This will be part of a regular offseason feature on Watch This spotlighting each of the players on the Buffalo Beauts, who made a surprise run to the Isobel Cup Final in the NWHL’s first season. Opening up the feature is Brianne McLaughlin, who was the first NWHLer to sign with the Beauts. She backstopped them to some real success this year, finishing with a .907% save percentage in 14 regular season starts and a .914% save percentage in the playoffs, along with an All-Star appearance. I had the chance to chat with her about her season and how she felt everything went.
Overall, how do you feel about the Beauts’ first season? Was there anything that surprised you, or did it all come together pretty much as you expected?
Our season ended up being exactly what I thought it would be. Being a new group together, it was going to take a little getting used to one another. We started out statistically the worst team in the league, but I knew that we would overcome that and be able to put together some upsets. Once I saw the drive and tenacity in my teammates, I knew you would see the Beauts in the finals.
At media day at the beginning of the season, there was a lot of talk about Buffalo embracing the Beauts because it’s a self-described “hockey heaven.” Do you feel like that held true, looking back?
When I signed with the Beauts, I heard all about how great the community was and how much they would get behind us. That opening day, skating out to a sold-out arena proved how great the city is. Women’s hockey is just recently being supported and publicized the way it deserves [to be]. I’ve played in lesser crowds with a USA jersey on. So to see that many people supporting a new team like that was so incredible.
As we talked about throughout the season, it took a while for the team, especially the defense, to come together as a cohesive unit due to roster issues, etc. Can you elaborate a bit on what it was like to witness and be a part of that progress as the year went on? What are you most proud of with regard to the major strides you guys made that helped you get to the Isobel Cup Final?
Defense was a big focal point for us. In the beginning, the communication just wasn’t there. We were working so hard and not getting the results. With our roster, most of our PP and PK players are the ones that aren’t able to make consistent practices, myself included. Unfortunately, a lot of our practice in these situations was in actual games. We had an entire team that came from different places and different experience levels. Put that all together and it was a little hectic at times. We just kept chipping away at the little details and being louder on the ice, and we eventually molded together to be a pretty solid unit out there. For myself, it was so much easier to just play and do my thing once we all learned each other’s styles, listened for each other out there, and trusted one another.
You personally had a solid first year, struggling early on but regrouping and playing really well after the All-Star Break. By playoffs, it looked like you’d really hit your stride. Talk a bit about what that kind of rebound meant for you?
I’ve gone through many growing points in my career and have played on many different teams. Each team is different, and you have to adapt to that particular team. College was a little chaotic, much like the beginning of our Beauts season, being new teams and everyone doing their own thing at first. [On] the National Team, everyone works as a unit, and they’re pretty much on the same page where you can sit back a little bit and keep it simple. Coming back to a new team and facing 40-plus shots a game and some situations where you have to come up big was another adjustment back to what I spend years getting out of.
It was frustrating at first, because I knew I was a better goalie than what I was putting on the ice. I just had to work through it and work with my teammates. Eventually we came together and were working as a unit. Finally getting back to playing like myself was such a relief. Having fun on the ice like that with my teammates doesn’t get much better — that’s when I’m my happiest and at the top of my game.
How did it feel to finally beat the Whale in such a clutch moment like the playoffs?
Beating the Whale when it counted was the perfect way to define this team! We seemed to like pressure situations and came up big when it was in front of us. The Beauts were one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played with, and definitely the hardest working. That’s what it’s all about. It’s one thing to be more skilled than another team and expected to win. When you have to play together, support one another, and win out of pure grit, it feels so much better. We earned every win that season; nothing came easy.
Along those same lines, you guys took on kind of an underdog/dark horse role as the playoffs progressed. Was that something you enjoyed?
We loved being the underdog! No one expected us to be there in the Final, and especially to take the Pride into overtime. They had 10 times the skill and experience that we had. We didn’t care, and [we] truly believed we could take them. That kind of mentality going in fired us up and allowed us to play even harder. If we lost, we were suppose to lose. If we won, it would have been the Cinderella story of women’s hockey. Either way, we were there and got to play another weekend together.
What do you take away from this season, ultimately? As you look forward to next season, what are you most excited about?
Looking toward next season I am just excited to build off of what we started. Starting a foundation is the hardest part. We built something we were very proud of, and now we get to add to it and see where we can go with it next season. We’ve proven that with leadership and a team that will go to war with [each other], we can accomplish things we weren’t suppose to. If we continue down that path, I think you will see some pretty great things from the Beauts organization.