With only one game remaining in the NWHL’s season, and playoff positions decided, the teams are resting up to do battle one final time before beginning the push for the Isobel Cup.
With their second consecutive home win, the Buffalo Beauts locked up third place, forcing the Riveters to face the surging Boston Pride. The win was one of Buffalo’s most dominant performances of their inaugural journey – from start to finish, Buffalo had control of the Riveters and proved why the team deserved the third place slot.
It was a complete game for Buffalo, in more ways than one; for the first time in nearly a month, Buffalo’s line-up was complete, with Meghan Duggan returning after a two game absence.
Every time she’s taken the ice for the Beauts, Duggan has left her mark on the game. Whether it she is scoring herself or setting up a linemate, her impact is always felt on the scoreboard. In the Beauts’ fifth win of the season, Duggan scored the game-winning goal and added an assist before the final horn sounded.
She found herself in a familiar spot on the Beauts’ top line, playing the wing to Shelby Bram’s center, along with Kelley Steadman. The trio were integral in Buffalo’s dominant play in the game, and spent most of their ice time in the opponent’s zone. When asked about reuniting with Duggan, Steadman said, “I obviously love playing with Megs, I think we work well together,” and as if to prove a point, Steadman scored an empty net goal on a pass from Duggan to close out the game.
#NWHL An empty netter by Kelley Steadman (@ksteadman9) seals it and the @BuffaloBeauts win 5-1. pic.twitter.com/pUHeNWb0t7
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) February 21, 2016
it isn’t just the scoring that makes Duggan one of Buffalo’s most important players, though; she is a leader on the ice, as well as off the ice. After Buffalo’s win against the Riveters, Beauts GM Linda Mroz discussed the importance of a player like Duggan. “Duggan is awesome. She forechecks, she backchecks…she’s got hands, she sees the ice really well and hits those tape-to-tape passes…having her back, and at 100 percent…you can see the difference in the team atmosphere. She’s very vocal in the locker room. She picks the girls up if they’re hanging their heads – that’s the kind of teammate that you really want.”
Duggan leads on the scoreboard and she leads in the locker room, but it is the physical aspect of Duggan’s game that is most valuable to an otherwise very small Buffalo team. Though the team plays a very aggressive style, with a physical forecheck, there have been times this season that the Riveters have been able to push the diminutive Beauts around, and missing from each of those games was Duggan.
On the first shift of the game, Duggan made her presence felt – as Buffalo took the play to the net, there was a dust-up with Riveters defenseman Ashley Johnston. Duggan gave the sizeable blueliner a little extra shove after the play, and skated away with a bit of a smile. She was setting the tone immediately, dulling New York’s edge just enough to make it safe for smaller forwards like Devon Skeats and Kourtney Kunichika to be a nuisance in front of the net.
Hailey Browne, who plays on a line with Skeats and Kunichika, appreciates Duggan’s contributions to the team. “She’s the biggest impact player we have,” Browne said, “our best all around player…We love her.”
The Beauts will face the Boston Pride in the last game of the season before heading to Connecticut for a three-game playoff series with the Whale, and as the team prepares for a strong finish, all eyes will be on Buffalo’s biggest impact player.
Forecheck, backcheck, shoot, pass, kill penalties, or just simply lifting her team up, there may be no player in the league whose mark on her team is as indelible as that of Meghan Duggan.