This is 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. For the opening interview with Brianne McLaughlin, click here. Next up is Kelley Steadman, whose name graces a host of firsts for the franchise (including first goal scored) and finished her season leading the team in scoring and being in the top five in the league with 20 points in 10 games played, 13 of them being goals. The forward was able to answer a few questions looking back at her first season in the NWHL:
How do you describe your first season with the Beauts, both from a team perspective and from your own as a player? Looking back, what does being given the opportunity to be in the league as a practice player mean to you?
I don’t think I could have asked for a better first season with the Beauts, both from a team stand point and an individual stand point. The group of women in our locker room were resilient, tough, hardworking, and a great group to be around. We really gelled as a team which is why we saw such success especially toward the end of the year. Personally, I had the most fun I’ve ever had in my career. Regardless of the points and the personal success, I had a blast playing the game and that’s a testament to my teammates and all of the people that made this league possible. What people don’t understand is that we all have played this game for 20+ years, and before this year, when we were done playing college hockey, or for the National Team, it was just over. That was me last year. I never thought that I would play competitive hockey again, especially not among the best players in the world. Getting the chance to do that again, meant more than words can say. This league gives all of us something to continue to work for and it gives all of the young girls in the stands, something to look forward to and aspire to be a part of. No one ever thought women’s hockey would get here, and to see the success of the league in it’s first year is incredible.
You took on a huge role with the Beauts as the season progressed, becoming their go-to goal scorer. Did you expect to have that kind of impact with the team, and what’s it like to know you’re such a big part of the Beauts’ success?
I definitely didn’t expect to have such personal success when I signed my contract back in October. I had taken months off from playing competitive hockey, wasn’t really training for anything other than keeping my body healthy, and I wasn’t expecting to play again. Hockey is such a mental game, and I think the reason I was able to do so well was that I simply enjoyed playing every game. That, combined with playing with a talented group like my teammates, attributed to my personal success. The thing that I am most proud of this year had nothing to with how I did individually, but how hard our team battled throughout the season and how we exceeded everyone’s expectations. Being a part of that is what I will take away from this season.
An article on Today’s Slapshot back in January suggested the pace of play in the NWHL has been dictated this first season by more veteran players, rather than those just out of college. As a player who fits in that category, what do you think of that assessment? What can you say about your comfort level playing in this league (or rather, what more, since your stats definitely show you’re comfortable)?
There are so many talented players in this league, both veterans and just out of college. I think the great thing about veteran players is that we have been in most hockey situations before. We have been in Olympic gold medal games, World Championships, and National Championship games, and we can handle the pressure and the expectations in any type of game. As a veteran, you also feel like it is your responsibility to make sure the league succeeds and that the girls in the stands see the best level of hockey possible. I know I didn’t really understand the impact I had on young fans when I was in college, or just out of college, and how much of an impact we can have as role models. You want to give a hundred percent all the time for them, and I think that’s something veteran players understand. I definitely felt comfortable with the pace of play in the league. Playing against players like Brianna Decker and Kacey Bellamy makes you play your best, and I think that’s something I always looked forward to.
The Beauts kind of surprised everyone late in the season, becoming an Isobel Cup contender. What can you say about the team’s progress from the beginning of the season to the Isobel Cup? Do you feel you guys kind of embraced the “underdog” role as you went through the postseason?
It’s funny because at the beginning of the year, when we lost the first seven games or whatever it was, people completely wrote us off. The only people that really believed we had a chance to peak at the end of the season were the girls in the locker room, and our coaches. I distinctly remember Ric and Shelley coming in the locker room after one game saying, “We are going to get there. We are getting better with every single game, and come playoff time, we are going to succeed.” I think we all really bought into that and put in the work to make it happen.
The great thing about every team making the playoffs is that anything can happen, and the team that shows up ready to play at the end of the season is going to win, regardless of what happened in the past. We embraced the underdog role because we knew that opponents wouldn’t take us seriously. We went into game two at Connecticut knowing we were going to win, and when we won, we knew we were taking game 3 as well. That’s not to say Connecticut wasn’t a great opponent, because they were incredibly talented, but we had the heart and the will to win.
How did it feel to finally beat Connecticut, and what’s more, in such a clutch moment like the playoffs?
Jumping in the celebration at the end of game 3 in Connecticut was my favorite moment of this past season. Connecticut played us tough all season and were the only team that we hadn’t beaten. We came close so many times, forcing overtimes and shootouts, but never had that extra inch to win. Winning at such a clutch moment just added to the excitement and the pride in our team.
Overall, what do you take away from this season, both on a team level and individually as a player?
From a team standpoint, I am just so incredibly proud to have been a part of the Buffalo Beauts in the first year and there is no other team I would have rather played for. From our coaching staff down, we had an incredible group of people and we really showed a lot of people what women’s hockey is about. As a player, I am just as proud to have been involved in the inaugural season. The best part of this league is that it has gotten more people excited about women’s hockey and has given so many little girls something to look forward to. There is nothing more special than coming out for warm ups in a game and seeing a little girl in the stands wearing your jersey. That is something that I will never forget. I am excited for the future of this league, without a doubt.
Earlier in the season, you said you weren’t sure about where you wanted to go with the NWHL long-term — you were just going to enjoy the moment. Now that a full season is in the books, has that perspective changed? If so, how?
I think there was so much going on during the season, that I couldn’t think that far ahead or think about my next step, because I was truly just enjoying playing hockey. Now that the season is over, I can absolutely say that I will continue to play in the NWHL as long as possible. We have such an amazing opportunity, as role models and ambassadors of the sport, to help this league grow and help women’s hockey grow. That’s not something I’m willing to step away from yet.