The Minnesota Whitecaps made an immediate splash in NWHL Free Agency by signing three former University of Minnesota teammates: Amanda Leveille, Lee Stecklein, and Hannah Brandt.
The one Minnesotan they couldn’t land? Plymouth native Dani Cameranesi.
Cameranesi, who won a pair of national championships with the Golden Gophers, elected to join the Buffalo Beauts for the 2018-19 season. Her presence instantly bolsters the Beauts’ chance at a fourth consecutive Isobel Cup Final appearance.
General manager Nik Fattey, financed by that sweet, sweet Pegula money, has been a go-getter all offseason. In a summer that has lured the likes of Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, collegiate standout Savannah Harmon and NWHL vet Kelly Babstock to Buffalo, the 23-year-old Cameranesi may prove to be the Beauts’ most valuable addition.
With Cameranesi comes a prolific resume: 2013 Minnesota Ms. Hockey at Blake School, WCHA Rookie of the Year in 2014, three consecutive NCAA championship appearances with two titles, two Top-10 finishes for the Patty Kazmaier award, an IIHF Gold medal, and most recently, Olympic Gold at Pyeongchang in 2018.
Her performance at the Olympics was headlined by a three-point outburst in the semifinal game against Finland. She finished with three goals and two assists in five games.
Thriving at the Olympics was a statement for Cameranesi. After an ankle injury robbed her of six weeks’ worth of playing time in her senior season at Minnesota, she was left off the 2017 USA IIHF World Championship roster for health concerns. While sidelined, Cameranesi grew determined to return stronger than ever for the 2018 Olympics.
To derive a silver lining, the injury gave her an opportunity to sharpen her mental game.
“I feel like when she came back from her injury, she gained a lot of confidence,” teammate and fellow Olympian Hannah Brandt told GopherSports.com back in January. “You can tell she is a lot stronger and nothing really phases her anymore.”
A confident Cameranesi could dominate the NWHL. Though she won’t have Brandt, Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer, on her line anymore, she can take defenders to task with her speed and hands. She finished tied for seventh in Minnesota’s scoring history and assuredly would have been higher if not for her injury.
Where Cameranesi excels is her ability to handle the puck down low and create havoc in front of the net. This is exceptionally good news for the Buffalo Beauts, who lost two of their best net-drivers in Jess Jones (returning to the CWHL) and Kristin Lewicki (signed with Metropolitan). Fortunately, Cameranesi is one of the best in the game at getting to “the house” and scoring from the hashmarks and below.
Beyond merely having the speed and power to go through a defender, Cameranesi is slippery. A quick first step gives her separation from the pack and allows her room to tee up her trademark wrister. In the second clip, she is able to recognize that her woman has taken her eyes off her, and in a flash spins her around like a top and cuts to the heart of Royal Road.
Her lower-body strength and quick hands make her lethal in front. She becomes a Swiss Army knife where she can set a screen and let her teammates go to work, bang home a rebound or spin-off her defender and become a passing target.
Let’s go to the tape.
With Cameranesi taking the goalie’s eyes away, she has the netminder moving one way with the puck moving another.
Here, with Cameranesi in front of the net, she uses her hips to spin off her defender as she sets a screen to get her stick on the ice. When a backhander is fired off the goalie’s pad, she’s there for the easy tap-in. She is never a potted plant, solely there to distract the goaltender and hope the puck accidentally finds her. She is constantly moving and shifting, keeping herself a viable target for teammates.
Take this particular play from USA’s 5-0 win over the Olympic Athletes from Russia last winter. With the Americans on the powerplay, Cameranesi is back to work in front of the net. She has gained the inside of the slot with her stick down, ready for a redirection should a shot attempt come. The puck is moved from the center of the blueline to the left circle, where USA has a numbers advantage by virtue of the top Russian penalty killer over-committing.
The defense now leaves Cameranesi’s side in an attempt to intercept the passing lane. Recognizing this, Cameranesi wastes no time in realigning herself, thinking one pass ahead. She is now in the position to receive a tic-tac-toe pass in front or pounce on a loose puck in front.
The result, of course, is mayhem in front and a prime scoring chance.
Is this rating too high or too low?
If Cameranesi stays healthy, she could very well be an MVP candidate in the NWHL this season.
As our own Mike Murphy wrote earlier in the month, the Buffalo Beauts were second in the league in shots-for per game at 28.19. Rookie of the Year Hayley Scamurra finished second in the league in shots on goal and averaged 4.5 per game. Corinne Buie and Maddie Elia ranked 4th and 9th in shots on goal, respectively.
Now, Buffalo has added offensive juggernaut Cameranesi and former Whale Kelly Babstock, who led the league in shots and averaged 5.1 shots per game. Only Haley Skarupa averaged more shots in her seven games in the NWHL last season.
It’s reasonable to believe the Buffalo Beauts can take the next step and be the best shot generators in the league.
We may be saying this rating is too low by the end of next season. Dani Minnesota may be adding an Isobel Cup ring to her ever-growing trophy case.