Q&A: Brianne McLaughlin talks next steps

The veteran goaltender talks about hanging up the skates in the NWHL after two seasons and an Isobel Cup with the Beauts.

When Brianne McLaughlin let slip during All-Star Weekend in February that 2016-17 would be her last year playing in the NWHL, it marked the end of an important first chapter for the Buffalo Beauts. After six years on the U.S. Women’s National Team, McLaughlin became the anchor of the Beauts’ defensive and goaltending corps for the club’s first two seasons and she was largely responsible for Buffalo’s Cinderella run to the 2017 Isobel Cup. This season, she shared time with Amanda Leveille and helped her team win the trophy that slipped out of their hands in 2015-16, making it a fitting end to a solid career. McLaughlin agreed to chat with The Ice Garden via email about her decision, her time with the Beauts, and her next steps.

What were the driving factors behind deciding to retire? Why did you decide to go public with it during All-Star weekend?

Brianne McLaughlin: I didn't really mean for it to go public All-Star Weekend. It was known among my family, friends, and teammates, so I didn't really think of it when I said it out loud. Running my own facility in Pittsburgh and having to take so much time away traveling to Buffalo financially didn't make sense anymore. I wanted another shot at the Isobel Cup after losing like we did, so I had to come back!

This year my business took off, so taking that time away was hurting it a bit. Our salaries in Year One [helped me break] even missing the days in Pittsburgh, but with [salary] cuts this year, that wasn't the case.

How long in the making has this decision been? Had it come up earlier than this season, and if so, why did you give it till now to keep playing?

BM: This decision has been put off for a few years. I had planned to retire after the last Olympics. Learning of the plan to start a women's professional league in the U.S. and having a team in Buffalo kept me playing. That is something we've wanted for the sport for a really long time. I just had to be a part of it and help get it off the ground.

You've been the backbone of the Beauts for both seasons now. How would you describe your time playing for Buffalo?

BM: I loved being a part of the Buffalo community! It was a growing process on and off the ice. All of us got to be a part of something new and help start it from the bottom. I got to do that at RMU [Robert Morris University] and it truly is something amazing to be a part of. That will always feel like "our" team no matter what, especially the girls in year one.

This year I got to see the college team I started play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in history. I am excited for moments like this as a Buffalo Beaut, watching them in all of their successes down the road, and obviously the reunions!

What will you miss most about playing, particularly in the NWHL?

BM: Being part of the NWHL gave us all a window into the youth of the sport. I think we all lit up when we got the opportunities to get out on the ice with the girls or chat with them after the games. I'll miss playing the game, but mostly the relationships built over the years. Traveling around with the girls are some of my favorite memories.

Can you share any specific traveling memories with our readers? You guys looked like you had a great time on the road, especially judging by some of the photos on social media.

BM: We always had such long road trips, and most of the time we got in late, so once we got to hotels we pretty much crashed. Bus rides got long, so we would get some games going like “heads up,” or whatever else [Jacquie] Greco or [Devon] Skeats talked us into playing. We had some characters on our team so it didn't matter what we were doing — it was entertaining to say the least.

Speaking of characters... you were a part of the always-entertaining #McLevMan goalie trio. What was it like creating that bond and having fun with your fellow goalies?

BM: Finding three completely normal goalies that like each other is pretty hard to find! It always makes it easier to play and compete when your goalie partners are your biggest supporters. Every goalie wants to play, but if you're not in the net it's nice to have someone in there you want to succeed and you trust to be in there. Being in Pittsburgh, I didn't get a chance to be a part of most of the social media shenanigans, but I tried from afar. Those two are ridiculous, they always had me laughing with those videos and pictures. That's what it's all about! Being a goalie, you need a good sense of humor and [to] be loose.

You also split time with Amanda Leveille this season after carrying the bulk of time last year. What was the adjustment like, and what are your thoughts on the Beauts' goaltending moving forward with Leveille presumably taking over?

BM: Lev knows how to keep us in the game, so I feel confident that the Beauts will always be a contender for the Isobel Cup. If they don't, it will be the first time Buffalo is not in the Final (so no pressure, ladies!). I'm excited to follow along next year from Pittsburgh streaming from my couch, and maybe make a trip or two with my fellow Pittsburgh Beauts.

What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest advantages for you having played in this league?

BM: A big passion for me is growing the game. I think the NWHL is a way for young girls to connect with their role models and dream to be their best and play professionally one day. A lot of my efforts are in Pittsburgh, so having the All-Star Game here was so amazing for all of the kids. Being able to bring the Isobel Cup back here to all of the girls that supported us in the All-Star Game is going to be pretty special for them and myself as well.

Describe your mental preparation for the playoffs and the Isobel Cup Final. Did anything differ from last year's approach? How much did your impending retirement play into it?

BM: I think we all prepared similarly, whether we planned to continue or were knowingly playing in our last hockey game. Most of us in that locker room watched Boston hoist the cup last year, and [we] didn't want to do it again. We knew the way they play and were clear on what we needed to do to get past them. We all got on the same page, it was do or die, and every single player did their job.

How does it feel to end your playing career with a professional championship under your belt?

BM: It definitely made it easier to take the pads off. I didn't want my last memory to be bummed in the locker room after a bad game and thinking, “This is the last time I take my helmet off, my pads, my skates.” I will say that was a little extra motivation as the time counted down. Celebrating with teammates after a huge win is exactly how any athlete wants to end their career.

Talk a little specifically about your performance in the Final, which very deservedly won you MVP. How did it feel to be out there one last time?

BM: It popped in my mind a few times and I tried to forget about it. I felt focused and felt ready, and I didn't want anything else in my mind. Everyone was just on for 60 minutes doing exactly what we talked about. We didn't have time for mistakes.

Once it was over, I took it all in. Celebrating with my team will always be one of my favorite memories looking back on my career. Stepping away and finally finding my parents was pretty emotional. Like a lot of athletes, my parents have been there for everything and I'm glad we were able to pull that off for my last game they saw me play in.

You're already doing goalie coaching, and judging by your Instagram you have a lot of fun with it. Any plans to expand that in the future? What else might be in the works post-career?

BM: I love my job! That is my main focus now, staying busy with that and finding new ways to grow and teach. I also have my summer camps for girls every year. I've expanded to Cleveland this year and possibly New York, but that is still in discussion. Other than that, mom and dad McLaughlin have slowly turned into the "where are my grandchildren?" parents, so I suppose it is time to be a grown up.