As 2018 comes to a close, the Buffalo Beauts split an important series in what was an emotional weekend with the Minnesota Whitecaps. The series began with the Beauts taking NHL ice for the first time as an organization, which gave the substantial crowd a somewhat dim glimpse of what the team was capable of.
With Cody McCormick behind the bench for the first time as head coach, the Beauts faced Minnesota at the KeyBank Center on Saturday afternoon. It was the first half of a hockey double-header; ticket holders for the matchup between the Sabres and the Bruins later that evening were granted admission into the matinee.
Fans were treated to an intense matchup between what is arguably the league’s two best teams. In the end, a late goal by Whitecaps star (and former Buffalo Beauts draft pick) Lee Stecklein gave Minnesota the one goal win.
“We had our chances. Five-on-five we had some goalmouth scrambles that just didn’t land on our stick the right way,” McCormick told the press following the loss.
It is certainly true that Buffalo had their chances - the Beauts unleashed 37 shots on Amanda Leveille - but they were only able to beat the 2018 goaltender of the year once.
Buffalo’s lone goal came in the first period when defender Blake Bolden joined the shorthanded rush. A drop pass to Bolden from Julianna Iafallo created enough space for Bolden to throw a laser of a wrist shot behind Leveille.
The goal came at 17:53, just before the Whitecaps’ power play was about to expire. It was team’s second of six infractions committed on the day, which was the highest output of the season so far.
Minnesota capitalized on their fourth opportunity with the advantage when Kendall Coyne-Schofield neatly tucked a backhand shot beneath a leaning Shannon Szabados. The teams played most of the game’s remaining time deadlocked at 1-1.
With 1:18 left in regulation, the Whitecaps maintained possession through what appeared to be a sloppy change for the Beauts. Stecklein carried the puck from the point and Beauts forward Dani Cameranesi challenged, but peeled off as though she was passing the assignment. No one picked up Stecklein, who deftly rifled the puck far-side top corner.
Hayley Scamurra recounted the near misses in the loss. “I think we need to get more shots to the net. Shoot more in tight and get those rebounds. They were all out there, and we were close a few times…”
It wouldn’t be long before Buffalo got its chance at redemption.
Buffalo, you’re best!— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) December 29, 2018
Thank you for the love today! pic.twitter.com/Gzw5z0cD2B
Final: Whitecaps 2, Beauts 1
Shots on goal: Beauts 34 | Whitecaps 27
Beauts Goals: Blake Bolden (1)
Whitecaps Goals: Kendall Coyne-Schofield (1), Lee Stecklein (1)
Three stars of the game:
- Amanda Leveille (33 Saves)
- Lee Stecklein (GWG)
- Blake Bolden (1 goal)
The Beauts’ fortune certainly took a turn for the better in the rebound match less than a day later.
Buffalo was back in their home barn and looked incredibly comfortable in front of the HarborCenter crowd. There were times that Minnesota took over the game - especially in the first period - but that is to be expected from the top team in the standings.
Buffalo scored first for the second time in back-to-back games, and the sixth time this season.
Outshot 15-5 in the first period, the Beauts overcame an oppressive Whitecaps attack, and at 16:58, Maddie Elia opened the scoring on a beautiful pull-back tip on an Emily Pfalzer pass.
The second period (and much of the rest of the game) was a completely different story. Pfalzer got a goal of her own at 3:15, following up on her own shot. Her first was a solid, low blast that caused Amanda Leveille to leave a rebound out in front. Pfalzer capitalized and the Beauts scored consecutive goals on the Whitecaps for the first time in 383 minutes.
The Beauts were not done, though, and the team finally netted a power play tally at 11:47 when Hayley Scamurra scored her seventh of the year on what appeared to be a harmless shovel pass from Elia. The team continued to pressure Minnesota through the rest of the game, and even closed the gap on shots as the third period began.
Beauts netminder Nicole Hensley had a career-defining performance in her second shutout win as a professional.
In the end, Hensley was good for 33 saves, including several key denials in the waning moments and one amazing stop in the second period to keep the Whitecaps off of the board.
“I like a lot of shots. It helps you stay in the game,” Hensley said.
The win puts her at 1.33 goals against for the year, moving her ahead of her counterpart in Szabados, who sits second with a 1.67.
BEAUTS WIN! BEAUTS WIN! pic.twitter.com/RIyxyjVuQY— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) December 30, 2018
Buffalo has a tough hill to climb.
Four points this weekend would have been key - they’d be alone in second place and two points behind the now league-leading Boston Pride. Instead, both Boston and Minnesota have a four-point lead and with seven games left, there is little chance for Buffalo to catch one, muchless both, teams.
They’ll have an opportunity to take two from Boston when the Pride come to town on January 5. The 1:30 game will feature $5 tickets for kids with an adult admission.
Final: Beauts 4, Whitecaps 0
Shots on goal: Whitecaps 33 | Beauts 27
Beauts Goals: Maddie Elia (2), Emily Pfalzer (1), Hayley Scamurra (1)
Whitecaps Goals: None
Three stars of the game
- Nicole Hensley (33 Saves, Shutout)
- Maddie Elia (2G, 2A)
- Emily Pfalzer (1G, 1A)
- Blake Bolden (1 goal)