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.”