Though the sticky summer air hangs like a thick blanket over Buffalo, residents will soon be chuffing out cool mist as hockey season begins to kick in again, and not a moment too soon. Training camp is just days away for the Buffalo Beauts, and the excitement is beginning to build as the new-look team will debut several high-profile players this week, culminating in the Black and Blue Scrimmage on September 22.
Buffalo’s roster has not hit the 25 player maximum, but a quick message to the NWHL office verified that teams are able to carry fewer players. This is logical, as salaries certainly come into play, and the Beauts’ loaded bench is likely at the top end of the league.
As the team prepares to take the ice, it is safe to assume that general manager is finished destroying the internet with a litany of amazing signings. While several key veterans have returned for the Beauts, there are a few big names that are not on the list for the upcoming season.
The 2016-17 co-scoring champion of the CWHL jumped the border to Buffalo last season, and found chemistry on the team’s top line with captain Corinne Buie. Wearing the ‘A’ for the team, Jones scored 11 points in 14 games, which is slightly lower than her normal production. Despite the decrease in points, Jones was a spark plug for a team that saw two veteran leaders leave for the Olympics. Her presence was an important part of the resurgence the Beauts experienced to finish off the season and return to the Isobel Cup championship once again.
Jones announced in July that she’d return to play with the Clarkson Cup champion Thunder of the CWHL. Buffalo has inked a long list of great players, but Jones’ unique mix of dangerous scorer and chippy grinder will certainly be missed.
Rebecca Vint was another in the trio of former Brampton (now Markham) Thunder players to join the Beauts for the last campaign. The lanky forward played with Jones and Buie. and though she only had six points on the year, Vint’s contributions were beyond the scoresheet. Again, Vint was a veteran presence for a team that was short on such, and proved to be a calming influence for the young squad.
There has been no announcement regarding Vint’s home for the 2018-19 season. The all-star joined the team for an exhibition in April, but the newswire has been cold since. Savannah Harmon is currently rostered at number 12 for the Beauts, which would indicate that Vint would have to undergo a number change if she were to sign with the team last minute.
As the season draws near, it is reluctantly noted that Kourtney Kunichika is not on the roster. There may be no Buffalo Beaut that has had a greater impact on the team in its history. Kunichika was one of the last of a faltering few - inaugural NWHL players that had played for only one team.
Throughout her career in Buffalo, Kunichika was the team’s definitive anchor. Tasked initially with centering the whirling dervishes that were Harrison Browne and Devon Skeats, the diminutive forward gave rookies Maddie Elia and Hayley Scamurra an eye to their power-forward storm. Every player that has lined up with Kunichika has been quick to mention her patience, pace, and vision. Are there players in the league with more skill than Kunichika? Absolutely. But Kourtney Kunichika is the kind of driven, mature player that one can build a team around. She’s undoubtedly one of the league’s most underrated players, and the team will not be the same without her on the ice.
Camp kicks off for a Wednesday evening session that is open to the public. Practice begins at 7pm at the HarborCenter, where fans will have their first opportunity to see some of the biggest names in hockey don the crown.