Following the All-Star break, NWHL teams got back to work with a pair of important games. Boston was in need of a win to continue to close the gap on the impressive Whale, while New York travelled to Buffalo in hopes of recapturing their third place slot.
Queen Elsa drops the ceremonial first puck! pic.twitter.com/GlIo5IWyh7
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) January 31, 2016
It was Disney Day at the Harbor Center, and as Queen Elsa made her way through the stands to take pictures with the fans, the Beauts were hoping to continue their Cinderella stretch run. Having stolen third place from the Riveters just two weeks ago, climbing out of the basement for the first time in their inaugural season, they’d need a solid 60-minute effort, but a little Disney magic wouldn’t hurt.
The story of the Riveters’ season could easily be their inability to stay out of the box. The Beauts’ power play has been historically ineffective, but unfortunately for New York, that was not the case yesterday afternoon. With two power play goals in the first period, Kelley Steadman briefly tied for most goals in the NWHL with 11. Hilary Knight would later reclaim the top spot during the Pride’s game.
Still, for the first time this season, Buffalo converted on a 5-on-3. The play could not have been drawn up any better, and Duggan found Steadman in the low slot.
Steadman’s second goal came on an odd angle, to the left of Riveters’ goaltender Nana Fujimoto. As the spritely Japanese netminder closed on the post, Steadman saw an opening and buried the puck shortside.
“She was sitting back in her net,” Steadman said in an intermission interview, “I saw an opportunity and was able to get the goal.”
Though Steadman’s two goals came off the stick of Megan Duggan, the two were not paired with each other on a regular line – a first for the duo.
Aside from some power play time with Duggan, Steadman found herself with a new pair of linemates in Hayley Williams and Erin Zach. The trio had a strong game together, and their final shift of the game may have been their most important.
With the Beauts holding a 3-2 lead late in the third, the Riveters called Fujimoto to the bench. The team had a difficult time working through the neutral zone, thanks to the persistent forechecking of the Beauts forwards. Steadman had a solid opportunity to net the hat trick, but a great save by Morgan Fritz-Ward kept the Riveters alive.
Steadman and company would not relent, and after a steal in the neutral zone, the Pittsburgh native hit Zach with a great lead pass, who wrinkled the net for the first time this season.
#NWHL Empty netter by Erin Zach (@eztiger20) seals the win for the @BuffaloBeauts pic.twitter.com/1Z80jwjmEd
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) January 31, 2016
After the game, Beauts co-coach Shelley Looney addressed the shake-up. “I wanted to create three strong lines. Moving Duggan and Steadman off of the same line gives us a little juice for each of those three lines.”
Jessica Fickel took Steadman’s spot on a line with Duggan and Shelby Bram. Although it was a new look for the team, there was definitely some chemistry there, and that was no mistake. “I’ve been practicing with her since the first practice,” said Bram, “Getting to play a game with her was a lot of fun. She’s a good player, and having her next to me – it was good!” It was good indeed, and Fickel nabbed an assist on Bram’s game-winning goal.
The game could not have been more magical if it had been penned by Walt Disney himself. Buffalo’s first win at home was one of their most complete games this season. The new-look Beauts seem to have a renewed energy, having risen a little further from the bottom of the standings. Steadman, Bram, and their crew couldn’t have picked a better time to take their game to the next level.