BUFFALO, N.Y. – After months of tension and an offseason that included several hiccups, the NWHL has completed its second free-agency period. Though the league again failed to meet their own deadline to have players signed, by all reports, rosters have been completed with players who have at least committed to signing with their respective teams.
The Buffalo Beauts have had an interesting offseason, to say the least. After signing only one player during restricted free agency, general manager Ric Seiling had a lot of work to do in order to make his vision for the team become a reality.
“We have several players who have agreed to terms but have not signed,” he said, adding, “I think people are going to be surprised by the names coming to Buffalo.” – Ric Seiling
Several times during the process, Seiling described his approach, saying he was focused on developing a winning mentality within his team. NCAA National Champion goaltender Amanda Leveille and Isobel Cup winning forward Corinne Buie are two examples of players that Seiling signed to help push the culture of victory.
Seiling also brought co-coach Craig Muni into the fold. The former NHL defenseman won three Stanley Cups in his career, and clearly represents Seiling’s approach to the season.
At the time Muni signed with the team, Seiling said, “Winning is something you can learn, but you learn by experience. I think Craig’s experience with his Stanley Cups — and his whole career — he’s been in a winning situation,”
When the dust settled, Seiling had turned over more than 50 percent of his team, with nine of his seventeen players set to take the ice in Buffalo for the first time.
This number is skewed slightly as the team had signed veteran center Shelby Bram, but it was announced on July 31 that Bram had opted out of her contract. No reason was given for the decision.
Prior to the draft, Seiling had shown a little of his hand. He made it clear that he was in the market for premium talent, and that these players were showing an interest in Buffalo.
“We have several players who have agreed to terms but have not signed,” he said, adding, “I think people are going to be surprised by the names coming to Buffalo.”
Several moves that were announced on the last day of free agency fit the bill perfectly. Most notable was the signing of Connecticut Whale standout and US National Team forward Shiann Darkangelo. Darkangelo was a point-per-game scorer for Connecticut in the 2015-16 regular season, and had four points in five games at the IIHF World Championships, where she and her Team USA teammates won gold.
Darkangelo and Buie join star forward Kelley Steadman, along with Buffalo’s scoring line of Hailey Browne, Kourtney Kunichika, and Devon Skeats. Also inked for the team’ second season are 2015 draft pick Emily Janiga, rookie Kristnia Lavoie and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Jordyn Burns.
Another interesting change in Buffalo’s roster was the addition of a sixth defenseman – especially since the team carried only five last season. USNT blueliner Anne Schleper signed with the team after spending a season with the as-of-now unaffiliated Minnesota Whitecaps.
Buffalo’s back end now boasts four current or former national team players: Megan Bozek, Emily Pfalzer, Schleper, and silver-medalist Lisa Chesson. With free agent camp standout Sarah Casorso and veteran Paige Harrington rounding out the defense, the Beauts will have two things they did not last season – consistent defensive pairs and consistent scoring from the blue line.
Seiling and the Beauts face tough odds in the coming season. Meghan Duggan fled the shores of Lake Erie for the familiarity of Boston, and so the Isobel Cup champion team is instantly better than they were last season. The New York Riveters and newly minted GM Chad Wiseman have been incredibly active, and their team looks completely different and far more dangerous as well.
Despite the improvements the Beauts have made, the 2016-17 season is going to be an intense battle. Thankfully, Buffalo appears to have equipped themselves appropriately.