(Photo: Melissa Burgess)
The NWHL’s Founding Four made history Sunday as the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, and New York Riveters skated in the league’s first-ever games.
In the end, the Whale and Pride each took 4-1 wins over the Riveters and Beauts in front of energetic, packed houses as part of hockey history.
The Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride skated out to a packed house at HARBORCENTER in downtown Buffalo.
The Boston-Buffalo rivalry in the stands was visible early, as the Pride took the ice to a salute of “boos.” Overall, the crowd of roughly 1800 people proved to be loud, energetic, and invested.
The 3:30 p.m. start was preceded by a ceremonial puck drop by Manon Rhéaume, an Olympic silver medalist who was the first woman to play in the NHL. Young female hockey players also stood around the rink, including on-ice during introductions, to provide an even more incredible environment.
Both teams were also introduced, though the Beauts were missing five players in their opening game. Amanda Makela, Lindsay Grigg, Jessica Fickel, Erin Zach, and Devon Skeats (all Canadian players) missed the game due to visa issues. Alas, it was a slightly short Beauts bench who kicked off their season Sunday against a stacked Pride team.
Boston got off to a solid start, notching the first two shots of the game. Meghan Duggan had a spectacular chance close in on Pride netminder Brittany Ott to put up the Beauts’ first shot.
Standout Hilary Knight scored the first goal of the game -- and first in Pride history -- at the 12:08 mark of the first period to give Boston a 1-0 lead.
The Pride had a strong first period, leaving the ice after twenty with a one-goal lead and a 15-4 edge in shots.
Knight would score her second goal of the day in the second period, with Jordan Smelker adding an additional goal to make it 3-0 Boston. Less than halfway through the third, Amanda Pelkey made it a four-goal lead for the Pride.
As the period continued, Boston’s Rachel Llanes and Marissa Gedman were served with hooking and cross-checking minors within a minute’s time of each other, giving the Beauts a solid 5-on-3.
That was their chance to get into the game, and they took it.
Kelley Steadman notched the first goal in Beauts’ history to put the Buffalo squad on the board with 7:58 to go. Meghan Duggan, who was an absolute workhorse for the Beauts throughout the game, provided the lone assist on the goal.
In the end, that goal was all the Beauts could muster in the 4-1 loss to the Pride.
Buffalo netminder Brianne McLaughlin earned third-star honors, while Knight’s two-goal game was enough for the second star. Steadman was given first star honors for her goal.
The Pride outshot the Beauts 41-23.
Shelley Looney, Beauts co-head coach, said she entered the Beauts’ locker room after the game and told the players one thing: “Congratulations on making history.”
Pfalzer, a Getzville native, was impressed by the crowd at the inaugural Beauts game.
“I don’t think any other place would have a crowd like this,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect anything else from Buffalo.”
HARBORCENTER holds 1800 people, and though the attendance was not officially reported, it appeared to be pretty close to that mark.
Though the Beauts didn’t have a perfect game, it’s important to keep in mind that this was the first game of the season, the first true test, and also that the team was missing five players.
“Every period, we got better,” Pfalzer said. “We learned how to play with each other. We’re still building a team.”
Multiple players commented on the parallels between them as young girls watching players like Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero -- and now playing professional hockey, being watched by young female players like those in attendance today.
“I have Shelley Looney’s autograph from the 1998 [Canada] team… and now she’s coaching me,” said Beauts netminder McLaughlin.
Pfalzer nicely summed up the first day in NWHL history.
“It’s an exciting day for women’s hockey."
Next Sunday, the Buffalo Beauts host the Connecticut Whale at 3:30 p.m. at HARBORCENTER. The “late” game will feature the New York Riveters hosting the Boston Pride, dropping the puck in the Riveters’ home opener at 7 p.m.
Game stats: NWHL.hockeyshift.com