So far, 2020 has not been very kind to the Buffalo Beauts. They are 0-4 since the new year began and are currently in the midst of an 8-game winless streak. With only six regular season games to go in the 2019-20 NWHL season – only two of which are at home – the team will be vying for either a third or fourth place finish by the time the postseason comes around.
For a team that once held the second overall spot for a sizable chunk of the season, their current 6-11-1 record sticks in one’s craw. A win during their next scheduled action on Feb. 15 against the Metropolitan Riveters would do wonders in pulling the Beauts out of these losing doldrums.
Every cloud certainly has its silver lining though, and in this instance there is something to be said for defeat. If the NWHL playoffs were to happen tomorrow, the Riveters (8-9-2) would finish in third and the Beauts would end up in fourth. The lone advantage to the holding onto fourth place is that the Beauts would end up hosting an opening round playoff game against the Connecticut Whale – a team they swept during the regular season.
Meanwhile, the tertiary Riveters would be the ones making the long trek to Minnesota where they would have to earn a road victory in order to make it onto the Isobel Cup Final. As all opposing NWHL teams can attest to, playing the Whitecaps at TRIA Rink is no fun whatsoever. At least in this scenario, the Buffalo faithful would get to experience a playoff contest inside of “Fort Beaut”, while the Rivs would seemingly have no hopes for a home game.
The obvious flaw to this line of thinking is that if the Beauts manage to knock off Connecticut, they would need to then face the currently 20-1-0 Boston Pride. Buffalo lost all seven contests against the Pride this season, though they were the first team to steal a point from them by forcing overtime on Dec. 21.
We’re in the homestretch of the season, folks! We will have to wait and see just where the Beauts end up. Either way, there are bound to be numerous entertaining moments in these final six contests. Some of which will be historic.
- There are still six Beauts looking looking to score their first career NWHL goals.
- Both Taylor Accursi (25-15-40) and Corinne Buie (20-20-40) need a mere three points for either one of them to set a new Buffalo franchise record for career points.
- Either Iveta Klimášová (14) or Marie-Jo Pelletier (13) – or perhaps even a dark horse – will hold the Beauts new record for assists in a season when these final six contests are through. Both Klimášová and Pelletier have since surpassed the mark previously held by Blake Bolden at 12.
Much to be excited about still, even before playoffs get underway.
We present to you now our fifth batch of Beauts fan questions from across the globe. As readers may know already, in addition to being the Beauts beat writer for THW and for the NWHL, I am also the team’s Community Coordinator. Working closely around the players and coaching staff this season, the “Beauts Mailbag” is a way of giving fans a unique, inside look at the team.
“What advice would Kelsey Neumann, Mariah Fujimagari and Tiffany Hsu give an up-and-coming young goalie?” – Darren from Northern Ireland.
One of the best things about the three Beauts netminders is that each is very much willing to share insight with the younger generations.
Fujimagari just met with the Syracuse Blazers 2006 Boys team on Jan. 25. She was joined by teammate Ashley Birdsall. The two Beauts spoke with the boys about finding hockey successes and overcoming obstacles, proper nutrition, mental focus, and then opened it up for a “Q & A” session afterwards.
Each goalie also speaks from a bevy of experience. Neumann is in her third season with the team and was a member of the Isobel Cup-winning Beauts of 2016-17. In addition to being a Buffalo netminder, Hsu is also the starting goalie for the Chinese Taipei Women’s National Team and has competed in multiple IIHF tournaments. Meanwhile, Fujimagari previously played for the CWHL’s Worcester Blades.
I posed this particular question to each of the three goalies and here is what they shared:
Mariah Fujimagari: “Dream big… then dream even bigger! The world is limitless and when you believe everything is possible, that’s when you’ll start to achieve it. Work hard and smart! Make sure to make a plan for what you need to work on, and then apply a strategy to achieve those small milestones. Be the biggest competitor on and off the ice. Be relentless and fail forward. Focus on what you can control – not what you can’t. Focus on your game and skills set. Develop them diligently each and everyday. Ask questions!”
Tiffany Hsu: “Fundamentals are everything. Skating, t-push, shuffle, butterfly, power push, and so on. You can never be too good at them. You have to build solid fundamentals to constantly improve and get better for the long run. ”
Kelsey Neumann: My advice for young goalies is to start working on the mental aspects of the game from the start. It’s important to visualize before practice and games to help you get in the right frame of mind. The most important advice though is to have fun and always give it your best effort because you never know when it will be your last time on the ice.”
“How did Lenka Čurmová and Iveta Klimášová connect with the Beauts” – Steve from Tonawanda, New York.
Both Čurmová and Klimášová are loving life while living and playing in Buffalo. They have obviously become integral members of the team. Čurmová scored the Beauts’ first goal of the 2019-20 season, and now finds herself about to play in her first NWHL All-Star Game. As previously mentioned, Klimášová presently leads the Beauts in assists.
What brought them to Buffalo is interesting in and of itself.
Back in Slovakia, Čurmová and Klimášová played in the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) for SKP Bratislava. The EWHL is comprised of teams from a variety of countries, primarily in Eastern and Central Europe. Buffalo goaltender Mariah Fujimagari played for Bratislava during the 2017-18 season and was teammates with both of the Beauts’ Slovakians.
