2021-22 PHF Season Recap: Buffalo Beauts

#6 in the standings, but #1 in your hearts: the Buffalo Beauts, folks.

Last in, first out: that’s been the name of the game for the Beauts for a while now, and this season has been no real exception. In a tight league, you have to be on your game to make it to the top, and unfortunately the Beauts have let their grip slacken a few too many times for this to be more than what we call a “rebuild” kind of year. Still, there was a lot of good to take out of it, and the future of this young team is pretty bright if they can keep a solid core together. So let’s break down the Beauts.

How they finished

Regular season: Sixth place, 6-14-0, 15 points

Playoffs: Lost to Boston Pride 6-0 in quarterfinals

What went right: Rowing the boat in more ways than one

I think a lot of hockey fans out there might discount the importance of a positive culture in the locker room. A group that cares about each other is going to play for one another; a team that doesn’t give a damn either way about each other will play like they don’t. Not every team can manage a good balance, and never once in the months I’ve spent around this team have I gotten the hint that they don’t genuinely enjoy each other’s company. It’s super refreshing, and I know it’s a deliberate move on the part of GM Nate Oliver and the coaching staff to bring in and foster some good vibes. If they can maintain a good number of these players and bring in a couple more good pieces (some veteran FAs would be stellar), I think we’ll see some serious improvement on-ice as well. After all, we’ve seen what happens when this team is on and focused.

What went wrong: Youth and inconsistency

When it clicked, it was great — all lines were firing, the defense was blocking shots and clearing lanes, and the goaltending was able to really flourish. However, this team just didn’t have the consistency in scheduling (for the first half of the season) or personnel, and some of the systems (particularly on special teams) took a lot longer to come together than expected or desired.

Plus, let’s face it: this team is young. Not only are many of these players just getting their feet wet in the PHF, but head coach Rhea Coad is also a first-year head coach, and sometimes the decision-making showed it. Not just in terms of line mixing or starting the same goalie maybe one too many times when rest would benefit her, but in some of the systems (especially on defense and special teams) and practices I witnessed. That said, I think this season provides a lot in terms of learning experience and with some reflection, hopefully there will come some improvement for next year.

Best Forward: Autumn MacDougall

MacDougall started a little quietly at the start of the year, but finished strong, ending up with 14 points on the season (5 G, 9 A). She’s been especially effective with linemate, bestie, and college teammate Kennedy Ganser (who’s also on this list), as well as being a great, pesky forechecker on the PK.

Best Defender: Dominique Kremer/Emilie Harley

These two have been a pair for most, if not all, of the season, and both of them deserve some kudos for playing major minutes and being as A-1 as they were. Kremer has the edge in terms of her offensive touch, having led alongside Macdougall in scoring all season; meanwhile, Harley has looked like anything but a rookie in terms of her positioning and stick work, as well as her skating. Together, they made life that much easier for netminders Carly Jackson and Lovisa Berndtsson (at least, as much as they could as the top pair on a defense that took a while to get its act together).

Best Rookie: Kennedy Ganser

The other half of the iconic Panda duo, Ganser ended the season in a three-way tie with Kremer and Taylor Accursi with 11 points and was key in the Beauts’ sweep of the Pride over the final regular-season weekend with two goals (including the OT game-winner March 19). Her speed, craftiness, and excellence on both sides of the puck made her stand out from the rest of the rookie crowd for sure when it comes to this group.

MVP: Come on now, you already know who

The team made the absolutely correct call when they voted Carly Jackson MVP at the end of the regular season. She’s shouldered the bulk of the work over her sophomore campaign and lived up to every bit of the All-Star nod she earned from the fans, with a .903 save percentage despite facing a ridiculous number of shots per game and more than one game-saving performance. This is without a doubt Buffalo’s franchise player, and the best part is she’s just getting started.

When it comes down to it, I think the team is a lot better than the record shows and has a lot of promise heading into Year Eight. They are losing an anchor in Marie-Jo Pelletier, who is retiring to focus on her nursing career, and I doubt that’ll be the end of the swan songs for this team; still, they have a strong core of first- and second-year players who genuinely love playing here. Once a couple more pieces get added, I think we could have another Connecticut Whale-like situation on our hands.