Mandy Cronin held a unique place in the history of professional women’s hockey long before she was announced as the Buffalo Beauts general manager on May 28. Cronin, a goaltender, stopped pucks in both the Canadian NWHL and the CWHL after her collegiate career at the University of Maine. But she wasn’t just a player; Cronin was one of the players who helped make hockey history as co-founder of the CWHL.
Over the years Cronin has made quite a few connections in the women’s hockey world, which will undoubtedly serve her well as the Beauts’ GM. As it turns out, one of those connections played a direct role in her landing her new gig.
“I was teammates on the Boston Blades with Hayley Moore, the NWHL Deputy Commissioner, and she reached out to me about the opportunity and asked if I was interested,” Cronin told The Ice Garden. “I was very interested. This was a progression in my career that I had been thinking about for at least a year prior. It was as if she was reading my mind, honestly.”
Of course, Cronin’s history with the CWHL made her signing on with the NWHL big news in the hockey world. Many of the CWHL’s former players, managers, and coaches have joined the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. In essence, the members of the PWHPA believe that the NWHL is not sustainable and that its slow growth model is inadequate.
Cronin shares many, if not all, of the big picture goals that the PWHPA wants, but she sees value in what the NWHL is currently offering its players.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I would love to see women’s professional hockey players get paid enough to not need a second job,” Cronin clarified. “I played for 10 years professionally and never got paid, so I would love to see that. That’s the goal that we’ve all been striving for. That’s why we created the [CWHL] and that’s why I’ve joined this league.
“You can see the progression there; from playing without pay, to getting paid to play,” she continued. “I would love for players [to make a living wage]. I just think that there’s a difference of opinion in how we get there — that’s really all this comes down to. I coach little girls for a living and I still want them to see their role models getting paid to play. The [NWHL] said in its most recent statement that it was open to any conversation about how we get to that next step and I’m excited to be a part of a league that is paying its players.”
Cronin played her last season of CWHL hockey in 2011-12, but she never left the ice. For more than a decade she’s been dedicated to coaching young players, specifically goaltenders. In 2007 she established M-Power Hockey, which provides professional level instruction at the one-on-one level and in camps and clinics to young female netminders.
As the director of the program, Cronin has had several CWHL and NWHL alumnae serve as instructors. She’s worked with goaltenders like Amanda Makela, Jetta Rackleff, and recent Beauts signing Mariah Fujimagari. So, she’s very familiar with the team’s 5-foot-11 goalie.
“Mariah has actually come up through the ranks of [M-Power Hockey] and I’ve coached her on-and-off since she was 15, so I know her strengths and what she needs to work on,” Cronin shared. “We’re going to attack those things right away when we hit the ice.”
Cronin is less familiar with Kelsey Neumann, 28, who is returning to the Beauts after a one-year hiatus from professional hockey. While getting to know Neumann over the past two months Cronin has seen a lot of herself in the SUNY-Plattsburgh alumna. Like Fujimagari, the 5-foot-4 goalie is detail-oriented and always working on her game, which the Beauts’ new GM believes is a requisite trait for players of her position at this level.
“I expect Kelsey to fight for a spot to play — she’s played behind some very talented, big-name goaltenders in her NWHL career,” Cronin shared. “The thing I respect the most about her is that she didn’t let that stop her from trying to be the best goalie that she can be. I expect her to be a role player — whether that’s pushing the other goalies or fighting for a starting spot.”
Cronin does intend to sign another goalie and already has a few who are very interested in joining the team, but she’s keeping her options open. This is not a decision she intends to make lightly. After all, in addition to being the Beauts’ general manager, she’s also the team’s goaltending coach.
As tempting as it might be for Cronin to play a larger role behind the bench, she has complete faith in Pete Perram. This will be his first year behind an NWHL bench, but he’s no stranger to coaching elite female athletes. Perram was the head coach of the Swiss national team for four years and was also the bench boss of the Telus Lightning (Canadian NWHL), where he coached Cronin.
“I’m leaving the coaching up to Pete,” Cronin explained. “I hired Pete because I believe that he’s the right guy to lead this group. I got to play for him for my first couple of years of pro after finishing up at Maine. I can’t say enough nice things about the guy. He’s been a national team coach, a college coach, and a pro coach, so he has that experience and that knowledge of the game that’s required at this level. He’s a very charismatic man ... the girls are going to respect him and love to play for him.”
The Beauts team that Cronin and Perram are putting together are, thus far, a decidedly young group. The average age of the roster is 23.08 years — the youngest in the league by a significant margin. Buffalo’s oldest skater under contract is 27-year-old former captain Corrine Buie, but there are no concerns about the team lacking leadership.
Cronin pointed out that Slovakian defenders Iveta Klimasova, 21, and Lenka Curmova, 22, were both alternate captains for their national team. They aren’t alone. Many of the Beauts rookies wore letters for their schools in the NCAA, NCAA D-III, or in USports. Cronin believes that Buffalo’s young, hungry legs just might prove to be one of the team’s greatest strengths.
“Whether you were a first-liner or not, this is your chance to step up and shine,” Cronin told her players. “They’re all very motivated and can’t wait for the season to get started. I think the youth and the leadership aspect will play a huge role for the team this season ... we have a lot of mature minds and proven leaders, so when we hit adversity or go through some hard times they’ll be able to pick each other up and get through it.”