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2018-19 NWHL Preview: Buffalo Beauts

Buffalo’s star-studded roster has made them an early Isobel Cup favorite

Pat McCarthy

In this installment of The Ice Garden’s 2018-19 NWHL season preview we’ll be taking a closer look at the Buffalo Beauts.

Last Season

The first quarter of the 2017-18 season began the Beauts were dragged down by costly penalties and a constantly rotating lineup. But when the New Year began, a new Beauts team emerged. Buffalo won 10 straight games to close out the regular season thanks in large part to spectacular goaltending and a dynamic top line.

Last year, the Beauts’ offense was led by the triumvirate of Hayley Scamurra, Kourtney Kunichika, and rookie Maddie Elia. All three forwards finished the season with 14 points to share the team lead in scoring. What the Beauts lacked in scoring from the blue line they made up with their deep group of forwards and the exceptional play of Amanda Leveille.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, their 11-game winning streak came to an end in the Isobel Cup Final in Newark after an inspiring overtime victory against the Boston Pride in the semifinal. The Riveters defeated the Beauts by a score of 1-0, denying Buffalo a place in history as the first NWHL team to win two Isobel Cups.

Offseason Moves

Seriously, where do we even begin?

In: Shannon Szabados, Nicole Hensley, Kelly Babstock, Emily Pfalzer, Blake Bolden, Dani Cameranesi, Savannah Harmon, Julianna Iafallo, Annika Zalewski, Emily Janiga

Out: Kourtney Kunichika, Amanda Leveille, Kaylyn Schroka, Kristin Lewicki, Jess Jones, Rebecca Vint, Jordan Ott, Sarah Shureb, Kathryn Donohue, Kelsey Neumann

General manager Nik Fattey made headline after headline this summer by signing Szabados, Hensley, Babstock, Pfalzer, Bolden and Cameranesi. Buffalo is going to miss Kunichika and Leveille this year, but they still have what looks like the most talented roster in the league.

Players to Watch

Kelly Babstock

The most iconic player in the short history of the Connecticut Whale is now a Buffalo Beaut. After being haunted by bad luck last year, Babstock is hoping she can rediscover her scoring touch with her new team. And, to be honest, we really like her chances.

The Canadian forward should be able to breathe a little easier with her new team. With the Beauts, Babstock can simply be a cog in the machine. She no longer has to be the player who is carrying the offense, taking every important draw, and playing over 20 minutes a night like she did with the Whale.

Babstock could end up being Buffalo’s gamebreaker — the player who can change the complexion of a game with one big shift or one big play. We all know that she has the talent to take over a game because she showed us that she could do it for three years in Connecticut. The only question now is what she’ll be capable of with a more skilled group of skaters around her.

Which Kelly Babstock will we see this year?

Blake Bolden

We all know how good Emily Pfalzer is, but don’t make the mistake of sleeping on Bolden. The All-Star defender is back in the NWHL after playing a season in the SWHL with HC Lugano where she scored 16 goals in 20 games. This feels like a good time to mention that Buffalo’s entire defense scored four goals last year, and three of those goals came from the stick of Sarah Edney.

Most of us remember that Bolden won the NWHL’s Hardest Shot Competition during the 2017 All-Star Weekend, but there’s a lot more to her game than just a big shot. Bolden is an elite skater with outstanding vision. She has the skills to be a power play quarterback and the discipline to play on a shutdown pair. Bolden is one of the most underrated defenders in the game today and she looks ready to make a statement on this stacked Beauts blue line.

Savannah Harmon

The Harmon signing hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention because of the other big names who landed in Buffalo. And really, that just goes to show you how much depth this Beauts team really has.

Harmon is one of the most talented young offensive defenders in the game. She had 23 primary points in 41 games in her senior year at Clarkson University and was one of two defenders in the nation to register 15 points on the power play. Harmon is used to playing for a team that has the puck the majority of the game, so she should fit nicely in Buffalo.

Clarkson University defender Savannah Harmon during a game between Northeastern University and Clarkson University in Boston, MA on Sept. 29, 2017.
Michelle Jay

Because the Beauts have a number veterans who are ready and willing to play tough minutes and step into shutdown roles, Harmon will likely benefit from playing some sheltered minutes. There’s also a good chance that she’ll make an impact on the Beauts’ second power play unit, which could have just as much firepower as the top unit.

Games to Watch

Home Opener | Oct. 13, 1:30 p.m. at the HarborCenter

Thankfully, Beauts fans won’t have to wait long to see their new team up close. Buffalo will host the Connecticut Whale at the HarborCenter one week after playing the Whale at their home barn.

This game will have a little bit of everything: a big underdog, a bevy of Olympians, Kelly Babstock playing against her former team for the second time in two weeks, and a group of fans that are ready to make some noise.

On NHL Ice | Dec. 29, 2:00 p.m. at the KeyBank Center

The Beauts will meet the Whitecaps for the third time this year on the home ice of the Buffalo Sabres. Seriously, do you need any other reasons to watch this one?

The Isobel Cup Rematch | Jan. 12, 2:00 p.m. at the HarborCenter

That’s right, we have to wait until 2019 to watch the Beauts cross sticks with the team that beat them in the 2018 Isobel Cup Final. Something tells us that this one will be well worth the wait. Make sure to grab your popcorn for this one, because there are plenty of players on both teams who remember just how intense the season series and Isobel Cup Final were last year.

Predictions

Clearly, the Beauts have no shortage of talent, but will they have the chemistry they need to usurp the Riveters and re-claim the Isobel Cup?

Buffalo re-signed 11 players from its roster last year, including core forwards Corinne Buie, Hayley Scamurra, and Maddie Elia. With Buie, former captain Emily Pfalzer, and Lisa Chesson all back with the team, the Beauts will have plenty of leadership. If the chemistry isn’t there on week one, it should be there by the time the Beauts are hosting the Whitecaps at the KeyBank Arena.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13 Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The real story for Buffalo this year will be their blue line and goaltending. The duo of Szabados and Hensley is simply out of this world and that is one of the main reasons why the Beauts are early favorites to take home the Isobel Cup. They have the goaltending, they have a mobile, reliable defense, and they have an outstanding group of forwards. On paper, they have everything that they need to lift Isobel in the spring.

Final Thoughts

Something to keep an eye on this year will be Buffalo’s power play. The Beauts have at least three bona fide power play quarterbacks in Pfalzer, Bolden, and Harmon, they have several forwards with big bodies and soft hands, and they have some savvy scorers like Scamurra, Babstock, and Cameranesi. They have enough talent to put two dangerous units on the ice.

One year ago, the Beauts got in their own way with their lack of discipline and the amount of time they spent killing penalties. This year, special teams could be the Beauts’ biggest weapon.