Buffalo Beauts play in NWHL’s first shootout as they host Military Appreciation Day

In a game that held special meaning for fans and players alike, the Buffalo Beauts hosted Military Appreciation Day at Harbor Center. Of note, it signified the second consecutive weekend that a Military Appreciation Event was hosted by an NWHL club, with the New York Riveters hosting the first.

The Beauts event was held in conjunction with Defending the Blue Line (DTBL), an organization dedicated to ensuring that hockey resources are made available for children of military members. Not only did the Beauts host 50 members of the United States Armed Forces, along with respective family, a 50/50 draw took place, with half the proceeds going to DTBL. In addition, Tickets for military personnel were sold at half price, while all Purple Heart recipients were granted free admission.

No one could anticipate the outcome to follow as the Beauts and the visiting Connecticut Whale participated in the first shootout in NWHL history, while Emily Pfalzer became the first player in Beauts franchise history to record five points in one game.

From the outset, the Niagara Falls Airbase color guard graced the ice during the rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by SGM Jason Jaskula participating in the ceremonial puck drop. Adding to the show of support of the brave men and women of the Armed Forces, the Beauts donned special edition camouflage jerseys. Said jerseys were available for auction after the game, with DTBL as the beneficiaries of the proceeds.

Searching for their first win in franchise history, the first period did not turn out in the Beauts favor. Sam Faber, an inaugural member of the CWHL’s Boston Blades, scored her first NWHL goal with 13:02 remaining. Her milestone goal would be scored against Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Winter Games silver medalist.

In a span of less than four minutes, the Whale would capitalize on power play opportunities, establishing a four goal lead. This was partly attributed to Buffalo’s Megan Bozek called for slashing, a five-minute major, which saw her ejected from the game. With 11:10 remaining in the first, Kaleigh Fratkin, the first Canadian-born player signed to an NWHL contract took advantage, with Jordan Brickner and Jessica Koizumi earning the assists.

Fratkin would follow it up just 61 seconds later with her second straight power play goal. Kelly Babstock scored with 7:37 remaining as Fratkin earned her third consecutive point with an assist.

Undeterred, Buffalo would fight back, despite being shorthanded. 44 seconds after Babstock’s goal, Kelley Steadman breathed new life back into a dejected Buffalo squad, trimming the Whale lead. Pfalzer and Kelly Mcdonald would log the assists as Buffalo had already served three penalties by that time.

Before the period would expire, Paige Harrington was called for hitting from behind, giving Buffalo another penalty.
Once again, the Whale capitalized, as Koizumi scored on McLaughlin with just two minutes remaining in a frustrating period for the Beauts. Taking into account that the Whale were not called for one penalty in said period, the 5-1 advantage did not come across as surprising. Of surprise though, was the fact that the Beauts outshot the Whale by a 13-10 margin.

Heading into the second period, another six goals were scored, already resulting in the highest scoring game of the NWHL’s young season. Instead of the Whale scoring five goals, like they did in the first, it was the Beauts that would reciprocate.

Before the Beauts’ five goal outburst, the Whale would score again, as Shannon Doyle assisted on a goal by Jordan Brickner, making a comeback appear impossible. Adding to the Beauts woes was the fact that Brianne McLaughlin was pulled in favor of Amanda Makela, making her NWHL debut under such strenuous circumstances.

Kourtney Kunichika, familiar to Western New York hockey fans for her heroics with the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers started things for the Beauts, with the Beauts second goal of the game with 14:48 remaining in the second stanza. As a side note, Meghan Duggan and Emily Pfalzer logged the assists.

Despite over seven minutes of scoreless play, the Beauts were able to mount a comeback via the power play. With Danielle Ward serving a pair of penalties (roughing, interference), the result were goals by Kelley Steadman and Kunichika in a span of 90 seconds. Just 17 seconds following Kunichika’s second goal, the first multi-goal game of her NWHL career, Meghan Duggan (also the captain for Team USA) scored, as the fans at Harbor Center roared in approval.

With the Whale’s lead reduced to just one goal, goaltender Nicole Stock was replaced by Jaimie Leonoff, who won the first game in NWHL history. Hayley Williams would make some of her own history as she logged her first career NWHL goal with 3:23 remaining, as Emily Pfalzer registered her fifth assist of the game, a franchise record. As the second period came to a close, a stunned Whale squad were faced with a 6-6 tie, while a jubilant Beauts roster was injected with remarkable confidence, seeing its first win possibly within reach.

