Buffalo Beauts Mailbag Volume Three

The Buffalo Beauts are just a smidgen beyond the first third of the 2019-20 NWHL regular season. Having hosted the Whitecaps through two hard fought games on Nov. 23 and 24, Buffalo maintained their hold on the league’s second place position. A come-from-behind victory that was fueled by a Taylor Accursi hat trick in the latter game gave Beauts fans plenty to be thankful for.

Home-ice advantage come playoff time is something all five NWHL teams are jockeying around. The Beauts have an opportunity to improve upon their 5-4-0 record when they face the Connecticut Whale on the road just two days after Thanksgiving. It will be the fifth and final meeting between the two teams, barring a possible encounter in the postseason.

Kelsey Neumann and Taylor Accursi
November is our third edition of the “Beauts Mailbag” for our NWHL readers.

For Buffalo, it will also be their final game before a 3-week hiatus. The Beauts will not be in action again until they are back home at “Fort Beaut” to face the Boston Pride on Dec. 21 and 22.

“Holiday spirit” seems very much intertwined with “Beauts spirit” right now, and why not?

Accursi’s five goals in two games earned her NWHL Player of the Week on Nov. 26. The same honor went to goaltender Kelsey Neumann just the week prior. MJ Pelletier’s 18 blocked shots are second-most in the league, and have raised $180 already for “The Teacher’s Desk” in Buffalo. Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Whitecaps was Buffalo’s SheIS” game, and a multitude of female youngsters spectated over a big time win. The Beauts visited Oishei Children’s Hospital in November to bring stuffed animals to the pediatric patients and will be at “Santa’s Workshop” at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens on Dec. 14.

Yes, there is plenty to be spirited about when it comes to these Beauts that goes far beyond a 5-4-0 record and second-place standing.

Taylor Accursi Buffalo Beauts
Taylor Accursi serves as one of the Buffalo Beauts alternate captains for the 2019-20 NWHL season (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

We present to you now our third 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.

“How does a huge comeback win like Sunday’s (11/24) help the team’s confidence, especially after a tough loss the night before?” – Aaron from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

For those who were unable to catch the game against Minnesota on Sunday, the Beauts trailed behind by a score of 3-0 after nearly 50 minutes of play. They proceeded to score four straight goals in less than nine minutes to take a 4-3 win. Three of those four tallies came from the stick of Accursi.

Such a pronounced turnaround culminating into a victory is “huge” for a variety of reasons.

Firstly and most simply, the win ensured that Buffalo remained in second place. If they had lost both of the weekend’s contests to the Whitecaps, they would have dropped down to third place. Minnesota would have moved up a slot to pass Buffalo, and still would have had a game in hand over the Beauts – Sunday’s affair was Minnesota’s eighth game, as opposed to it being Buffalo’s ninth contest.

Taylor Accursi Buffalo Beauts
Taylor Accursi celebrates a Buffalo Beauts goal with her teammates (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

The comeback was also symbolic of their fortitude. The Beauts are proving to the other four NWHL teams and to themselves what they are capable of when they buckle down and play Beauts’ hockey. Look at the shot totals from period to period. The Whitecaps out-shot Buffalo 16-7 and 19-7 in periods one and two. In the third however, the Beauts reversed it and took 15 shots of their own while limiting Minnesota to just seven.

These Beauts are a family through and through, but they are still learning what they are capable of as a unit on the ice. I feel that the best is yet to come, and this particular win is indicative of that.

It was not just the scoreboard or the shot clock working against them either. Buffalo received nine minor penalties throughout the course of the game. They lead the NWHL in penalty minutes with 118 in a mere nine games. Despite that being the case, the Beauts never allowed the scoreboard or the penalty box to derail them.

We also must further state the importance of Accursi’s role in this, other than the obviousness of her hat-trick. Here is one of the team’s alternate captains – a third-year veteran NWHLer – stepping up and showing others that anything is possible.

One last point to be mentioned is how the victory showed us that Buffalo has the clutch goaltending it needs. Beauts goalie Mariah Fujimagari made 39 stops in getting the win – 18 of them came in the second period alone. Some of them were of the head-shaking variety.

Mariah Fujimagari Buffalo Beauts
The Buffalo Beauts’ Mariah Fujimagari has proven to be a clutch goaltender (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

When Beauts head coach Pete Perram spoke with the media after the game, he likened Fujimagari to other clutch goalies of yesteryear, namely a Grant Fuhr-type comparison. Sure, Fujimagari is going to give up a goal or two here and there – but she is going to make the saves that you need and when they matter most.

The 2019-20 Beauts are potent enough offensively to play a run-and-gun style of hockey when need be, and it is not something that intimidates them.

“I’d love to know if any player has been sidetracked from the on-ice action because of something that caught their eye in an arena off the ice?” – Brian from Tonawanda, NY.

The players’ primary focus is the action on the ice. Playing the game encompasses their responsibility to their teammates, their families, fans, the organization and their city. In some ways, playing hockey for a hockey player is instinctual. They have a job to do and they are tuned into the task at hand.

That being the case, it is a rarity that they would notice something in the stands, but that does not mean that Beauts fans aren’t impactful. Buffalo defender Richelle Skarbowski explains it well:

“I don’t recall a time where I’ve been distracted by something in the stands,” she said. “When it’s game time, I think we all hone in and focus on what’s happening on the ice. However, I do notice fan engagement during the game. When fans are cheering and excited about the game, it creates such a positive atmosphere, and help motivates the team.”

