On Nov. 22, the Connecticut Whale returned to the HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY – the scene of the crime, where they had stolen a win from the Beauts with a flukey goal in the third period. The Whale brought a huge contingent of fans with them, as the mainly full stands were dotted with nearly as much blue and green as they were black and gray. This third matchup in five games was a literal roller coaster, and the physicality, which began before the first drop of the puck, was an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. The game saw 15 penalties, which included four five-on-three power plays – two for each team. The Beauts’ leading scorer, Kelley Steadman returned to the lineup for an injured Erin Zach.
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 22, 2015
As the teams came to center ice, Whale winger Sam Faber wasted no time getting down to business, and as the referee signaled to the goal tenders, she delivered several cross-checks and a nice slash to the ankles of Devon Skeats. Skeats – who is generally a wrecking ball herself – decided that discretion was the better half of valor and followed the puck into the Whale zone when it dropped. Things did not calm down from there.
Buffalo started the game with a lot of pressure – it seemed as though the Whale’s decision to increase their physical presence allowed Buffalo to cycle the puck better. Beauts’ captain Emily Pfalzer continued her stellar play, and in one instance, got beat on a pinch, but still came back to pick the pocket of the forward and chip the puck back to her partner, Paige Harrington. The Whale were able to develop a few rushes, but Buffalo did a good job of keeping the puck to the outside, allowing few shots on net.
Then the bodies started flying.
Things Are Heating Up
The Whale gained the Buffalo zone and were able to get a few chances at Beauts’ goalie, Brianne McLaughlin. As Brianne stretched out to cover the puck, a Connecticut forward took an extra whack. Beauts winger Hayley Williams took her down, garnering some extra Whale attention. On the ensuing faceoff, Faber chased the puck behind the net, failing on the wraparound attempt. She gathered her own rebound, however, and snuck the puck under McLaughlin’s blocker for Connecticut’s first goal of the game. Williams was on a mission coming into the match, though, and a play along the boards ended with a trip to the penalty box. Less than 30 seconds later, Skeats chased the Whale behind their net, and hit a skate as she reached for the puck. The tripping call resulted in Connecticut’s first five-on-three of the evening. It didn’t last long – Whale superstar Kelli Stack picked the corner on McLaughlin, doubling the Whale lead. Beauts defensemen Megan Bozek was embroiled in a battle with Whale forward Alyssa Wohlfeiler, and took things to far. Wohlfeiler went down in a heap, and Bozek earned a five minute major, as well as the game.
And Then it Got Out of Hand
It took less than a minute for Kaleigh Fratkin to convert a pass from Kelly Babstock, and while Buffalo gained a player from the box, the major penalty continued. This time, Babstock potted the puck and with a minute and a half left of the original five, the Whale had a 4-0 lead. The Beauts looked to be drowning – a victim of their own game. Generally, it is Buffalo’s physicality that drives teams to the box, but this time, Connecticut had turned the tables. Thankfully, practice squad standout Kelley Steadman would not be held down, and still shorthanded, quickly transitioned as the Beauts gained the puck. Calling for the lead pass, she streaked in on the right wing and beat Whale starter Jaimie Leonoff, sniping the rooftop on the short side. The crowd was on its feet – Buffalo was back! Once the major penalty was killed off, Buffalo took over, and nearly converted on a two-on-one that was only broken up by a great save by Leonoff. When the puck came back into the Buffalo zone, McLaughlin had a chance to freeze the puck, but was on the receiving end of some extra Whale whacks. Harrington cleared the crease, and was called for a check from behind, with only 34 seconds remaining in the first. The Whale converted again, with two ticks left on the clock, and went to the lockerroom with a lot of confidence and a four goal lead.
The Beauts Catch Their Breath
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) November 22, 2015
In an intermission interview, Duggan remained positive. “Yeah, I think we do [have it in us.] We have to get them one at a time…it’s going to take a little bit of discipline, but we’ve got to bear down and figure out how to get the job done against these guys.” In a surprise twist, both teams decided to switch out their netminders to start the second. Buffalo placed Amanda Makela in net for her first NWHL action, and Connecticut gave Nicole Stock the nod. The period started with some great back-and-forth action, with Buffalo getting the better chances. Their momentum was broken, though, when Shiann Darkangelo gathered a loose puck and broke in on Makela alone. Makela held the center of the net and Darkangelo was able to get it by on the stick side over the butterflied pad. From that point forward, it was all Buffalo.
