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.