Sometimes reflexes though do take over.

Nikki Kirchberger Buffalo Beauts
Buffalo Beauts defender Nikki Kirchberger is the all-time penalty minutes leader for the Buffalo State College Bengals (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

Beauts defender Nikki Kirchberger tells a funny story from her NCAA days with the Buffalo State Bengals:

“A little kid had a bouncy ball one time and was throwing it against the glass as I was lining up for a face-off,” she recalled. “I kind of flinched. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but it was kind of funny. He laughed because he saw me flinch.”

So yeah, it does happen sometimes.

“Which Beauts player has the most hidden potential?” – Stan.

I like this question a lot, though it isn’t an easy one to answer. Reason being, this Beauts team is still so very young that there could conceivably be a lot of hidden potential that will continue to come forth. They are only going to get better and better, especially with how hard this group works and how much they care for one another.

16 players on the Beauts are in their first professional season. With the exception of Accursi, Neumann, and captain Corinne Buie, even the players with professional-level experience – Fujimagari (CWHL), Brooke Stacey (SDHL), Meg Delay (CWHL) – are still quite young, and are new to Buffalo and the NWHL.

I look at a player like Emma Ruggiero who played her first two professional games this past weekend. For those who haven’t seen her at practice or didn’t have a chance to see her play at Buff State, I think that they were a bit blown away by Ruggiero’s speed and tenaciousness through her first two games. Her forechecking made a very positive impression. Ruggiero needs but a stride to get herself a full head of steam, and though she is only 5-foot, she has a great span with her legs when she darts around.

Emma Ruggiero Buffalo Beauts
The Buffalo Beauts’ Emma Ruggiero made her NWHL debut on Nov. 23, 2019 against the Minnesota Whitecaps (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

But if I had to name a player(s) specifically, I would choose two:

First would be Iveta Klimášová. She currently plays on Buffalo’s first line, but I don’t think NWHL fans league-wide fully realize what a special player she is and will continue to become. Klimášová has a goal and seven assists for eight points in nine games. At 5-foot-8 and approximately 210 pounds, I believe she is one of the most physically imposing players in the league.

I have the pleasure of watching Klimášová at Beauts practice twice a week, and for each of the team’s games. I would be willing to bet that she has the hardest shot in the NWHL – just ask Boston’s Lovisa Selander. I sincerely hope that she gets selected for the NWHL All-Star Game because I would love to see her in the “Hardest Shot” competition. It is simply a cannon.

Born Jan. 14, 1998, Klimášová is the youngest Beaut. As talented as she is right now, I cannot wait to see how much better she will continue to become as each season goes along.

Iveta Klimášová Buffalo Beauts
It typically takes multiple opposing skaters to try to neutralize Iveta Klimášová and her cannon of a shot (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

The other player I will select is Buffalo’s own Maddie Norton. You would be hard pressed to find a more prolific scorer in ACHA Division II history than Norton. With an astounding 192 points (137-55-192) in only 61 regular season collegiate games to her credit, she possesses a natural scoring touch.

There is a great deal of anticipation for Norton to make her NWHL debut, and I believe that the Buffalo faithful will be impressed once she does. She is also a fun one to watch in practice because her hands around the net are so soft and so slick. Norton always shows up and always puts in a solid effort. Her time will come.

“Erica Ayala is getting the “Notorious MJP” going. What are some of the nicknames amongst the squad?” – Eric from Cheektowaga, NY.

I love the new moniker that Erica Ayala bestowed upon Marie-Jo Pelletier! In fact, I was standing right there in Connecticut with her when Ayala informed Pelletier of the nickname. Ayala is hands-down one of the best in the business, and is very much beloved around the league. This would not be the first solid nickname that she came up with for a player.

My personal nickname for Pelletier has always been “Mighty Mouse”. I gave that one to her when she was a junior at the University of New Hampshire, due to her diminutive 4’11” stature but having a heart bigger than the room.

Marie Jo Pelletier Buffalo Sabres
Defender Marie Jo Pelletier is one of the Buffalo Beauts’ alternate captains (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

Besides Pelletier though, there are plenty of other nicknames in the Beauts locker room, on the bench, or while riding the bus. Here are a few of them:

  • Ashley Birdsall: “Birdie” – make sure you get it right too! It’s “Birdie” – and NOT “Birdy”.
  • Cassidy MacPherson: “Mac”.
  • Taylor Accursi: “Cursi”.
  • Sara Bustad: “Busie”.
  • Kandice Sheriff: “Kandy”.
  • Mariah Fujimagari: “Fuji”.
  • Kelsey Neumann: “Neumy”.
  • Corinne Buie: Plain and simple, “Buie”. It’s what teammates in Buffalo have primarily called her for quite some time now.
  • Kim Brown: “Brownie” or “Kimbo”.
  • Emma Ruggiero: “Em”.
  • Becki Bowering: “Becks (sometimes “Bex”) ” or “Bower”.

The other noteworthy nickname being applied to a particular duo is “Biggie Smalls”. That is the affectionate moniker for the combination of Fujimagari (“Biggie”) and Kelsey Neumann (“Smalls”). Fujimagari stands 5-foot-11, and is well over 6-foot with skates and equipment on, whereas Neumann is 5-foot-4.