer sales representative Tom Quinn confirmed that the league is purchasing equipment for players and it will not be provided outright as part of a sponsorship. A few players declined to be fitting for various items, including Alyssa Gagliardi, who has recently purchased new skates; a league representative said that players are not required to use league-provided gear.

New Bauer bags, gloves, and helmets, lined up on a bench in a locker room.
Some of the new gear, all lined up.

Mid-afternoon, the press convened in a warm side room for two press conferences, one with players and the other with the GM and head coach. (Forward Amanda Pelkey generously brought us a fan in the short interval between the two.) Pelkey, goalie Brittany Ott, and goalie Kelsie Fralick represented the Pride in the player press conference and spoke to their excitement about the upcoming season and the new team. They remained neutral when I asked about future team rivalries: we’ll see how they feel by the end of the season.

 

GM Hayley Moore and head coach Bobby Jay discussed the thrill of coaching and assembling the roster of such an elite group of players, as well as future involvement with the Boston sports community (yes: look for further interaction with the Lowell Spinners and the Boston Breakers).

A league representative also addressed my question about the NWHL’s use of social media.

 

Overall, it was a full day for players and media alike. On a personal level, it was great to meet up with Kat Hemming (@KatHemming), Kate Cimini (@lightsthelamp), and Sarah Connors (@sarah_connors), and I felt the Boston Pride truly made us as welcome as the members of the mainstream media present. The friendliness and positivity energy from the players were also palpable.

Watch the players hit the ice:

[vimeo 138701999 w=500 h=281]

The Boston Pride: Media Day & First Practice from Erin Bartuska on Vimeo.