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2021 NWHL Season Preview: Buffalo Beauts

After last year’s struggles, can the team succeed in the absence of its stalwart leader?

Pat McCarthy

The Buffalo Beauts went 8–15–1 in 2019–20, culminating with their first Isobel Cup Final miss since the NWHL’s first season. With a new season on the horizon, and a new general manager at the helm in Nate Oliver, the Beauts are faced with some new challenges. A different arena, COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, and a two-week sprint to Lady Isobel are all looming on the horizon — and all of this without a very big piece of their roster to rely on.

Five Factors

  • Keeping Veterans on the Roster | The Beauts have a good mix of new and familiar faces this season. Veterans Marie-Jo Pelletier, Lisa Chesson, and Jordan Juron are wearing As. (Taylor Accursi was named captain, but ... see below for an update on that.) The Slovakian duo of Iveta Klimášová and Lenka Čurmová is back in Beauts blue, as well as Kristin Lewicki, Erin Gehen, Cass MacPherson, Brooke Stacey, Emma Ruggiero, Kelsey Neumann, and Meg Delay.
  • Introducing Some New Faces | New teammates include Taylor’s little sister Hunter Accursi; former Connecticut Whale (and Beauts killer) Kayla Meneghin; former Providence Friar Neve Van Pelt; and University of Alberta grad Autumn MacDougall, whose strong power play numbers should be a gift for a team with just 19% success on the skater-advantage last season. The biggest change by far is on defense. Whitney Dove, Alyson Matteau, Dominique Kremer, and Kelly O’Sullivan provide size, depth, and a mix of stay-at-home vs. offensive talent that head coach Pete Perram has coined “the best D corps in the league.”
  • A Team Missing Two Leaders | At first it seemed the Beauts were only going to have to contend with losing captain Corinne Buie, who signed with the Whitecaps before opting out of the bubble to focus on her new job. Then it was announced Accursi would not be able to make the trip to Lake Placid due to her duties as an Ontario Provincial Officer. The Beauts signed Brittany Colton, a former top liner at the University of Maine who can play both forward and defense. So two concerns for the team now are who slots in on the top line (I think Stacey would be an obvious fit; Lewicki and Gehen could also be options), and how does the team coalesce without two of its legacy leaders.
  • Who Takes the No. 1 Spot in Net? | he Beauts have three solid netminders this year. Flanking Neumann are two rookies with impressive resumes — 2020 draft pick Carly Jackson left UMaine with her name on every all-time record, including wins, shutouts, and save percentage; Caty Flagg joins the roster from UMass Boston having earned a .938 save percentage in her college career. Perram is keeping his cards close with respect to how he plans to utilize each of his netminders for the season. That said, we can probably expect each goalie to see some ice time just by nature of how this season is formatted.
  • Turning Over a New Leaf | Last season was about putting cornerstones in place and trying to regain footing after losing several players; this year, it’s about proving the Beauts can hang with the top teams in this high-intensity shortened season. They will certainly need a fast start offensively, with big secondary scoring, and will need to show a vast improvement on special teams. Each game in the “regular” season is in essence a one-game final against each team, and if they approach it that way, they might just win against some of the teams that gave them fits last year. After all, their Isobel Cup win came in a one-game final, proving they can capitalize under that kind of pressure.

Why the Beauts Can Win It All

The Beauts have a host of players with international and university tournament experience, something that definitely helps in a shortened, tournament-style season like this one. In addition, they’ve strengthened at every position, adding players with postseason experience as well as skill.

Even with the loss of Accursi, there could be enough depth to make it work up front. After all, Stacey, Lewicki, Gehen, and Meneghin have all proven they can hit the back of the net; offensive-minded defenders like Pelletier and O’Sullivan should be able to pitch in as well. It’s all about adjusting on the fly for Buffalo, and everyone seems to be on the same page there.

Prediction

The Beauts have some great pieces in place, especially on the back end, which can make all the difference in a sprint like this. If they stay healthy and disciplined, they can go far and even make the semis with what they’ve got. Of course, those are big “ifs,” but the beauty of this season is that everyone is thrust into the same situation, facing similar challenges, and it’s up to each team to overcome those — and if Buffalo can do one thing, it’s overcome adversity.