Just over 24 hours after the Buffalo Beauts made waves by signing two-time NWHL All-Star Blake Bolden, general manager Nik Fattey made an even bigger splash by signing Emily Pfalzer. The Boston College alumna and former Beauts captain has returned to Buffalo after playing a pivotal role on Team USA’s triumphant gold medal victory at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
Pfalzer now headlines an absolutely stacked Buffalo blue line. And although Megan Bozek has chosen to stay north of the border to continue playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder, this is almost certainly the best defense the Beauts have had in the NWHL’s four-year history. And, considering how much a solid defense has been a part of Buffalo’s identity since year one, that is really saying something.
“I think Ric [Seiling] and Craig [Muni] do a great job, they’re a great duo,” Pfalzer told members of the media on Thursday. “We had fun the two years I was on the team. We were in the championship, [but] didn’t win the first year. But we came back, and won the second year. Obviously, last year there was a championship [appearance] again. It’s awesome to see what the coaches bring every year.”
Blake Bolden and Savannah Harmon are the defense’s only newcomers. Bolden lit up the Swiss League with 16 goals in 20 games last season playing both forward and defense. Like Pfalzer, she’s a right-handed shot, but that shouldn’t rule her out as a potential partner for the Beauts’ returning gold medalist. They know each other very well, having been teammates at Boston College for two years.
Harmon is the sole rookie and youngest defender on Buffalo’s blue line. It isn’t hard to draw comparisons between her game and Pfalzer’s. Both American blueliners are small and quick and look just as comfortable joining the rush as they do closing the gap on attacking forwards in the defensive zone. She and Sarah Edney, who joined Buffalo last season, are the only defenders who have not previously played with Pfalzer at a high level.
Head coach Ric Seiling will have the luxury of playing exceptional defenders like Chesson, Casorso, and Sarah Edney on his second and third pair because of the additions made to the blue line this offseason. Seiling also has the luxury of having three power play quarterbacks to choose from in Pfalzer, Bolden, and Harmon. That fact alone should bring more offense to a Buffalo blue line that collectively scored four goals (including one empty-net goal by Edney) in 2017-18.
It’s a group that Pfalzer is eager to play with. “It’s always exciting to have all those names on your team — and you don’t have to play against them, which is nice,” Pfalzer told The Ice Garden. “I think it will be a really exciting D-core, and not only that, we have three great goalies backing us up. It’s going to be exciting.”
As a group, the Beauts’ blue line has an abundance of both experience and potential. Pfalzer just turned 25 and is practically a lock for Team USA’s roster for the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Chesson, the only other Beauts defender with an Olympic medal, is the oldest member of the group at 31. But she proved last season that she’s still on top of her game. Edney, 24, and Bolden, 27, both have the requisite skill to take their games to another level. And it looks like the sky is the limit for Harmon. She put up 70 points in her last 82 games of NCAA hockey at Clarkson. Yep; absolutely stacked.
As Pfalzer mentioned, the Beauts will also have an exceptional trio of goaltenders behind the team’s eight defenders. Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley just might be the best goaltending duo in professional women’s hockey and Julia DiTondo, 23, has great size and solid potential. The NWHL’s other four teams are going to have their work cut out for them scoring goals against Buffalo.
With Pfalzer’s return the Beauts look like the early favorites to claim the Isobel Cup. But, much like their returning star defender, Buffalo isn’t much for boasting. There’s a lot of hockey that needs to be played between today and the 2018 Isobel Cup Playoffs.