Having wrapped up their homestand – including a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory for their home opener on Oct. 19 – the Buffalo Beauts have nearly four weeks before their next regular season action. They are playing above .500 hockey, and their record of 3-2-0 has them currently sitting at second in the NWHL standings.
Far more important than their record is the fact that in a short period of time, the 2019-20 Beauts have become very tightly knit. Plain and simple – they are a family. This is more of a rarity in sport these days, and especially with it having happened so quickly. In Buffalo’s case though, it should be no surprise.
From General Manager Mandy Cronin and head coach Pete Perram at the helm, to an original NWHLer in Beauts captain Corinne Buie. From leading scorer Brooke Stacey (6-2-8 in five games) to tertiary netminder Tiffany Hsu, or scrappy defender Meg Delay to spitfire Emma Ruggiero who has yet to make her professional debut. Every single member of the Buffalo Beauts genuinely cares for one another and works for each other.
When family atmosphere is fostered throughout, and all components have bought in, it can be a most wonderful thing. On top of that, this edition of the Beauts is garnering a reputation for being dogged and tough. They are a “Buffalo team” through and through, and the fans are taking notice.
Heading into a bit of a recess for the team, it is time to reach out to Buffalo fans once more and answer your questions. 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.
“Who do you see as being the most surprising Beaut thus far?” – Drew from Reading, MA.
I have two answers for this one.
The first one would be Becki Bowering. I knew of her defensive prowess from her five seasons with the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues. In 112 collegiate games, Bowering compiled a modest five goals and seven assists. Certainly a strong forechecker and reliable in her own zone, I more so had her pegged for the Beauts’ penalty-kill and a third-line/extra forward role.
What I did not foresee – and have been pleasantly surprised to witness – is that Bowering has been playing top-line minutes for Buffalo. She has centered the first unit between Corinne Buie and Taylor Accursi, and has been tremendous at getting pucks to shooters. The trio have combined for 10 points in five games. Essentially, Bowering does the dirty work down low while her linemates capitalize. When Lenka Čurmová scored the Beauts first goal of the 2019-20 season on the road in Connecticut, it was Bowering who distracted Whale goalie Sonjia Shelly as the puck sailed in. She also currently leads Buffalo in face-offs taken.
The other player who has surprised me in a good way is Erin Gehen, though not for the reasons that you might think. She is the Buffalo State Bengals all-time leader in career goals, assists, points, shorthanded goals and games played. To some extent, one would expect scoring to be somewhat of a given for her. So much so, that I nearly overlooked how fiercely she fights in every puck battle.
For the Beauts first five games, Gehen has had the unique role of being the extra forward in play. Perram’s lineup for gamedays has been kept primarily the same. 10 forwards, six defenders and two goalies. The three lines up front have been Accursi-Bowering-Buie, Brooke Stacey-Cass MacPherson-Iveta Klimášová, and Kim Brown-Sara Bustad-Kandice Sheriff.
Gehen has been the 10th forward out there, but you definitely notice her anytime that she is on the ice. She attacks aggressively, and even comes across as ornery at times. Gehen has a pair of assists in her five games, regardless of sparse minutes. Both of her helpers came on the Beauts power play, which she has helped to make the best in the NWHL.
“They’re basically starting from scratch, minus a few returning players. How are they building team chemistry off the ice?” – Madi from North Carolina, USA.
Excellent question, and there are multiple different facets to it. I’ll start it off by encouraging fans to take a look at who those few returning players are: Buie, Accursi and Kelsey Neumann. The three returning “ingredients” are all necessary ingredients and are known for their character.
Buie is the consummate leader if there ever was one. In addition to being Buffalo’s team captain, she is the only player in the league to have played in a championship game for every season since 2014-15 when she was in the CWHL – she also won three straight championships beginning at that time. Buie has been Buffalo’s captain or shared the captaincy for three straight seasons.
Accursi is like a glue for her hockey club. She has the “A” on her sweater for a reason. Accursi is lighthearted, and that permeates throughout the rest of the team. Her well-known cellying is an embodiment of her attitude in the locker room. Neumann embraces – sometimes quite literally – each one of her teammates, and has so since the moment she met each of them. This positivity has been imperative for rebuilding this team with the right culture.
Then you look around the rest of the locker room, and so many of them have served as leaders before joining the Beauts. Čurmová captained the Slovakian Women’s National Team at 2018’s IIHF Women’s Worlds Division IA in Vaujany, France. Richelle Skarbowski captained SUNY Cortland’s Red Dragons as a senior in 2016-17. Bowering served as a captain at the University of Toronto, while both Ruggiero and Gehen captained the Buffalo State Bengals during their NCAA careers. And those are just a few examples of Beauts who have served as captains elsewhere.
