(Photo: Melissa Burgess)
The National Women's Hockey League wrapped up its preseason schedule on Sunday as teams prepare to open the league's third season this Saturday, October 28.
Each of the league's four teams played two preseason games, with no inter-league play. Since the teams see each other quite often in the regular season, this makes sense, and gives players a challenge against new faces.
The Buffalo Beauts faced Team China in their first preseason game, then hosted the under-15 Buffalo Jr. Sabres boys' team. The Beauts beat China 4-2 on October 9, thanks to a pair of goals from Corinne Buie. Newcomer Taylor Accursi had a strong game, showcasing her speed and adding two assists. Kelsey Neumann allowed two goals on 10 shots, while newcomer Julia DiTondo was perfect on 13 shots faced.
A week later, the Beauts fell to the Jr. Sabres by a lopsided score of 9-4. The Beauts, who were coming together for their second game following only a pair of practices, were facing a Jr. Sabres team that had won 19 of 23 games so far this season. That being said, newcomer Kristen Lewicki potted a pair of goals, and perhaps the highlight of the game was Amanda Leveille's performance in goal. The game was Leveille's first on-ice appearance with the team this season, and she put up a sharp 48-save campaign.
The Metropolitan Riveters fell to Team Russia in a pair of games on October 13 and 22. Team Russia beat the Riveters 3-2 in their first meeting, fueled by an Olga Sosina hat trick. For the Riveters, it was Erika Lawler's first time on the ice with her team, as she returns to hockey for the first time in roughly four years. Returning netminder Katie Fitzgerald stopped 19 of 22 shots faced.
When the teams met again a week later, the Riveters had difficulty finding their offensive legs and ultimately lost 4-0. Anna Shokhina had two goals, while former NWHLer Liudmila Belyakova also tallied for Russia. For the Riveters, Kelsey Koelzer, who is entering her first full NWHL season, was a standout player in the shutout loss, notching six of the team's 19 shots on goal. Once again, Fitzgerald was in the pipes, stopping 19 of 23 shots.
Team Russia had a successful trip to the United States, as they not only swept the Riveters, but also swept the Connecticut Whale and the Boston Pride in their respective preseason games.
Russia wiped out the Whale 8-2 on October 15, then beat then again two days later by a score of 5-2. Shannon Doyle and Kelly Babstock had the goals for the Whale in the first meeting, but it wasn’t enough, as Russia simply overpowered them. Elena Dergachyova notched four assists, while Anna Shokhina had a four-point game as well (1-3). Sydney Rossman allowed five goals on 21 shots faced; her relief, Laura Brennan, allowed three goals on 12 shots.
Two days later, it was some of the same for the Whale, as they struggled to score against their Russian opponents. Cydney Roesler had both goals for Connecticut. Rossman and Keira Goin split goaltending duties for the Whale; Rossman stopped nine of 12 shots faced, while Goin stopped nine of 10. Eight different Russian skaters notched at least a point in the win.
The Pride then fell twice to Russia, starting with a 4-3 defeat on October 18. Emily Field, Jilliam Dempsey, and Heather Schwarz all scored for Boston, but Russia ultimately came out on top in a shootout. Haley Skarupa, new to the Pride this year and playing in her first game with the team, scored in the shootout -- but was the only Pride player to do so. Brittany Ott and newcomer Madison Litchfield split goaltending duties; Ott allowed two goals on 13 shots, while Litchfield allowed one on 13 shots.
The teams met again three days later, and Russia topped the Pride once again, this time with a final score of 2-1. Skarupa had the lone goal for Boston. Ott played the entire game in net for the Pride and stopped 24 of 26 shots faced. The Pride were 1-for-8 on the power play. The third period of that game was a rough one, with 58 penalty minutes – including two misconducts – being handed out.
All in all, the NWHL's preseason can offer little glimpses here and there of what fans can look forward to this coming season, such as Amanda Leveille's stellar netminding, Haley Skarupa's offensive prowess, and plenty of talent on both the Whale and Riveters. As teams continue to practice and develop chemistry among their new and returning players, they'll keep growing.
The NWHL opens its third season this weekend, with all four teams in action on Saturday, October 28. The Riveters host the Pride for a 1:30 PM puck drop at Prudential Center, while the Beauts visit the Whale at 2:30 PM at Terry Conners Ice Rink.