Beauts Missing Leadership in Playoff Loss

The first game of the opening Isobel Cup series between the Connecticut Whale and the Buffalo Beauts finished exactly the way most pundits predicted – on the scoreboard, at least. Connecticut took game one 3-0 after an empty net goal from Kelly Babstock with less than a minute to go. The score does not really tell the tale of the game, though the result is a fantastic metaphor for the Buffalo Beauts.

With 35 shots on goal, and pressure in the Whale zone for much of the game, Buffalo persistently seemed on the precipice of cracking the game wide open. It seemed like the team was missing something–a finishing touch, perhaps. The kind of thing that two of the team’s top three leading scorers could provide.

It was known going into the game that Kelley Steadman would not be on the ice. As reported by Today’s Slapshot, Steadman’s commitment to Robert Morris University’s CHA semifinal would have her in Buffalo on Friday afternoon, and unable to make the trip to Connecticut in time for the game. What was surprising to everyone was the absence of Meghan Duggan, who missed the game for ‘undisclosed reasons,’ according to the NWHL’s Cross-Ice broadcast.

Duggan is arguably the team’s best player.
Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Duggan is also committed to a college team – her Clarkson women’s hockey club are set to take part in the ECAC playoff tournament on Saturday, March 5. The game is scheduled to take place at Quinnipiac University’s hockey rink – just one hour from Chelsea Piers, where the playoff games are played. Duggan’s decision to skip the opening game of the series is curious, for certain. As Team USA’s captain, it would seem that she understands the importance of leadership in a team’s dressing room. When she has been able to participate in the Beauts’ games, she has been a voice of reason when things got out of hand, and a calming influence when the team began to lose their composure.

With the team down 2-0 entering the third, the Beauts were clearly missing their assistant captain. They were able to remain disciplined in the period, staying out of the box completely, and they outshot their opponent 14-2 in the closing frame. One has to wonder how different the third period would be if the Beauts were able to count on what is arguably their best player.

The loss is a bitter pill to swallow. Aside from a ten minute chunk of the second period, the Beauts outplayed the Whale. To go on the road and take it to them in their own barn says something about the fortitude of the players who took the ice in Chelsea Piers. Against all odds, the undersized Beauts played their game to near perfection.

The team will seek to regroup for Saturday’s rematch. Forward Tatiana Rafter went hard into the end boards and was on the ice for an extended period of time. She finished the game, but hopefully there is no lasting damage that will keep her out of game two. Hayley Williams sustained a shoulder injury a week before the Beauts’ final regular season game, which kept her out of the lineup tonight, but the tweet posted above seems to have a positive outlook. The real question is whether or not Duggan will be on the ice for what could be the end of the Beauts season. Down 1-0 to a team that has owned them in the regular season, the team could use the full compliment of its leaders to give them the best chance to push the series to its three-game conclusion.

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