Somewhat surprising to realize, but with the start of the NWHL’s fourth season there are no Buffalo Beauts who have played all four seasons with the team. Emily Pfalzer – one of Buffalo’s three newly named alternate captains for the 2018-19 season – is the only original Beaut on the roster, but she played for the USA Women’s National Team last season and not in the NWHL. One of the other alternates, Corinne Buie, is an original NWHLer, but played the league’s inaugural season as a member of the Boston Pride. As the numbers of fledgling NWHL players dwindles with each season going by, it is important to appreciate the founding members of the 2015-16 season. THW caught up with original Buffalo Beaut Erin Zach to see what she has been up to since the league’s first season.
Zach played in 14 of the Beauts 18 regular season games the first year. She also played in all five postseason games, as Buffalo made it to the first ever Isobel Cup Final and faced the Pride. Without question, Zach has a number of good memories from her time with the Beauts. She keeps in touch with a handful of her former teammates and recognizes that it is a unique achievement to have been an original at something.
The Opportunity to Be an Original Beaut
A 5-foot-3 forward, Zach is from Elmira, Ontario, Canada. She played four seasons of NCAA college hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and was with the program when it switched from Division III play to Division I for the 2012-13 season. Zach suited up for 121 career games for the RIT Tigers. Within those games she totaled 30 goals and 44 assists for 74 career points. Zach was always a strong opportunist as a player, as she generated 12 power play goals, five shorthanded tallies, and eight game-winners during her career. What she deems as her best attributes as a hockey player helped bring about those achievements statistically.
“My speed,” Zach shared, “and my ability to think outside the box and make crazy passes.”
As a playmaker, Zach’s highest assist total came during her senior season of 2013-14. In 36 games that year she totaled 17 assists. Her solid play through all years with the Tigers would lead to an opportunity to play professionally well before she knew it would even be an option. Upon Zach graduating from RIT following the 2013-14 campaign, the NWHL would not take shape until a full season later for the 2015-16 season.
“I remember seeing an advertisement on social media,” she explained. “I think a retweet for something, with a website. So I went to the website and submitted my name for a tryout in Buffalo. After the tryout in Buffalo, there was a tryout in Toronto. That is where I signed my contract.”
Zach would be one of 22 players to play for the Beauts in the inaugural 2015-16 season. She would be one of 16 skaters to play in at least 10 games for the team that first year.
Good Memories From Buffalo
In the 14 regular season games that Zach played for the Beauts she scored one goal and added four assists. Her single goal came at home during a Jan. 31, 2016 4-2 win over the New York (now Metropolitan) Riveters. Zach put the puck past original Riveters goaltender and Japanese Olympian Nana Fujimoto. As the Beauts made their way into the playoffs, they would eliminate the Connecticut Whale two games to one in a best of three series. The Whale won the opening game 3-0 on the road. Zach and Buffalo would rebound in the second and third games, pulling off consecutive wins of 4-1 and 4-3. The Beauts would advance to the Isobel Cup Final where they would lose in two straight games to the Boston Pride. In the losing effort, Zach managed to score a playoff goal – recording the only tally for Buffalo in a 3-1 loss, as the Pride took home the Cup.
Zach is able to look back now on the experience as a whole. There are a number of good memories and moments when she recalls her time as a Beaut.
“I would have to say getting the opportunity to play with players such as (Meghan) Duggan and (Emily) Pfalzer,” Zach stated. “And having the opportunity to play in the Cup Final alongside Duggan. As the sixth player on the ice with the goalie pulled, and scoring the Beauts only goal when we lost to Boston. Pretty awesome despite losing.”
While moments such as those are from less than four years ago, it feels as if a lot of time has gone by since the first NWHL season. Much has changed, including the addition of a fifth team – the Minnesota Whitecaps – and a further garnering of talented Olympians and college stars into the league. In Zach’s case, despite the time that has gone by, she still keeps in touch with one particular Beaut from the first season, and sees some of the others from time to time.
“Kourtney Kunichika and I played at RIT our four years together,” Zach shared. “We are still close. I chat with others once in a while, but not regularly.”
Kunichika married over the summer of 2018, and did not return to the Beauts for the 2018-19 season. Many Beauts fans miss her dearly, and wish that she was on the roster for a fourth straight season. Life changes happen though, and when they do there is an even stronger impact felt by women’s players who do not make enough of an income from hockey to support themselves. It adds further emphasis to the importance of remembering what players like Zach, Kunichika, and more did as pioneers for the first season of the league.
Since Finishing Her NWHL Career
Following her time with the Beauts, Zach would play the 2016-17 season in the CWHL with the Toronto Furies. She played in 19 of the teams 24 regular season games, picking up a pair of assists. After a more serious injury, Zach decided to put a close on her playing career and change her focus to a different form of involvement with hockey.
“I played one season with the Furies,” she explained, “during which I received a concussion and decided that it would be best to end my competitive hockey career. I now officiate competitively with leagues such as the PWHL, the Jr. Women’s Hockey League (JWHL) in Ontario, and also OUA and CIS for university women’s hockey. Hoping to get my turn as a linesperson in the CWHL very soon.”
No matter where her career ultimately takes her, Erin Zach will always be an original member of the Buffalo Beauts and the NWHL. Longtime fans of the team and the league recall her as a hard-working, honest player who certainly exudes those same qualities now as an official. When she thinks back and ponders her playing career, especially as an inaugural player, it still matters to her.
“It’s pretty awesome to have been a part of something like that,” she said. Great for women’s hockey.”
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.