Much of the credit for how the team has been sculpted must go to Cronin. She sought out a particular caliber of person within her players to build this hockey club. I saw a meme just yesterday that said: “Raise a good person who loves to play hockey – not just a good hockey player.” Cronin found those “good persons” and brought them onto the Beauts. This notion reverberates through practices led by Perram, assistant coaches Rhea Coad and Matt Bak, and Cronin as the goaltending coach.
Aside from all that, the team is bonding in similar ways to any other hockey club. They practice twice a week even when they do not have games, and have a weekly player workout. Many of them are able to get together for extra skating sessions on their own during the week just to be on the ice and be together. The team is lined up to do a number of community events. And of course, road trips on the bus are always a tremendous means for bonding too.
“Do any of the players have side projects that we can support them through?” – Janice from Cheektowaga, NY.
There are definitely a few and all are very worthwhile causes.
Neumann, a goaltender, is an ambassador for The Goalie Guild’s “Lift the Mask” initiative. The goal of “Lift the Mask” is to provide goalies of all ages with a platform for getting the mental illness support that they need. This is done so by providing fellow goalies with someone to talk to, assistance with garnering professional help, and an opportunity to share one’s story. Neumann has been an ambassador for the program since September of 2018. Fans interested in making a donation can find more information here: https://www.thegoalieguild.com/donate/
Defender MJ Pelletier is raising money for The Teacher’s Desk this season. In case fans are unfamiliar with it, The Teacher’s Desk is a Western New York charitable organization and store where teachers can shop for free for students in need. Founded in October of 2011 the store has distributed more than $10 million of product to teachers at schools in need throughout Western New York. A $10 donation is being made to the The Teacher’s Desk each time that Pelletier blocks a shot this season. Beauts fans can help support the same initiative by making their own contribution by clicking here: http://www.theteachersdesk.org/donate/
A final one to mention is defender Ashley Birdsall’s close-to-home involvement with 23rd Veteran. The mission for this non-profit organization is to provide happier, healthier lives for veterans living with trauma. 23rd Veteran aims to offer their program in every state where veterans are in need with the expectation that the program drastically improves the negative symptoms of PTSD including depression, substance abuse, homelessness, divorce, and suicide. Any and all support is welcomed and appreciated.
Birdsall, who is a Joint Operations Center Officer and G3 Training Technician for Joint Force Headquarters Minnesota in the Minnesota Army National Guard, shared the following:
“I’ve spoken to the fact that the military and hockey are very big parts of my life. What I love most about the two is the fact of how both worlds cross paths, and by doing so open doors to opportunities and build life-long friendships with individuals you thought you’d never meet. I had the honor to work side by side with executive director of 23rd Veteran Mike Waldron, volunteers, the board, the community, family and friends to help make this vision a reality.”
You can learn more about 23rd Veteran by visiting the website: https://23rdveteran.org/
“How are the Beauts players from different cultures making the adjustment to life in Buffalo?” – Susan from Williamsville, NY.
The entire team is embracing Buffalo wholeheartedly, regardless of whether they grew up overseas or are native Western New Yorkers. Everyone is fitting right in, and it would be safe to say that many of them already consider Buffalo a second home.
I would also say that the main reason that this is the case is due to how much the team cares for each other. It is easy to make an adjustment when you feel that you are wanted and that you belong.
The composition of the team is quite unique. For five of the Beauts – Stacey, Pelletier, Čurmová, Hsu, and Klimášová – English is not their first language. The common language among all of the Beauts though is hockey, and it is very interesting to see when Perram, Coad or Bak draw up a play or a drill in practice that no matter the player’s background, each one of them is able to understand. I would equate it to those who are able to read music.
Other than Čurmová and Klimášová, each of the other Beauts has lived primarily in North America, though Hsu is from Taiwan originally and plays for the Chinese Taipei Women’s National Team. The two Slovakians already possessed strong knowledge of the English language prior to coming to Buffalo, and it has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Off the ice Čurmová and Klimášová are nannies for four Western New York children, and they have gotten plenty of practice with their English because of that alone!
Finally, Buffalo has not earned the “City of Good Neighbors” nickname for nothing. There are six native Buffalonians on the team this season: Ruggiero, Gehen, Skarbowski, Maddie Norton, Ana Orzechowski, and Nikki Kirchberger. Each has been most welcoming of their new teammates so that they all feel at home. Likewise, it definitely helps matters that Beauts fans are so accepting and appreciative of their team.
With all of these factors combined together, any adjustment has been most natural.