Hockey Night in Amherst? How about Heart Attack Night?
It’s always intense when the Buffalo Beauts and Metro Riveters play each other, but this past weekend’s contest reached almost a new level as each team came away with a regulation win, with identical 3-2 scores.
While the Beauts were able to add to their win column Saturday night off a game-winner by Cassidy Vinkle, the Riveters exacted revenge Sunday afternoon as Kendall Cornine lit up for two goals, including the tiebreaker late in regulation. Cornine also scored Saturday alongside Madison Packer, and Rebecca Russo rounded out the scoring for the Rivs on Sunday with their first goal. Jenna Suokko and Anjelica Diffendal were also on the scoresheet with goals on Saturday, while Claudia Kepler scored to briefly give the Beauts the lead on Sunday.
With the win Sunday, Metropolitan leapfrogs the Whitecaps with two games in hand and edged the Beauts in the season series with two regulation wins (Buffalo’s wins came in overtime and regulation respectively). Buffalo remains in last place with eight points on the season.
There was a lot to like about Buffalo’s play through this weekend, as well as a lot to fine-tune heading into the final month of 2021-22. Here’s what worked and what didn’t:
Up: Secondary scoring is in
Suokko, Kepler, Diffendal, Vinkle — the Beauts certainly spread the wealth across most if not all lines this weekend. Saturday’s game in particular saw some really great forechecking and opportunistic play; in fact, the Beauts outshot Metro by a 2:1 ratio, peppering Brooke Wolejko with 38 shots compared to the Rivs’ 19 on Carly Jackson.
“I think we realized that it’s just about time to wake up,” Suokko said of the uptick in overall play throughout the past week and a half. “We’ve had such great fans throughout the season... I think we wanted to start playing [for them].”
Even without being on the scoresheet, players such as Missy Segall, Emilie Harley, and Emma Keenan did really well on both sides of the puck. Overall, this has been some of the most cohesive offensive play all season, carrying over from last weekend in Minnesota and proving it can be done even without a very important name in the lineup.
Down: Uncertainty surrounding Taylor Accursi
Before you worry, let me assure you: she’s not hurt. However, the Beauts co-captain has missed the past couple of weeks presumably to fulfill her duties as an Ontario Provincial police officer, and one gander at the headlines coming out of multiple provinces in Canada can explain perfectly just how full her plate has been. When asked if Accursi would be available for next Monday’s outdoor game against Toronto, all head coach Rhea Coad could respond with was, “We hope so,” meaning the organization is about as clued in as we all are currently.
It’s an awful situation for anyone to be in, but especially for the veteran Accursi who before this had rarely missed a game. And of course, as the ambiguity surrounding not just the pandemic but the convoy protests regarding “personal freedoms” (...okay) continues, it can only complicate things further.
Up: Keeping their wits about them
We all know what to expect with a Beauts-Rivs matchup, and indeed tempers were high leaving Saturday’s game behind and heading into Sunday. At one point, even Jackson left her crease to go after Packer, who had just thrown Emma Keenan to the ice. Nothing much more came of it, but it just goes to show the intensity and animosity between these two teams.
So it was definitely a surprise that nothing boiled over into the afternoon match, at least not overly so. Kelly Babstock, who had (pretty hilariously, I might add) committed three consecutive penalties in the second period of Saturday’s game, barely played in the third period if at all, and emerged in Sunday’s game quite the different player with no PIM and two assists. There was still an overall edge, but not nearly the amount of piss and vinegar one would come to expect after a tight evening game.
“We definitely talked about it,” Coad said of the team’s preparation for a potential throwdown in game two. “I think we know how [the Riveters] play by now, so, we can prepare for it.”
Prepare they did, and while the penalty box did see some healthy attendance, overall the tone was less Wild West and more of a focused intensity, which still made for an entertaining three periods of play.
Down: Video review and officiating still a big question mark heading into the home stretch
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there has been a lot of inconsistency throughout Year Seven when it comes to the officiating. Coaches on both sides had a lot to say about it throughout both games (with Riveters head coach Ivo Mocek being a little more vocal — okay, a lot more vocal — compared to Coad), and each team had two goals waived off, with the Beauts losing two during Sunday’s game alone — two that could have made it a 4-3 win otherwise. Included in that was what would have been Elena Orlando’s first career goal, which was a real heartbreaker to see (the refs called it off due to Vinkle being in the net, though she had never interfered with or even touched Metro goalie Sonjia Shelly).
