Playoffs: Lost to the Riveters in the Isobel Cup Finals
The Buffalo Beauts entered Year Three with a lot of new, yet somehow familiar, faces. In the wake of Olympic centralization came space for homegrown talent — Maddie Elia — and players straight out of college who may have been originally overlooked — Jordyn Burns — plus big names from the CWHL — Jess Jones, Rebecca Vint. On paper, Buffalo looked to have a strong team, heavy on offense, with a lot of the same on the back end and in net.
On ice, however, is always a different story. The Beauts got off to a rocky start in the first half of the season, dealing with many of the same roster inconsistencies they had been faced with for the past two years. The main issue, according to nearly everyone asked, was practice time as a team. With so many players traveling — from Ohio, from Canada, even (in defender Colleen Murphy’s case) from North Carolina — it looked as if the Beauts had signed the best players available regardless of distance, at the expense of chemistry building and cohesion. There was also a lot of roster and line juggling in order to get everyone playing time. As a result, the Beauts were perfectly mediocre in their first eight games - showing flashes of brilliance, but nothing immediately sustainable, with the worst third-period record of all four teams in the league.
The turning point came with the announcement just before Christmas that the Pegulas, already owners of most of Buffalo’s pro sports teams at this point, would be welcoming the Beauts into their fold. With the purchase of the Beauts came, of course, better training, (likely) better and more ice time, and increased exposure, which turned sagging attendance numbers around.
That, of course, translated into wins, and lots of them. In fact, after the purchase, the Beauts didn’t lose a single game, coming just shy of first place and clinching home ice advantage in the playoffs for the very first time in franchise history. Late in the regular season, they added Boston University alumna Jordan Juron to bolster their depth at forward.
What Went Wrong
Lack of finish and consistency on offense
Whether looking for the pass too often or just point-blank missing the net, there wasn’t quite as much finish to the Beauts as there should have been. Moreover, the offense in general, despite looking formidable on paper, just seemed to lack the punch I expected when I saw all of their offseason signings. In particular, Jones and Vint never reached full potential. While Taylor Accursi started the season hot, she cooled considerably after the All-Star break. Some bright spots: captain Corinne Buie and Hayley Scamurra (in her first full NWHL season) found consistency and veteran Kourtney Kunichika was a playmaking machine with 10 of her 14 points being assists.
Seven Beauts players were in the double-digits in penalty minutes, up from just four the year prior. While a good chunk of those could be attributed to the melee in Rochester against the Riveters at the start of the season, it’s no secret that the Beauts have upped their physical game this year by a bit. I’ve misspoken in the past by claiming physical play isn’t a Beauts trait, it definitely has been from inception. But, it has seemed like there have been more issues stemming from that play this year, namely in the form of game misconducts and suspensions. Sarah Casorso and Maddie Elia are prime examples. This is something the coaching staff might want to address this offseason and not just rely on the solid penalty kill (83.7 percent) to take care of for them.
Inconsistent power play
While the power play had its shining moments, it was never a real strength for the Beauts. They were less than 17 percent effective on the skater-advantage. It wasn’t as much of an issue during their streak, but it became painfully evident in the postseason, especially during the Isobel Cup Final (when all they needed was a single goal to get into the game).
Game of the Year
Jan. 27, 2018 - 1-0 shootout win vs. Boston
If not for the Pride’s Brittany Ott’s incredible performance through 65 minutes and 10 rounds of a shootout, this may have been a different story for the Beauts. They had 47 shots on the Pride goaltender and kept the penalties to a minimum. It was a thrilling one-goal game and Leveille capped it off with a perfect 25-save outing and a sparkling performance during the shootout.
Team MVP — Amanda Leveille
After the departure of Brianne McLaughlin last season, the Beauts needed Amanda Leveille to bring her A-game -- and that she did. She started every game this year and posted a .918 save percentage, earning Goaltender of the Year to boot. She has been the most consistent presence on a team with a lot of talent, but a bit of a revolving roster, and that consistency paid off for her. Multiple of her teammates and coaching staff have spoken to her leadership and direction on the ice and how her experience on one of the best college teams in the country helped her get to this point.
Maddie Elia: The Lewiston native was a point-per-game player this year, with five goals and nine assists in 14 games played. Although her physical play often got her in trouble, she managed to maintain a strong presence on the forecheck as well.
Kristen Lewicki: This rookie showed off her wheels and more as an All-Star in St. Paul. She provided some great secondary offense particularly in the back half of the season.
Hayley Scamurra: Another homegrown talent (native of Williamsville), Scamurra was arguably the best forward on the team this year. During the 10-game win streak, she had a point per game. With 14 points overall, it became obvious in 2018 why she was signed late last season (in case it hadn’t been made clear back then). Her solid play earned her NWHL Rookie of the Year honors as well.