With the start of the NWHL and CWHL seasons creeping ever-closer, we’re kicking off a series of season previews for both leagues where we will encompass what all new fans need to know about last season, what might happen next season, who to keep an eye on and which player we’re oh-so-glad (or sad) to be rid of.
Today we continue with the Buffalo Beauts.
Recap of last season
The Beauts had a terrible start to their first season. They played the first three games without key players due to visa issues. Once their lineup was complete, the team continued to struggle. The team was short on cohesion and communication, and it showed on the ice. Their special teams units were the worst in the league, and the team did not fare much better at even strength.
Despite spending four months in last place, Buffalo kicked things into gear following the all-star break. In the second half of the season, Buffalo found depth scoring, great goaltending, and an improved power play. Ultimately, their improvements led them to the inaugural Isobel Cup championship series before they were defeated by the powerful Boston Pride.
Buffalo’s roster is drastically different than it was in their first season. Only seven of the eighteen rostered players from 2015-16 have returned in full-time positions, which means that general manager Ric Seiling spent much of the offseason making big changes to the team’s structure. The biggest signing is unquestionably power forward Shiann Darkangelo.
Darkangelo had 13 points in 13 games last season for the Connecticut Whale. She was a key factor in the Whale’s early domination of the league. Her 10 goals came at an incredible shooting percentage of 21.7. Her size and scoring will be welcomed on a Buffalo team that has lacked both.
Along with Darkangelo, Buffalo signed Kelley Steadman to a full-time roster position. Steadman lead the league in points per game with 2.0, and did so on a part-time basis as a practice player. With Steadman in the lineup more consistently, Buffalo gains scoring stability that will certainly be key to their success in 2016-17.
It is nearly impossible to measure the impact of losing Meghan Duggan. The Team USA captain is a unique and dominant two-way player who has the ability to change to tone of a game in an instant. Duggan has signed with her hometown team, the Boston Pride, for the upcoming season and there is no doubt she will be missed in Buffalo.
Buffalo made a huge signing when they inked a deal with NCAA champion goalie Amanda Leveille, and Leveille will battle with Brianne McLaughlin for the starting goaltender spot. Both are fantastic goalies in their own right, but both have spent most of their careers as the starter, and have little experience as the backup.
Last season, Amanda Makela was huge coming off of the bench and earned Buffalo their first points in the standings. With two strong starters, the Beauts may find themselves missing a goalie who excelled in the backup role.
Players to watch
In June, Buffalo held a free agent camp at the HarborCenter. From the outset, defenseman Sarah Casorso stood out from the crowd. She was a stout, stingy defender, turning away most challengers, and could also transition with incredibly speed and vision. She has a great shot from the point and was impressive in the breakaway competitions.
Casorso, Darkangelo, and Steadman are going to give Buffalo an impressive offensive boost in the team’s second season.
The Beauts have made impressive improvements to both their forward lines and their defensive core. Their biggest strength heading into camp may very well be their goaltending. Brianne McLaughlin was able to find herself in the second half of the season, and was perhaps the most impressive goaltender in the playoffs — she was certainly Buffalo’s best player in both the opening round and in the championship series.
The result of signing Leveille is unpredictable, but the worst case scenario is that the two netminders continue to push each other throughout the season, which could only serve to make Buffalo better all-around.
Buffalo’s penalty kill was the bane of their existence in their inaugural campaign. Though they scored a league-high six shorthanded goals, they also finished the year allowing a goal on nearly one out of every four times shorthanded. If the Beauts are going to improve in the standings, they are going to have to tighten up their special teams.
Bold and overly specific prediction
The Beauts will lead the league in power play goals. There are few penalty kill units in the league that will be able to simultaneously defend point shots from Casorso and Megan Bozek, as well as cover scoring powerhouses Steadman and Darkangelo.
Most likely to moonlight as a crime-fighting vigilante
Shiann Darkangelo, obviously.