Although restricted free agency was slow for Buffalo Beauts GM and head coach Ric Seiling, the former NHL forward has wasted no time reconstructing his team as the NWHL’s unrestricted free agency period has begun. On May 10, the Beauts announced they’d re-signed forwards Hailey Browne and Devon Skeats.
Browne and Skeats were two-thirds of Buffalo’s second line, though combined with Kourtney Kunichika, the three combined for 23 goals in the regular season, which is 41 percent of the teams total goal output. More impressive was their special teams proficiency; the line scored eight power play goals, which accounts for 50 percent of the goals scored when the Beauts had the man advantage.
Browne and Skeats were a veritable wrecking crew throughout the season, and their forecheck was their hallmark. Both forwards play an intensely physical game, which often forced opposing teams to turn over the puck in transition, and the line would frequently take advantage of the resulting loose pucks.
Both Browne and Skeats have embraced the physical nature of their strategy, and have worked hard in the offseason to develop in this regard. The diminutive Canadian forwards have spent the offseason in the gym, and Browne says she’s focused on adding lean muscle in her training. Skeats has a similar mindset in her approach.
“Right now I am just working on building my strength at my gym…I love my lifting workouts at my Crossfit gym,” Skeats explained. Strength training is not her only focus, though.
As one of the most agile skaters in the league, she knows that speed and strength go hand-in-hand. “So I will not only be in my gym lifting, I want to spend some time doing fieldwork to improve upon my endurance and quickness. In addition I am planning on getting on the ice a few times each month to help get to the next level with regards to my edge work, stick handling and skill work as well as my shot accuracy and power.”
Both players are excited to be back in grey and blue for their second professional seasons, but Skeats explains that it’s not just the team that drew her back.
“[It’s] Everything! The city, the fans, the teammates, the coaching, the hockey facilities. I truly had one of the most amazing years of my life playing professional hockey in Buffalo and I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else this year.”
Browne echoed her linemate’s exuberance. “I loved playing in Buffalo last season; the city pleasantly surprised me in many ways. It was amazing to play so close to home as well having many of my family members and friends attend the games along with the amazing fans that we had throughout the season. There’s no other place I would want to play!”
Seiling has used the phrase ‘unfinished business’ several times in the offseason. There is a sense that this pervasive feeling has spread through each player as they return to Buffalo.
Browne mirrors Seiling’s anxiousness. “No one is ever satisfied with being a runner up – you want to win that last game and bring home the championship. We had a great run and have a lot to be proud of but Ric is right, we do have some unfinished business that we plan on finishing up this season.”
Skeats’ desire to right the wrongs of the Beauts’ first season is also burning deeply. “Buffalo wants that cup,” she stated emphatically. “We worked so hard and came so close to winning last season, so this season, we have that burning flame in our eyes because we know we can do it!”
There is a lot to be done before the puck drops on the league’s second season, but both Skeats and Browne are excited to get back to work.
“There is so much to look forward to! Seeing our fans again, [seeing] old teammates and meeting new ones, as well,” Skeats said. “I’m also excited to have Ric as our head coach – he’s very knowledgeable and well respected so I can’t wait to learn more from him.”
Browne is equally excited to be on the cutting edge of the growth of the sport. “I am most looking forward to seeing the league grow even more from what it was last year. I’m excited to see the loyal fans in the stands once more, but I am also excited to see who else is going to make their way to the rinks this year to show their support.”
Immediately following the signing of Steadman last week, Seiling announced her linemate Shelby Bram would be joining the team. With Browne and Skeats locked up for year two, it is reasonable to expect Kunichika will be signed soon, as well. Ten days into the UFA period, Seiling’s vision is beginning to take shape. The Beauts are eager to expand upon everything they accomplished last season.