The bus is packed. The skates are sharpened. The sticks are freshly taped. The sweaters are hung. It’s October. It is finally hockey season.
The Buffalo Beauts will kick off their fourth campaign on October 7 when they travel to Stamford, CT to take on the Connecticut Whale. The revamped Beauts enter the year with high expectations - general manager Nik Fattey has worked hard over the summer months to bring the biggest names in women’s hockey to the HarborCenter.
It was, as the kids say, a bold strategy. The team was built around what is arguably the best goaltending tandem in hockey with former olympic gold medalist Shannon Szabados and current gold medalist Nicole Hensley. Fattey also boasts a handful of national-team caliber defenders and high-powered revamped forwards.
How strong is this offense? The Beauts faced this same Whale team in a preseason game on September 23, beaching the Connecticut team 7-2. Seven different players scored goals. Hayley Scamurra had four points and linemate Maddie Elia had three. That’s the kind of output fans can expect from this squad.
According to Alyssa Longmuir’s fantastic work, the Beauts can expect just over three goals a game. While forward Dani Cameranesi tops the goals-per-game expectation, joining the diminutive forward are blueliners Emily Pfalzer and Sarah Casorso.
That puts Buffalo dead-center as far as expectations, but that doesn’t take strength of schedule into account. Buffalo will face the weakest teams in the league – Connecticut and Boston – five times, meeting with the Riveters and Whitecaps only four each. This is an advantage for Buffalo, who has a chance to steal four points on those games against weaker opponents.
The Beauts are also riding high on a third consecutive trip to the championship. The 1-0 loss in New Jersey was the team’s first in 2018, with 11 straight wins leading up to the game. Buffalo is notoriously a strong second-half team, and this pattern could repeat itself again this season. It is tough to find chemistry early on when roster turnover is so high, but coaches Ric Seiling and Craig Muni have helped the team to find their groove when it matters most.
This first matchup of the regular season could look quite different from the preseason game. Since then, Connecticut has acquired world-class goaltender Meeri Raisanen. The Finnish netminder will certainly be a stronger test for the Beauts, and a boost in goal for the Whale.
Still, Buffalo could capitalize on Raisenen’s freshness. She was late coming to the team, and could experience her own growing pains as she transtions to the North American game. In addition, Buffalo’s special teams continues to be excellent. The Beauts scored one power play goal and two short-handed goals in the preseason opener. Raisenen will certainly have her work cut out for her beyond even strength tests.
The new-look Beauts are a dangerous combination of brute strength and agile speed. Players like Cameranesi and Emily Janiga add a high-caliber shot to the list of Buffalo’s weapons. It is going to be difficult for Connecticut to slow this Buffalo team down. Shot blocking will be key – something that the Whale traditionally do very well.
In the end, probabilities favor Buffalo in the season’s first game. There will be a steep learning curve for the Beauts as they begin to generate chemistry, but they have the talent to push through and start the season with a win.