Beauts Notebook: Free agent camp brings a big turnout, bigger decisions for Buffalo’s front office

For the first time since March, Northtown Center played host to a bunch of would-be Beauts, as the organization held its free agent camp Saturday and Sunday.

Thirty-six skaters and goaltenders joined Buffalo’s coaching staff and already-signed players Cassidy MacPherson and Courtney Maud for two two-hour sessions over the weekend, each of them vying for a coveted spot on a PHF roster. Amongst the names were NCAA graduates, Olympic team members, and even a few current PHF players (including former Beauts). There were some definite highlights, and post-camp, I’m sure head coach Rhea Coad and general manager Nate Oliver have their work even more cut out for them.

Here are some notes and observations:

  • About eight current and former PHF players joined some of the free agent hopefuls out of college/university and other pro leagues. Rebecca Morse was probably the most noticeable name, followed by Tera Hofmann, Iveta Klimasova, Meg Delay, and Maddie Norton. Late-stage Whale signing Jessie Strack and last year’s Rivs rookie Romana Kosecka were also in attendance. /

Coad stated that with the level of outreach the Beauts have had to date, the organization made the decision to limit the camp to collegiate, National Team, and professional players. That in turn made the camp, in her opinion, one of the strongest to date.

“I think that this was definitely the best camp we’ve had talent wise, like this is definitely the deepest,” she said. “I feel like in past years, there was like a handful of good players and then kind of a dropoff, but this year there was definitely talent all the way through which is exciting not just for us in the organization [but] for the women’s game.”

  • Of the seven netminders in attendance, Hofmann was an obvious standout, but there was plenty of talent to witness, with Strack, Elisabeth Hill of Finlandia University, and Sarah Varga out of Concordia Wisconsin all making a good effort as well. Cassandra Goyette is also a repeat name from last season’s camp.
  • Out of this camp, the Beauts expect to fill three more forward slots, one defender’s spot, and “possibly” a third goalie to fill out the back end. That likely means there are more than a few signings already nailed down from last season and potentially from the dozens of players the organization has already spoken with (Oliver confirmed at least 80 athletes who have reached out since May 1).
  • Coad said her biggest goals heading into this offseason were nailing down a couple of proven goal scorers as well as a good shut-down blueliner. With Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Autumn MacDougall heading up the first part of that wishlist, along with Claudia Kepler, who I can’t wait to see play a full season, I think they’re halfway there. As for the latter, I really don’t think you can do a lot better than the veteran Morse. She had a very strong camp, displaying her physical side and her positioning as well as some great skating, and I think her kind of experience is something the Beauts can and have benefitted from in the past. ECDC Memmingen’s Mariah Hinds also has some good size and playmaking ability, if not a ton of speed.
  • On the forward front, the skater who probably had to travel the furthest was Chisato Miyazaki, a tiny and dynamic forward from the Japan Ice Hockey League’s Seibu Princess Rabbits (what a great name). Miyazaki was all over the ice this weekend, unafraid to mix it up along the boards and displaying some of that great speed we’ve become accustomed to from other small forwards (MacDougall and Jenna Suokko come to mind). /

Nate talked about his tendency to invite players from all over the world, talking about how for many international names, “They want to test their mettle, they want to see okay, how can I measure my own performance if the PHF is going to be the best league in the world? And then you’re able to come away from a weekend like this and go, ‘Okay, well, maybe I can do this better’, or, ‘I was able to hold myself well in this regard.’ So I think there’s a lot of takeaways that are helpful for trial camps like this, that the players bring back with them.”

  • Obviously, something we’ve already seen and continue to see is personnel turnover on the blueline and in net (at least with the rumors buzzing). Oliver acknowledged the camaraderie of last season’s roster and noted that, although the salary cap has doubled from 2021-22, “you can’t afford to bring all of that back like you certainly would want to. So you have to make sacrifices, and you have to kind of, you know, pinpoint how you can sculpt all of that.” We’ve talked at length (on and off record) about how a new salary cap brings all-new expectations and more than a few questions as to how you’re going to balance it all with a 20-something person roster, but I can’t help but wonder if some of the “sacrifices” he’s talking about are going to pan out as hoped. Even more so than production and camaraderie, one has to take into account fan reception, leadership, and overall value to an organization, and at least one player (if not more) that we’ve heard is likely not to come back for Year Eight has that in spades. So... it’s to be determined, I suppose.
  • The roster finalizations are expected to take place this week, as per Rhea Coad, with captaincy and other decisions to be made in time (likely after training camp, which is to be held in late September). Coad did state she does not expect there to be a determined starter in net, and of course it remains to be seen if that means we’re going to hear about all of the signings this week or if the Beauts will continue to announce them at length over the course of the summer. /