Beauts Remain Solid in Midst of Coaching Changes

Less than 24 hours after they announced a major coaching change, the Buffalo Beauts came out with a 3-1 victory over the visiting Connecticut Whale. Word was released by the organization shortly after eight o’clock in the evening on Dec. 8, 2018 that head coach Ric Seiling and assistant coach Craig Muni were relieved of their duties. When the Beauts faced the Whale at six o’clock the following evening, General Manager Nik Fattey – now newly named as interim assistant coach – assumed the duties behind the bench. Newly named interim head coach – and former Buffalo Sabres forward – Cody McCormick was not present for the game due to a prior engagement with the indigenous community.

From outward appearances alone, the quick, unexpected change did not seem to phase the Beauts players themselves. While Connecticut certainly held their own and made things challenging for the home team, Buffalo responded with three solid periods of play. Steadfast would be the best word to describe their play. There was a sense of wanting to continue on regardless of what had transpired on the upper end of things.

In some ways, such a response is surprising. While the Beauts players already have a working relationship with Fattey (and also one with McCormick too) a coaching change is a coaching change, and player response can go any number of ways. In this instance though, the Beauts kept it business as usual and got the job done.

Reasoning for the Coaching Changes

Fattey met with the media before the game got underway to accept questions about the sudden movement. Questions were indeed answer, although how quickly the transition came about still left at least some feelings of perplexity. That may not have been possible to avoid no matter how Fattey replied.

“It was my decision,” he clarified. “I want to say that I thank Ric and Craig for what they’ve done. They’ve been a big part of the Beauts for all the years, and I wish them the best in everything that they’re doing. But it was a hockey decision that we made, with the idea that the season in front of us is big and important. Tonight’s game is important. We made a decision and we’re going with it.”

Hayley Scamurra Buffalo Beauts
Buffalo’s Hayley Scamurra battles with Connecticut’s Colleen Murphy on Dec. 8, 2018 (Photo Credit: Pat McCarthy).

Prior to the 3-1 win, the Beauts possessed a record of 3-3. For a team that had signed four Olympians from the PyeongChang Winter Games, the reigning NWHL Rookie of the Year (Hayley Scamurra), and a total of eight players from the 2017 Isobel Cup-winning squad, a .500 record was not acceptable. At least not to Fattey. Though in the defense of his decision, most NWHL experts and novices assumed that Buffalo would steamroll the league. That has not happened.

“We’re 3-3,” Fattey responded about the swiftness of the change. “Tonight’s a big game. Connecticut’s hot right now. We’ve got Minnesota in a couple weeks. It’s gives us a chance – Cody’s able to put some of his systems in place. Just so you guys know, I’m on the bench tonight. Cody is not here – he has a prior commitment. He works a lot with the indigenous community and he had something previous, but he’s been talking with the players and at the same time we’ve been putting some systems in place together. We’re excited about what’s going to happen tonight, and we’re excited for the next few games for the idea of winning a championship.”

Players Provide the Necessary Response

The Beauts scored a goal in all three periods during the 3-1 win over Connecticut. 35 shots were sent the way of Whale goalie Meeri Räisänen, who was brilliant in net despite the loss. Since it was Buffalo’s “Teddy Bear Toss Game”, rookie Juls Iafallo got the HarborCenter to rain down bears of all shapes and sizes when she put one into a wide open net late in the first, after Räisänen had already committed to three prior stops. Kelly Babstock and Dani Cameranesi received the assists on the goal.

One of the most upbeat players in the entire league is Babstock, and she was quintessential in ensuring the Beauts met change with victory. Assisting on Iafallo’s goal was the first of a pair of helpers that the hard-nosed forward had during the game. Babstock’s two assists led the Beauts in scoring on the evening. Her four penalty minutes also led the team, and were consistent with her usual rugged style.

Kelly Babstock Buffalo Beauts
Buffalo’s Kelly Babstock is an original NWHLer, and has been a natural leader for her hockey club after coming over from three seasons with the Whale (Photo Credit: Pat McCarthy).

“The girls are excited to just move forward through the rest of the season,” Babstock told the media after the game. “We’re here to play hockey, and we’re excited to keep playing.”

Babstock’s other assist was the secondary one on Scamurra’s game-winner. The 26-year old has been in the NWHL since the league’s first season, but this is her first with the Beauts. Babstock’s three prior seasons were all as a member of the Whale. Having been around since the beginning, she has witnessed change and sets a strong example of how it should be dealt with.

“We’re all here,” she explained. “We all have a job to do. If (you’re) a winger or a center, we’re never guaranteed that spot. So just seeing that change in the locker room, we had to take it back and really look into ourselves. Be like ‘we’ve got to figure it out’ and come together, and we did just that today.”

What to Expect Going Forward

Buffalo has nine games remaining in the regular season. Six of those games are on home ice, including the Dec. 29 showdown against the Minnesota Whitecaps across the street in the Sabres’ home rink, the KeyBank Center. In order to guarantee home ice advantage throughout the postseason, Buffalo will need to rise up the standings and not afford themselves any further losses.

The more important thing to remember is that when they face the Whitecaps at KeyBank – which is also their next regular season game – the dust will have settled from the coaching changes. McCormick will have taken the reigns on the bench, with Fattey assisting at least for the interim. A better sense of how this team will finish out the season should be more apparent.

“We want to win every game, and that’s our mindset,” Babstock said adamantly about going forward. “Every game that we go out there to go on the ice, we’re there to win. Every team we play it’s just the same goal – winning that game.”