Fatigue set in as the third period progressed, with both sides only managing five shots each. As the third period and subsequent overtime could not resolve the 6-6 tie, a shootout was necessary, the first in NWHL history. Going first was the Whale’s Kelly Babstock and she would not miss, providing the Whale with an early 1-0 advantage.

Considering that Babstock was also the first Canadian to score a goal in regular season play, it is fitting that she makes history twice by scoring the NWHL’s first-ever shootout goal.
Kunichika would become the first Beauts player to participate in a shootout, unable to slip the puck past Jaimie Leonoff. Having both skated for the US national team; Shiann Darkangelo and Kelley Steadman were unable to score for their respective teams, as the score was still 1-0 in favor of the Whale.

Among the NWHL’s scoring leaders, franchise player Kelli Stack attempted to put the game away for the Whale. Instead, she was denied by Makela, who allowed the Beauts one more try to tie and force a fourth shooter. Tatiana Rafter, one of the all-time leading scorers with the University of British Columbia, soared down the ice with a fierce focus, but her aspirations of extending the shootout were denied by Leonoff, whose poise between the pipes enabled the Whale to remain the only undefeated team in NWHL play.

While the Whale managed to escape with a very tense 7-6 shootout win, the first game determined via shootout in NWHL history, the Beauts have seen their confidence strengthen, firm in the belief that their first win shall soon follow. Pflalzer, whose five-assist performance also set a record for most points in an NWHL regular season game by a blueliner was recognized as the game’s First Star. Kelley Steadman, who sits atop the league leader in goals gained the Second Star with her solid two-goal performance. Also scoring twice was Kunichika, earning third star recognition on a milestone-filled day.

Tatiana Rafter joins growing number of Canadians with the Buffalo Beauts

One of the most talented players to have suited up for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, Tatiana Rafter continues her career as one of the increasing number of Canadian star players to join the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

Along with Mercyhurst alum Shelby Bram, the two were signed on the same day by the Buffalo Beauts, their fourth and fifth signings this off-season.

Although Rafter and Bram represented a great pair of Manitoba-raised hockey heroes that could have provided the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno with great strides in their Clarkson Cup ambitions. Instead, they join Laurier alum Dawn Skeats, fresh off a scoring title in the EWHL, as Canadian stars ready to propel the Beauts towards the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Under the tutelage of elite coach Graham Thomas, Rafter became a game changer for the Thunderbirds, ushering in a new era of unprecedented glory for the program. Of note, Rafter was a key contributor to the Thunderbirds qualifying for the 2013 Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships, part of the greatest single season turnaround in Canada West conference history.

Recognized with the first of her two Canada West Second Team All-Star nods, she would end a memorable 2013 as a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning roster in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade. She would finish the event as one of Canada’s leading scorers, logging 15 points.
Heading into the 2013-14 Canada West women’s hockey season, Rafter recorded 38 points on the strength of a conference-high 20 goals to grab the conference scoring title. Not only did her efforts contribute to UBC enjoying their first 20-win season in program history, it culminated with recognition as the recipient of the 2014 Canada West Player of the Year Award.

Among some of the notable players that she competed with at UBC were the likes of international sports stars such as Amanda Asay and Danielle Dube. A two-sport star, Asay was a member of the Canadian women’s baseball team that captured the silver medal in the inaugural women’s baseball event held at the 2015 Pan American Games. Dube was also a part of Canadian women’s sporting history, competing in the first-ever women’s ice hockey tournament at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

Joined on the Beauts by the likes of two-time Winter Games silver medalist Brianne McLaughlin, there will be no shortage of star players that Rafter will call new teammates. Having contributed to the greatest chapter in UBC hockey history, the chance to make history with the incipient NWHL is one that she could not resist. Graduating with 116 points, plus a Second Team Canada West All-Star nod in 2015, Rafter is ready to continue her high scoring ways with the Beauts, while giving back to the community with charitable work.

High profile free agent Brianne McLaughlin lands with NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts

As the NWHL free agency signing period heads into high gear, the Buffalo Beauts addressed their goaltending with one of the finest free agent acquisitions so far. Two-time Winter Games silver medalist Brianne McLaughlin has committed to the club, providing them with a recognizable name and star attraction.

The first player to sign a contract in Buffalo Beauts history, such an acquisition complements the Beauts’ selection of two-time Frozen Four champion goaltender Amanda Leveille in the inaugural CWHL Draft. Should Leveille sign with the club after her senior season of NCAA hockey, the two have the potential to possibly anchor the Beauts’ goaltending for the remainder of the decade.

