Bad Bounce Beats Beauts

“That may have been a little bit of frustration coming out.” – Beauts forward Devon Skeats

The matchup between the Buffalo Beauts and the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 15 was a homecoming of all sorts for many players who took the ice. The teams welcomed back several players from their international duties at the Four Nations Cup, with Buffalo regaining the services of Meghan Duggan, Emily Pfalzer, Megan Bozek, and Brianne McLaughlin, and Connecticut returned Kelli Stack and Shianne Darkangelo. Buffalo native Kimberly Sass got her first start in goal for the Beauts, and the team also dressed five Canadian players who had previously been stuck in their home country, having been delayed in obtaining their P-1 work visas – Erin Zach(F), Devon Skeats(F), Jessica Fickle(F), Lindsay Grigg(D), and Amanda Mikela (G). The new look Beauts impressed another good crowd at their home rink, but a bad boot with 55 seconds left gave the 3-2 victory to Whale, who remain the only undefeated team in the NWHL.

Going into the game, there was some speculation on how the Beauts’ lines would look. Neither the league nor the team provided information regarding the roster moves that would be required to bring on the Canadian players, and fans and coaches alike were hoping to retain the services of winger Kelley Steadman, who was leading the team in goals and points before the Four Nations break. Unfortunately, it was cut-and-dry. When asked a few minutes before the game whether Steadman would dress, Buffalo GM Linda Mroz grimaced and shook her head. It was unspoken acknowledgement that players designated as ‘practice squad’ were sent back down to make room for the rostered players.

Game Action

The first meeting between Buffalo and Connecticut, which took place on Oct. 29, was an intense contest. The teams combined for 14 penalties, and two Whale power play goals were the difference in the 5-3 game. Expectations were high that this matchup would be similar, and it didn’t take long for the hitting to start. Just over five minutes into the first period, Buffalo forward Devon Skeats skated into the Whale zone, submarining the puck-carrying defenseman. When asked about the hit in intermission, Skeats confessed, “That may have been a little bit of frustration coming out.” Skeats spent two minutes in the box, but Buffalo easily handled the Whale, causing an icing and several offsides calls with their aggressive penalty kill.

Buffalo continued to their signature physical play, and thanks to three straight Whale penalties, left the first period leading 8-6 in shots, despite being largely dominated by a seemingly more organized Whale team. Buffalo’s power play woes continued in the first, with the puck spending a lot of time high in the zone, with extraneous passes ending up on Whale sticks. When the Beauts did work the puck down low, they created several chances; a good low cycle led to a great chance for Grigg, which who was robbed by the quick glove of Whale netminder Jaimie Leonoff. Later in the period, a similar play would result in a wide-open net for center Shelby Bram, but she’d miss just a few inches to the left of the post.

The Beauts started the second period on the power play, but a miscue would allow Whale forward Kelli Babstock to fire a shortie into the net after a deflection off of Sass’s blocker. Postgame, Sass reported she thought she’d banked it up and over the net, but she had skated out too high in the crease.

Connecticut kept their head for the most part, committing only two infractions in the second. Things started to get heated at the halfway point, and a cross-check to Skeats from Whale D-woman Shannon Doyle caused a fracas to the right of Leonoff. At this point, Beauts’ captain Emily Pfalzer took over the period. Having just skated for nearly two full minutes of penalty kill, Pfalzer jumped from her position on defense to play right wing on the ensuing power play. When the lines changed, Pfalzer did not leave the ice, but dropped back to defense and played the remainder of the power play. As the Whale returned to even strength, Pfalzer still had the stamina to streak down the wing with the puck, blowing by everyone in the neutral zone and chipping it in deep. Despite her efforts, Kelli Stack would double the Whale lead as she fired a puck from the point that flew through traffic and over the outstretched pad of Sass. The Whale took their 2-0 lead into the lockerroom.

When the teams returned to the ice for the third, Buffalo went to work. Just 53 seconds into the period, the newly formed line of Skeats-Bram-Duggan connected to score Buffalo’s first goal – Skeats’ first of her professional career. The digging and grinding the Beauts had been doing all game began to take its toll on the Whale and a steady stream of blue and green were sent marching to the penalty box. Buffalo was unable to convert on either of their five-on-three opportunities that these penalties led to, but the weary Whale gave up another even strength goal at 15:44, when a strong play at the boards allowed Hailey Browne to fire a puck on Leonoff, which was tipped by Kourtney Kunichika for the goal. Everything was coming up Beauts in the third and after Buffalo killed the final penalty called in the game, the teams seemed to be skating to the first-ever NWHL overtime game.

Disaster Strikes

With time winding down, and the final minute called in the arena, the Whale dumped the puck into the Beauts’ zone and headed off on a change. Whale forward Danielle Ward remained on the ice, forechecking into the corner and throwing a seemingly harmless puck to the front of the net. Bram, dropping to one knee to keep the pass in the corner, deflected the puck toward the net, and past an unsuspecting Sass. Duggan put the team on her shoulders. She went from solid-bodied bruiser to silky smooth skater, undressing several Whale players on her way to the net. Her best chance came with ten seconds left, as she moved through two Whale defenders with a nifty toe drag, and drove toward the net, only to have her shot deflected up and over the glass at the last second. Buffalo had been 55 seconds away from their first NWHL point, but instead, the Whale powered through penalty problems to remain undefeated.

The Aftermath

Perpetually the victims of bad bounces, Buffalo has now lost three in a row in the last two minutes of the game. These two teams will face off on Nov. 22, at Buffalo’s Harbor Center – same Beaut time, same Beaut channel. Be sure to stay tuned as the rivalry continues to heat up – even the two teams’ twitter accounts are bringing the heat. If Buffalo can get its power play going, they’re going to give the Whale a scare – Connecticut leads the league in penalty minutes, and conversely, Buffalo has the fewest. As the Beauts solidify lines and develop chemistry, there is a good chance the team will see their first win before November becomes December.