A look back at the 1st NWHL All-Star Weekend in Buffalo

With the PHF All-Stars heading back to Buffalo, we take a trip down memory lane and look at the inaugural event.

With the 2022 All-Star Showcase moving to Buffalo from Toronto this season because of, well basically covid and the border rules and provincial regulations, etc., the home of the Beauts becomes the second city to host the midseason event. Buffalo housed the NWHL’s inaugural All-Star Weekend back on Jan. 24, 2016 - just over six years ago.

Previous locations also included Pittsburgh (2017), Minnesota (2018), Nashville (2019), and Boston (2020). The PHF said when they moved this season’s event to Buffalo that the 2023 All-Star Weekend will take place in Toronto.

“It’s fun to mingle with other players, have a good time, play alongside new people,” said Toronto Six captain Shiann Darkangelo (who will be captaining a team this weekend) when asked what she is expecting. “The two I’ve played in before in the NWHL were fun, so I’m excited to go there to play some hockey, relax a bit, and just to do something a little different.”

Before they arrived in Buffalo the team captains - Hilary Knight (Boston Pride) and Emily Pfalzer (Buffalo Beauts) - picked their 11-player squads via fantasy draft format, with each team required to have two goaltenders and one player from each of the Founding Four teams. Knight picked Pride defender Kacey Bellamy first overall, and Pride forward Brianna Decker was Pfalzer’s first choice.

The rest of Knight’s team (in order of selection): Kelli Stack (Connecticut), Kaleigh Fratkin (Connecticut), Janine Weber (New York), Jaimie Leonoff (Connecticut), Alyssa Gagliardi (Boston), Jordan Smelker (Boston), Brianne McLaughlin (Buffalo), Shelby Bram (Buffalo), Amanda Pelkey (Boston), and Jordan Brickner (Connecticut).

The rest of Pfalzer’s team (in order of selection): Meghan Duggan (Buffalo), Kelley Steadman (Buffalo), Nana Fujimoto (New York), Megan Bozek (Buffalo), Gigi Marvin (Boston), Blake Bolden (Boston), Brittany Ott (Boston), Darkangelo (Connecticut), Emily Field (Boston), and Zoe Hickel (Boston).

After over 62,000 votes, the fans voted in the final four players - Devon Skeats (Buffalo) and Morgan Fritz-Ward (New York) were assigned to Team Pfalzer, and Madison Packer (New York) and Hayley Williams (Buffalo) were assigned to Team Knight. Packer received the most votes of anyone with 13,397.

There are only four players still active in the PHF that participated in that weekend - Packer, Fratkin, Darkangelo, and Weber.

First up was the Skills Competition - four events all won by Team Pfalzer, highlighted by Bozek winning the Hardest Shot with an 88 mph Boz-Bomb and her challenging NHLers Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara to a contest.

There was also a Goalie Race, Accuracy/Target Shooting, and a Breakaway Challenge - which especially highlighted the players’ creativity, something you won’t necessarily see this upcoming weekend.

The first-ever All-Star Weekend in Buffalo was certainly memorable. The rink was packed for both the skills competition and the game, and when I think back I remember how much fun all of the players had,” Fratkin, who will be making her fifth All-Star appearance, told us. “A few of us went to a costume store in town and I bought a chicken costume to wear on my head for the Hardest Shot event. Not sure why we thought it was so funny at the time, but it was memorable for sure.”

It was memorable for us all. Team Pfalzer started the next day with a 4-0 lead and when they played the game - two 20-minute periods of 4v4 play - they dominated Team Knight to the tune of 5-1. Steadman scored the first-ever All-Star goal and added a second later in the game. Field (great goal celebration, look it up!), Skeats, and Darkangelo would also score for the winning side, while the lone goal for Team Knight was scored by Williams.

Following the game, Ott got a pie-in-the-face from McLaughlin in the handshake line, and Steadman was named MVP.

“It was pretty awesome back in Season 1 at the HarborCenter for the All-Stars. We had the Skills Competition before the game and now everything is a little different,” said Darkangelo. But it was cool, it was the first time I ever played in something like that.”

“I remember the stands being full, packed, and a lot of little girls being there. It was fun, everyone was chirping each other and going back and forth. It was fun to meet players that weren’t on your team. I’m excited to head back to Buffalo for this upcoming one!”