As a side note, the Beauts free agent camp had several accomplished goaltenders, including former Clarkson Golden Knights backstops Lauren Dahm and Frozen Four champion Erica Howe. Both have also played on their respective countries national teams at the Under-22 level. Neither has been officially signed by the Beauts, but in all likelihood, McLaughlin shall be made the de facto starter.

Having spent several seasons as a volunteer coach with the Robert Morris Colonials women’s ice hockey program, where set several goaltending records as a player, McLaughlin’s most significant activity in hockey this decade has involved her stints with the US national team. Serving as a backup goaltender to Jessie Vetter at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, she was part of two silver medal results, along with a pair of golds at the 2011 and 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Of note, this is not McLaughlin’s first brush with pro hockey. Selected by the Burlington Barracudas in the 2011 CWHL Draft, she opted not to play for the club. It was a move that would certainly have ramifications for the Barracudas, as the club won only one game during the 2011-12 season. After the Barracudas folded, she was claimed by the Brampton Thunder in the 2012 CWHL Dispersal Draft. Once again, she opted not to grace CWHL ice, and the result was that the Thunder acquired Florence Schelling, who led the club to a playoff berth.

Plenty of future franchise players selected in historic NWHL Draft

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As the dream of a true professional women’s hockey league continues to take shape, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) Draft served as a key ingredient in helping fulfill such promise. With its four charter franchises each having five picks, there was no shortage of outstanding talent to choose from.

Selecting first overall was the New York Riveters, contemplating between 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alexandra Carpenter and 2015 Frozen Four champion Hannah Brandt. Considering that both were also teammates on the US national team that captured the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, one agreeable aspect was that both are truly world-class talents.

Opting to acquire Carpenter with the first pick, it would prove to be the beginning of a pattern for the Riveters. Considering that Carpenter is a member of the Boston College Eagles, the Riveters grabbed two of her teammates as well. Having also played with Carpenter on the US team in Malmo, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno were selected 5th and 13th overall, respectively.

Although every draft pick has one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, the challenge is signing those players upon graduation.
There is no question that attempting to select players from the same school may prove to be a key strategy in helping ensure that such picks do not go to waste.

The Connecticut Whale employed the same strategy as well. Wisely selecting Brandt with the second pick overall, the Whale opted to draft two of Brandt’s teammates from the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Picked 10th overall was Milica McMillen, while Maryanne Menefee, who has served as Brandt’s linemate for the past three season was surprisingly still available at the 14th spot.

Still available at the third overall, the Boston Pride were ecstatic to obtain Kendall Coyne. Although Illinois is her home state, she did attend prep school in Massachusetts, where her hockey skills first shone. Having played three seasons of NCAA hockey with Boston’s Northeastern University, she is definitely looked upon as a homegrown talent by New England hockey fans. The chance to extend her career at the NWHL level in Boston shall only cement her legacy as one of the most talented women’s hockey players to play in the hockey mad city.

Of note, Coyne was part of a Pride draft class that featured three other players from New England-based schools. Selected seventh overall, Harvard’s Emerance Maschmeyer ended up making history twice. Not only was she the first Canadian-born player selected in the history of the draft, she was also its first-ever goaltender. Joined by Harvard teammate Miye D’Oench (15th overall) and Boston College’s Lexi Bender, it will be a unique experience for these Beanpot rivals to play for the same club at the professional level.

Surprisingly, the Buffalo Beauts passed on talent such as Maschmeyer (many polls speculated she would go in the first round), Skarupa, Erin Ambrose and Michelle Picard with the fourth overall pick. Opting for Wisconsin’s Courtney Burke, it was the most surprising pick of the entire draft. In the second round, with Ambrose still available, along with Bender and the high-scoring Menefee, Buffalo once again went off the board, grabbing French-Canadian player Sarah Lefort, currently of Boston University.

Picking Lefort did create another unique chapter in NWHL Draft history, as Lefort became the first Canadian-born player who was not a goaltender to be drafted. Ironically, Buffalo’s next pick involved a Canadian-born goaltender. Drafting Amanda Leveille with the 12th pick overall, it was a very shrewd acquisition. Having won an NCAA Frozen Four title with the Golden Gophers, Leveille may be their franchise goaltender.

Following the selection of Leveille, Buffalo employed the same pattern of every other club by selecting college teammates. Located nearby in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst University’s combination of high scoring forwards Jenna Dingeldein and Emily Janiga found new homes in Buffalo. Considering Mercyhurst’s reputation for producing elite talent, many more players may soon find their careers extended in Buffalo.