The Tide Turns
Meghan Duggan carried the puck deep into the Whale zone, with the girls in blue giving chase. She got the puck wide to Steadman, who fed Pfalzer in the slot. Pfalzer’s shot was tipped by Duggan and buried five-hole by Kourtney Kunichika, who was waiting at the goalmouth. Buffalo won the next faceoff and created another chance, as Skeats played the puck toward the net at hip-height, and Kunichika made contact, but put the puck wide. On a strange play in the corner, Danielle Ward took Duggan down, and kept going at her once she was on the ice. Ward was awarded the original minor for interference, and an additional minor for roughing. As these were two separate penalties, Buffalo headed to the five-on-three for a full two minutes. Less than a minute in, Pfalzer fed Steadman in the high slot, and she buried it behind Stock. Buffalo was now down 6-3, with slightly less than half of the game to play.
As Buffalo began to work the resulting five-on-four power play, Steadman took a cross-check from Fratkin, and the team returned to the two man advantage. Connecticut was able to kill one of the penalties, but Buffalo kept a strong cycle in the zone and Kunichika was able to gather a rebound and toss the puck over a sprawling Stock. Buffalo cut the lead to 6-4, with just over five minutes to go in the second.
Connecticut returned to full strength and attempted to regain control of the game, but a misplay deep in their zone resulted in a flurry of shots. Stock was able to save all but the final one, as Duggan wrinkled the net and just like that, Buffalo was down by one.
The crowd was on its feet, and chants of ‘Let’s go Buff-a-lo’ were echoing through the arena. It seemed to give the girls that extra boost, and the Beauts continued to maintain the Whale zone. Another amazing feed from Pfalzer brought Hayley Williams crossing from left to right. Her strong wrister bested Stock. 6-6. Buffalo was BACK!
The second period dwindled down to zero, and aside from a penalty that sent Devon Skeats to the box, things seemed to settle down a bit. The Whale began the third on the carryover power play, but aside from holding pressure with the man advantage, weren’t able to generate much. The next five minutes were all Buffalo, as they held the zone and kept Connecticut on their heels. The third period ticked away, and both teams traded penalties and chances, but neither team really threatened.
The horn sounded and the teams returned to their benches. They were heading to the first overtime period in the NWHL. The OT was entertaining – back and forth action with the stars of both teams creating chances. The most exciting play occurred when Stock attempted to clear the zone from just inside the left circle. She put the puck right onto the stick of Kunichika, who had noone between herself and the net…and pushed the puck wide. Play continued at a frenetic pace, but neither team was able to score.
The teams gathered for the first shootout ever to take place in the NWHL. After the game, Makela would confess that they weren’t sure what would happen. “We weren’t sure of the format – whether or not it just ended in a tie.” Kourtney Kunichika took the first NWHL shootout shot, but put the puck wide. Babstock took the first shot for the Whale, and scored the first NWHL shootout goal. Connecticut took the 1-0 lead. Shots then came from Darkangelo, Steadman, Stack, and Tatiana Rafter, but none could solve the goalies. If you missed the game, you can – and should – watch the whole thing here. The Whale remained undefeated and head to Boston to take on the limping Pride, while Buffalo takes their first road trip to the Big Apple to face the streaking Riveters.
The Whale wins in the shootout and stays undefeated.
BUF: 6 CTW: 7 pic.twitter.com/Qme5nk4G2j
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) November 22, 2015
Heading into the game, Boston Pride forward Hilary Knight held the league lead in assists, with five. Pfalzer had five alone in this game, so she will sit atop the league in assists. Steadman netted two, so she’ll take over the lead for goal-scoring. Makela leaves today’s game with a 1.25 GAA, which will be he best in the league. It is strange to see Buffalo atop so many categories, but still chasing the first win. Perhaps the upcoming series of games on the road will find better fortune for the team.
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) November 22, 2015
In a strange series of events, Connecticut defenseman Anya Battaglino appeared to attempt to reach over Devon Skeats to collect a puck. The resulting collision ended in an awkward fall for Battaglino, who was taken off of the ice on a stretcher. At this time, there has been no information given on her condition, but we’re all hoping it was just precautionary.
Battaglino tweeted this morning that she was up and walking. Great news, and best wishes.
— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) November 23, 2015
I am a proud lifelong Buffalo fan and an avid Jack Eichel defender. I have had a lot of fun covering the NWHL – it has been an exciting inaugural season and I look forward to sharing that excitement. For more of this season’s NWHL and Sabres coverage, check out http://www.bonushockey.com and http://www.716sportspodcast.com.