Early Friday afternoon, Harrison Browne made history by becoming the first openly transgender athlete in a U.S. professional league. That night, he made history again by scoring the Buffalo Beauts' first goal of the 2016-17 season.
It came midway through the third period, after the Beauts had dug themselves into a 4-0 hole against the Boston Pride, but the crowd's ecstatic reaction more than made up for it.
"It was so supportive," he said after the game. "It was the loudest I think I've heard it, even more so than last season."
And it came with his name attached to it for the first time ever.
The Beauts went on to lose 4-1 to the Pride, the defending Isobel Cup champions, in an early rematch of last year's Finals, but there was plenty for them to be proud of despite the end result.
A scoreless first period saw plenty of physicality and more chances swinging Buffalo's way. Brittany Ott withstood an aggressive Buffalo forecheck, making seven saves in the first 20 minutes and holding off Kourtney Kunichika, Emily Janiga and Browne, among others. The Beauts' best chance in the first came from Janiga, who dangled Lexi Bender beautifully but failed to get past Ott.
However, things went downhill fast for the Beauts during the second period. It started with Alex Carpenter walking in for her first goal in the NWHL. Then Jillian Dempsey, given plenty of time and space, went top-shelf on Brianne McLaughlin to give the Pride a 2-0 lead. Rachel Llanes and Amanda Pelkey doubled the total before the buzzer ended the second period, killing the buzz of the hometown crowd (but giving the visiting Pride fans plenty to cheer about).
The Beauts rebounded for the third, scoring the only goal of the period and getting a boost from Amanda Leveille (11 saves) in relief for a beleaguered Brianne McLaughlin, who allowed four goals on 22 shots. Browne's goal came shorthanded and galvanized the offense, who once again threw all they could at Ott (particularly late in the game). Although it was too late to make an impact, co-head coach Ric Seiling said post-game that his players did exactly what he wanted them to do.
"I asked the girls at the end of the second period, 'We lost that period, do me one favor, win the third period,' and we did," he said. "I think that is a step in the right direction."
He added that it would take time for the team to jell efficiently due to turnover, particularly on defense, with Sarah Casorso and Jacquie Greco (among others) playing in their first-ever professional games. The same was true for the Beauts' play at even strength, which he felt was lackluster compared to special teams.
"It's getting to know one another," he said. "That's the learning process, when you've got new people together and you've only been together a month."
As for the Beauts' player of the night, Seiling praised and supported Browne both on and off the ice.
"Harrison's been a team player for two years now... and it goes beyond the rink," he said. "It's Harrison's decision, and I support whatever they [sic] decide."
Meanwhile, Browne's objective is simple: to enjoy the season as his true self.
"As I mentioned in a few of the articles [released about my transition], I've been out for a while, so I'm not scared about it at all," he said. "I'm just really excited."