Minnesota narrowly beats Buffalo in historic first-ever game at KeyBank Center

The Whitecaps triumphed in a 2-1 victory over the Beauts that was secured by Lee Stecklein’s first goal of the season.

The Minnesota Whitecaps beat the Buffalo Beauts 2-1 on Saturday at the first ever NWHL game to take place at the Buffalo Sabres’ KeyBank Center.

This is only the third time that an NWHL game has been played at an NHL arena. The Metropolitan Riveters played two games at the New Jersey Devils’ Prudential Center, one this season and one last season.

Only part of KeyBank’s seating was open to fans during the game, although staff opened up another section a few minutes after puck drop when the crowd outgrew the designated space.

Buffalo secured the first point on the scoreboard with a smooth short-handed goal from Blake Bolden, assisted by Corinne Buie and Julianna Iafallo. The snipe was Bolden’s first goal of the season and also her first goal as a Beaut.

The second period brought on significantly more penalties, that eventually leading to Buffalo’s downfall. Shortly into the period, both Kelly Babstock and Maddie Elia were stuck in the box, forcing the remaining Beauts to defend a brief five-on-three for just under one minute.

Soon after Babstock was released, Minnesota answered with a backhanded goal through the five-hole from Kendall Coyne-Schofield. Of their six power plays during the game, this was the only one during which the Whitecaps were able to produce a goal.

Energy from the crowd increased as the third period remained scoreless and each team served one penalty apiece. It was then that Minnesota began to chip away at Buffalo’s defense and significantly increase their shots on goal.

Then, with less than two minutes left in regulation, Lee “The Tree” Stecklein stunned everyone with a few sick dangles before landing a bar-down goal that nobody saw coming.

The game-winner was Stecklein’s first goal of the season. She was assisted by Kendall Coyne-Schofield. This game was Minnesota’s seventh win.

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The game was advertised as a doubleheader, and anyone who purchased tickets to the Buffalo Sabres game at KeyBank later in the evening also received free tickets to see the Beauts play in the afternoon. The event is just a small part of the Pegula Sports One Buffalo initiative.

The sizeable crowd included both new and old Beauts fans, and also these guys, who led the fans through a variety of cheers and quickly became a crowd favorite.

Despite increased partnerships with NHL teams across the league, Saturday’s game is only the second regular-season game to take place in an NHL arena this season. One can only hope that NHL partners will reconsider this based on the impressive turnout in Buffalo. After all — who doesn’t want two good hockey games for the price of one?

The Beauts will have another chance to take on the Whitecaps on Sunday when they return to HarborCenter for their second game of the weekend at 1:30 p.m.