As members of the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride took the ice for warm ups on Sunday afternoon, none of the players had any idea what to expect from the crowd at HARBORCENTER in downtown Buffalo. How many people would be in the stands? Would they be excited? Would they cheer?
What they got was an atmosphere that rivaled any other women’s hockey event — or hockey event in general — from the sold out arena.
“Everyone was saying how great Buffalo is and I don’t think anyplace would have a crowd like this,” Defenseman Emily Pfalzer, who is from Getzville, said. “I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
The standing room only crowd gave the players an ovation as the teams came on the ice for warm ups, pregame introductions and the opening faceoff. And the enthusiasm didn’t wane a bit throughout the game, even when the hometown Beauts found themselves down 4-0 in the third period. It was as though the score of the game didn’t matter; it was the moment that the fans were there to take in.
[pull_quote_left author=”Ric Seiling”]If they’re a skeptic about it, they need to experience it[/pull_quote_left]
Never before have women had a professional league of their own to play in, and get paid for doing so. But that’s where the game is. Four teams with the opportunity to do something no other league has been able to do: carve out a path to grow the game for girls across the globe.
“Growing up, all of us played with the boys,” Kelley Steadman, the first goal scorer in Beauts history, said. “We didn’t have opportunities to play girl’s hockey. I think the girls coming up now, they have that next level that they can go to.”
Based on the reactions of the players before, during and after the game, it was still surreal to them that number of people who came out to watch them was as high as it was. In all actuality, this was a day that could have filled out an even larger venue than what it did.
“As soon as we went out on the ice the fans were amazing,” Steadman said. “(They were) so loud; so energetic.”
Meghan Duggan, the Team USA captain who was, arguably, the biggest signing for the Beauts in the offseason, added that she couldn’t get over the response from the fans during her first game experience in Buffalo.
“Buffalo was outstanding today,” she said of the excitement. “I can’t get over the crowds.”
Shelley Looney, the two-time Olympian who is the co-head coach of the Beauts said that even though she has only been in the Buffalo area for about a year, she wasn’t surprised at all with the crowd. Instead, she chose to use a different adjective to describe them.
“I’m very proud of them (fans) for coming out and supporting them,” Looney said. “You’re not going to get that anywhere else in the league, what we had tonight.
“If it wasn’t for the crowd — it just made it more special and spectacular.”
Fellow co-head coach Ric Seiling added to that sentiment, and specifically called out those who are skeptical about a women’s professional hockey league.
“I think they need to experience it,” he said. “If they’re a skeptic about it, they need to experience it. Being here today would’ve obviously changed your mind.”
After the game, fans in the stands had the opportunity to take the ice for a free skate with the Beauts. Though some may scoff at the thought that players would even enjoy something like that, Pfalzer summed up the entire team’s thoughts with just one sentence.
“If we can have fans like this every game, I’ll do skate with the Beauts after every game.”
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.