With the Buffalo Beauts winning the Isobel Cup not even 2-weeks ago, the team is already enjoying the offseason and the opportunity to showcase the trophy to their faithful fans. It is the first time since the old AHL’s Buffalo Bisons that a professional hockey team has brought a championship home to “the city of good neighbors,” and the Beauts are making the most of it.
Appearances with Isobel at Buffalo Sabres home games and photo opportunities with the Cup and the players at local Dunkin’ Donuts is living up to its name and fans are embracing the team and the players like daughters. As a native Buffalonian who has lived through the four consecutive Super Bowls and the “No Goal” Stanley Cup Finals, this is particularly nice to see.
I was curious to know how the players feel about the championship on a personal level and what the experience means to them. I reached out to one of the longest tenured Beauts, forward Devon Skeats. Sometimes being a founding member of an organization can have a lot of weight to bear along with it. Skeats is one of the original Buffalo Beauts, and she was able to put the journey into perspective for me.
“It has been a whirlwind of ups and downs,” She says. “I’ve met some amazing people and hockey players along the way. I have made some lifelong friends and played among an incredibly talented pool of athletes. Last season (the NWHL’s inaugural 2015-16 season) was unbelievable. Being a part of history is something I will cherish forever, but of course, we didn’t feel complete being the runner-up of the Isobel Cup.”
Adversity Builds Fire
What Skeats said seems to be a sentiment commonly shared by the Beauts players and the coaches. There was some dissension over finishing second that was not relieved until Skeats and teammates did the unthinkable; weathering a sixty-plus shot outpouring by the Boston Pride and winning the 2017 Isobel Cup.
“This year was pretty tough logistically,” Skeats tells me. “But I think the adversity we faced helped build the fire and prove to the league that the Buffalo Beauts are the best team in the NWHL. We all just came together as a solid, cohesive unit and played for what we rightfully deserved – to be the 2017 Isobel Cup Champions.”
After potting nine goals and five assists in 15 games during the inaugural 2015-16 season, Skeats’ numbers dropped slightly during the league’s sophomore season (4-goals, 2-assists in 16-games). The Beauts as a whole struggled to find the back of the net this season, as not a single player finished in the top ten, or even the top fifteen, in league scoring. That being said, any challenges like scoring disparity were met and overcome by a sense of togetherness.
Backbone of the Beauts
“I am proud of every single one of my teammates for their determination and outstanding work ethic in our final games,” Skeats went on to say. “However, I am most proud of a core group of teammates who attended every practice, every workout and every team gathering we had this year.
This core group made their own life sacrifices, whether it was financial or personal, to be there for their team and those are the players who really shined throughout the season. Commitment is a huge component of being on a team, and I think without this group of teammates we wouldn’t have had the backbone that the Beauts had this year.”
Coinciding with what was accomplished on the ice, Skeats recognizes that she has developed in the first two seasons of NWHL play. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to reach out to her in particular. I have always admired the concept of the steadying veteran trooper who adds a sense of reassurance to the rest of the team. But while they may be cool, calm and collected on the outside, these veterans are also growing on the inside.
Skeats tells me: “I have grown more as a person than as a hockey player. The NWHL is not like any other league that I have played in before. I have learned how to persevere through things I may have not agreed with and overcome obstacles I never thought I would have to deal with as a hockey player. But at the end of the day, you need to acknowledge that what the league is, is greater than yourself and that every experience, whether it be positive or negative, is a learning experience and is going to help you grow as a person and as an athlete. This ultimately grows the game.”
Etched into Hockey History
At the end of all the trials and tribulations, Devon Skeats’ name will be inscribed on the Isobel Cup. I ask Skeats what this means to her: “It means a tremendous amount. My name is etched on a part of hockey history forever. There is nothing more that I could ask for my hockey career.”
As Mark Messier once said, Skeats and the Beauts can now, “walk as champions for all time.”