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2021-22 PHF Season Preview: Buffalo Beauts

We may be back to beautiful days in Buffalo sooner than you think.

Michelle Jay

It’s been a transitory time for Buffalo over the past couple of years. 2019-20 saw them fail to reach an Isobel Cup final for the first time in franchise history; then, the pandemic sent the entire PHF in flux. Now, with the promise of a (somewhat) normal season comes a new-look roster and a new head coach at the helm in Rhea Coad — and it all looks bright.

Roster

Forwards: Cassidy Vinkle, Cassidy MacPherson, Erin Gehen, Autumn MacDougall, Amy Budde, Taylor Accursi, Anjelica Diffendal, Brittany Colton, Kennedy Ganser, Taylor Wasylk, Missy Segall, Grace Klienbach, Jenna Suokko
Defenders: Marie-Jo Pelletier, Emma Keenan, Dominique Kremer, Samantha Fieseler, Allison Attea, Elena Orlando, Emilie Harley
Goaltenders: Carly Jackson, Caty Flagg, Lovisa Berndtsson

General Manager: Nate Oliver
Head Coach: Rhea Coad
Assistant Coach: Mark Zarbo

Lake Placid:

After a narrow shootout loss to Connecticut, the Beauts practically played the Boston Pride the entire rest of the season, with one matchup against Toronto sprinkled in between. The issues weren’t with their goaltending — Carly Jackson shined in her starting role — or even necessarily with their defense, which was young and overtaxed. Rather, the offense barely classified as anemic (just 1.2 GF per game) and their affinity for the penalty box was unrivaled. In the end, they posted a 1-4-1 record in six games played, missing the playoffs entirely.

New Faces:

That’s just about three quarters of the roster. Onboard now are Samantha Fieseler from Metro, Grace Klienbach from Connecticut, and most notably, Elena Orlando coming out of retirement to take Lisa Chesson’s spot on the blueline (more on that in a moment). Speedy Finnish forward Jenna Suokko joins the ranks to provide some offensive spark, while Lovisa Berndtsson comes from Sweden’s SDHL to round out a goalie trio including returners Jackson and Caty Flagg. Emma Keenan also left the SDHL for Buffalo, while draft picks Allison Attea, Emilie Harley and Anjelica Diffendal add some size and two-way play. Cassidy Vinkle also joins from two seasons in the PWHPA.

Left for Other Places:

The Slovak duo of Lenka Curmova and Iveta Klimasova has departed, Curmova for the Metro Riveters and Klimasova going back to Europe to play for MAC Budapest. Also in Budapest is Whitney Dove, joining the blueline for KHM Budapest II of the DEBL. Meg Delay is now playing for HPK in Finland’s Naisten Liiga. Kristen Lewicki and Kelsey Neumann both announced their retirement from the sport earlier this year; meanwhile, Jordan Juron, Emma Ruggiero, Alyson Matteau, and Neve Van Pelt don’t seem to be active on any teams heading into this season. Lisa Chesson was set to come back this season, but withdrew last month voluntarily (not meaning to speculate, but this was shortly following the PHF’s announcement of mandatory COVID protocols, so... make of that what you will).

Spotlight Addition:

Elena Orlando was retired for maybe a month and a half before joining Buffalo’s ranks, and honestly the team couldn’t do much better replacing Chesson once she withdrew — Orlando’s skating ability and her strong instincts on the blueline make her a force that will balance nicely against Harley’s and Marie-Jo Pelletier’s offensive bent.

Rookie Radar:

Anjelica Diffendal has already made an impact with two points in the Beauts’ exhibition game against Brown, and she has a great two-way style of play that fits in great with the existing system. She’s very reminiscent of Corinne Buie with her skating style as well, which... well, we’ve seen Buie’s success come to fruition, of course. Overall, she’s an exciting addition.

How the Beauts win the Cup:

The past two exhibition games have seen the best offense the Beauts have had in a long time, with 12 goals scored altogether. That’s a huge step forward from the past two years overall, and bodes well for the upcoming season. Moreover, the coordination between defense and offense has been excellent, with defenders jumping into the offensive play and forwards being active on the backcheck.

While of course the teams they face will be on a different level, the way in which skaters have jelled and demonstrated skill, net presence, and strong forechecking is encouraging in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. That’s by design — general manager Nate Oliver made sure to shore up his roster as early as possible in order to develop a strong bond between players. And now, we get to see that in action. If they maintain this, they’ll be unstoppable.

How the Beauts lose the Cup:

Two major things.

1. Penalties. The more the penalty kill is taxed, the more you disrupt your own flow with an errant stick or an ill-timed check, the more you harm your own cause. The Beauts have become adept at this over the past few seasons, and while a strong penalty kill is important, so is not putting your team at a disadvantage in the first place. With a lot of size and strength on this team, they’ll need to learn how to combine their signature rugged style of play with discipline and restraint.

2. An over-reliance on Carly Jackson. There are three (3) strong goalies on this roster for a reason. While CJ is without question the forerunner of this group, Caty Flagg and Lovisa Berndtsson are both fully capable of taking the reins when necessary. Head coach Rhea Coad definitely understands this, and expressed a desire to “go with the hot hand” when asked after training camp last month. That will do wonders not just to keep her healthy, but to keep the other two netminders sharp — and display the depth of the roster.