The trio became friends and have remained close ever since that time. That was the connection right there. After her lone season in Slovakia, Fujimagari returned to North America and played in the final season of the CWHL (2018-19) for the Worcester Blades.
When Beauts General Manager Mandy Cronin held her first ever free agent camp the weekend of Jul. 27 and 28, 2019, Fujimagari was already under contract for Buffalo and informed the two Slovakians of the opportunity. Both Slovakian players made the final cut after successful camps and are now of course Beauts.
As a side note, it would stand to reason that Čurmová and Klimášová would be signed because of their respective skill levels. Both 22-year-olds have been members of the Slovakian Women’s National Team since they were just 15 years old.
“Who do you think the Beauts biggest rival is in the NWHL” – Jacob from Mankato, Minnesota.
You still have to go with the Metropolitan Riveters. I mean, how could you not – right? What makes this season particularly difficult to judge so far is because Buffalo and Metro have only played each other twice, and still have four more regular season showdowns to go.
With new fans being attracted to the NWHL every season and with the 2019-20 edition of the Beauts being so chock-full of newcomers, perhaps the rivalry is less apparent. But, it is still very much alive.
In the outdoor “Buffalo Believes Classic” on Dec. 28, Accursi quite single-handedly generated a Beauts comeback. Being down 3-0 after the first two periods, “The Blond Bomber” scored four goals in less than 8-minutes to make the score 4-4 in the third period. Though Buffalo would ultimately lose the game 7-4, fans present witnessed a legendary performance by the team’s top sniper. Despite being outdoors along the waterfront, that game truly got the blood flowing for both teams and carried over into the next day.
It seems that every time that the Beauts and the Riveters meet, there are penalties galore. To find the starting point of the bad blood, you have to go back to the 2017-18 season and a neutral site game played in Rochester on Nov. 4, 2017.
64 penalty minutes were served by the two teams, including nine by Beauts defender Sarah Casorso and 12 by fellow blueliner Lisa Chesson. Casorso received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for essentially catapulting herself into a scrum. Buffalo’s Jess Jones received a major penalty of her own for grabbing the face mask.
This game still lives on in lore among Beauts fans.
What would not help matters is that later that same season, Metro defeated the Beauts in the Isobel Cup Final by the close score of 1-0. Things never seemed to improve going forward, and Casorso and the Riveters’ Madison Packer were usually in the middle of it.
In what was supposed to be Casorso’s retirement game on Jan. 12, 2019, she and Packer exchanged fisticuffs early in the second period. Each earned automatic ejections and suspensions, though Casorso’s was never served because it was her last game (*note: Casorso came out of retirement to play two PTO games for Buffalo this 2019-20 season).
As if nothing ever changed between the two teams, another donnybrook broke out in their most recent showing on Dec. 29 – less than 24-hours after the outdoor game.
Metro’s Tatiana Shatalova and Buffalo’s Nikki Kirchberger both earned fighting majors, game misconducts, and 1-game suspensions for their tussle. Additionally, Klimášová was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for delivering a check to the head of Rivs’ defender Colleen Murphy.
With all of that and more shared between them, it is safe to say that the Riveters are still the Beauts’ biggest rival.
“Not that any of the Beauts players would ever want to play elsewhere, but where would they like to see the NWHL expand to in the next few years” – Eric from Cheektowaga, New York.
This is a great question. Personally, I have long loved the idea of the NWHL being at least a 6-team league. Obviously, that draws immediate comparisons to the days of the “Original Six” NHL. I think that it also makes a playoff structure potentially more impactful because it opens the opportunity for allowing four teams to make the postseason while two would find themselves on the outs.
Following such a playoff structure for a 6-team league would make regular season play more exciting and more consequential. If you are not one of the top four teams by the end of the 24-game schedule, then it’s over for you until next year.
Greedily, I would love to see an 8-team league. I think eight is a magic number of sorts in terms of league structure. But let’s not jump the gun here. We need six teams before we can get to eight.
Therefore, here is how some of the Beauts players responded to Eric from Cheektowaga’s question:
Nikki Kirchberger (defense #70): “I’d love to see a team in Colorado. I feel like it’s a hockey atmosphere there, and a Colorado team would help reach out to the West Coast too.”
Erin Gehen (forward #81): “I think it would be cool to see a team in a place like Pittsburgh. The city of Pittsburgh is a huge sports community with die-hard fans. It’s close enough that travel wouldn’t be too big of a pain for the existing NWHL teams. Women’s hockey is growing all around the country, so I think there’s a ton of options with great potential.”
Sara Bustad (defender-forward #88): “It would be great to see the gap from Minnesota to Buffalo closed with a team or two. Maybe that’s Wisconsin. They don’t have an NHL team, but they do have a huge hockey market. Maybe that’s Chicago or Detroit. I’d also like to see a team in the warmer weather like Tampa, Florida.”
Cassidy MacPherson (forward #17): “I think it would be cool to have an expansion team somewhere in Canada. Being from Canada myself and seeing how many young hockey fans there are, I think having a team in Canada would allow even more young girls to watch the NWHL. A way to continue to inspire the next generation across the border .”