Beauts fall to Whitecaps in Isobel Cup final

Hensley’s heroics not enough to overcome missed opportunities

The Buffalo Beauts travelled to Minnesota to face a weary Whitecaps squad for the chance to raise Lady Isobel’s prize. It was the Beauts’ fourth consecutive trip to the final, having won in 2017. Buffalo entered the game on a week’s rest, whereas Minnesota had just 36 hours between their victory over the Metropolitan Riveters.

As predicted, it was a tight match between the number one and number two teams in the league. The packed crowd at Tria Rink got a fantastic game to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Crossbars, failed power plays, and missed opportunities will haunt Buffalo for the entire summer, as the team fell 2-1 to Minnesota in overtime.

The Beauts’ forecheck was dominant in the first five minutes, and Buffalo did a fantastic job of blocking shots throughout the first period.

The Whitecaps had the first power play opportunity of the game when Kelly Babstock was sent to the box for tripping at 12:49. Minnesota built some momentum on the advantage, though they were unable to score on Nicole Hensley, who started the game in the stead of an injured Shannon Szabados.

Buffalo broke the 0-0 tie with three minutes left in the period when Annika Zalewski carried the puck behind the net, drawing the opposition down. She spied Emily Pfalzer at the opposite point and the diminutive defender buried the one-timer behind Amanda Leveille.

It took less than a minute and a half for the Whitecaps to respond. A gorgeous stretch pass beat Blake Bolden to find the tape of Amy Menke. Menke made no mistake alone on Hensley, potting it perfectly where the crossbar and upright meet to tie the game at one.

Minnesota came out of the locker room inspired. An early power play for the midwest club gave them quite a boost in momentum. A pair of scrambles in front of the net were the Whitecaps’ best chances on the advantage, but Hensley was able to cover each time. Buffalo got a quick chance when Savannah Harmon leapt out of the penalty box with speed, firing a shot that caused Leveille to give up a nice rebound. The former Beaut netminder was able to recover and make the follow-up save.

With 8:15 left in the second, Menke had another breakaway opportunity on a gorgeous stretch pass. Hensley came up huge to get across and make the save on the backhand shot. Buffalo committed the game’s third penalty, but the Whitecaps’ advantage didn’t last long. Amanda Boulier followed Dani Cameranesi to the box and a solid four-on-four commenced, with neither team able to take the lead.

At 16:25, Lauren Barnes caught the skate of Corinne Buie, giving the Beauts their first full power play of the game. Buffalo was second in the league in power play efficiency, but the team was unable to capitalize and the teams went into the final intermission with the same score as the first. Minnesota managed 13 shots in the middle frame, giving them an 18-16 edge.

For as fast as the Whitecaps came out in the second, Buffalo equalled the intensity in the early going of the third period. Buffalo’s offense was relentless, drawing a penalty with just over five minutes gone. The team was able to generate several chances, but Leveille was up to the task.

Once Minnesota killed the penalty, the team took over. The club laid hard on the gas pedal, and Buffalo was lucky to hit final ten minutes with the game still tied. Hensley was by far the difference, making a handful of incredible saves. The momentum stayed in Minnesota’s favor as Kelly Babstock took her second penalty of the game and the Whitecaps put forth their best effort. Hensley came up big time after time, forcing the first overtime game in NWHL history.

It took only 49 seconds for the Whitecaps to secure the win. A faceoff win ended up on the stick of former Beaut draft pick Lee Stecklein and the shot got past Hensley. All of her heroics were for naught. Minnesota, in their inaugural NWHL season, are Isobel Cup champions.

Three Stars

1.) Lee Stecklein (GWG)

2.) Emily Pflazer (1G)

3.) Amanda Leveille (22 saves)