Kepler also had a power-play tally discounted after video review, which she said looked like it was in before the net was dislodged but was deemed inconclusive after the league’s offsite judges looked at it. Later camera angles would show that it might well have been a good goal, which would have given Buffalo a late lead heading into the second period. However, overhead cameras, which would likely have confirmed the goal, are unavailable.
“Well, I saw it cross the line so that’s when I put my hands up,” Kepler said of the call. “I don’t think I would have put my hands up if I didn’t think that was a goal. I would have kept digging because it was one of those kinds of goals, we have to make sure it goes in... So I mean, it’s unfortunate. I think we don’t have the camera view to look down on the goal line, but that would have helped us.”
It just goes to show there is a long way to go yet for the PHF when it comes to being able to review goals fully, and that’s not to say that any other league is miles ahead — after all, the NHL has similar issues. But it would help things a lot to revisit this review system in the months following this season, in order to improve for Year Eight.
Down: Out of the basement, or stuck there?
The Beauts have three wins on the season, one in overtime. They have eight points total. If they win their remaining games, they’ll have amassed a total of 29 points, and that’s with all regulation wins. (For reference, the Toronto Six are on top of the league with 34 points and seven games remaining in the regular season, meaning they could possibly amass 55 points by late March.)
They still have all four games against Boston, the outdoor matchup against Toronto, and two games in Connecticut, making for a pretty formidable back half of the year. A huge sore thumb for them remains their special teams, which took a beating this weekend (their penalty kill in particular dropped to 70 percent after Sunday, where the Rivs converted on 2 of 5 chances).
Of course, it’s not impossible for Buffalo to get at least a couple more wins on the year before the playoffs hit Tampa; their play in these past three games alone have really depicted a kind of turning point for this team in that the players have all seemed to dial in and stay on the line. Still, with the number of games left heading into the single digits it’s becoming less likely for the Beauts to escape the PHF cellar this season, at least not without some more tweaking and a few miracles from the hockey goddess.
Up: One game, then another, then a third
Secure in the knowledge that all six PHF teams make the playoffs, the Beauts don’t necessarily have a whole lot of pressure to preserve a seed, and past teams have set a precedent for making it to the Isobel Cup Final with a less-than-pristine record. All it takes is for a team to get hot at the right time, and this team has not only the talent but the passion to shock fans and opponents next month.
That means seven games for Coad et al to tweak systems, improve special teams, figure out the forward rotation (something she says makes her Thursday nights hell due to the number of capable names on this roster). Seven games for a goalie to hit her stride and carry them all the way. You never really know; after all, the Beauts are playing better than their record suggests, and it might well become anyone’s league by playoff time. It starts with Monday, Feb. 21 at Riverworks, where they’ll have one more crack at the seemingly unstoppable Six and an inspiring setting in downtown Buffalo as the backdrop.
- Madison Packer had quite a bit to say about Buffalo’s, er, strategies at the end of Sunday’s game.
Peace out dive city— Madison Packer (@madison_packer_) February 13, 2022
I could definitely point out that she got away with multiple physical infractions on no fewer than three Beauts over the course of the weekend, including Allison Attea multiple times, but... oops, I did anyway. Sorry ‘bout it? (Good game anyway.)
- Speaking of Attea, she really seems to be coming into her own after a shaky start to her rookie year. She’s getting some good time on the power play and despite the beating from Packer, has made numerous excellent defensive plays alongside Emma Keenan (who is also excellent in her defensive role this year). Definitely one to watch as these last few games progress.
- With her three goals this weekend, Kendall Cornine sneaks into the goal scoring race, with her 8 goals trailing just Allie Thunstrom (12), Mikyla Grant-Mentis (10), and Kennedy Marchment (9). I fully stand by my All-Star snubs piece when it comes to her — she is straight-up deadly with the puck.
- During Sunday’s game, a scary moment happened when Anjelica Diffendal and Leila Kilduff collided practically head-on. Both players were able to skate off under their own power (and later Coad joked, “Nothing’s taking Jell down”), but no updates since.
- Note to Rhea specifically: the Pandas and Kepler? Hell of a line. Keep that line, please. Scoring aside, they really clicked well, with Kepler’s finish and physical bent a nice complement to the speed of Autumn Macdougall and Kennedy Ganser. (Said Kepler of her linemates on Sunday: “I like to call them the Alberta Flash.”) We’ll see what happens next Monday, I suppose!