(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Beauts continued their busy streak of signing players for the 2018-19 NWHL season, adding U.S. Olympians Dani Cameranesi and Nicole Hensley this week.
For a team that has made the Isobel Cup Final in each of the NWHL's three seasons, including a 2017 championship, the Beauts are certainly looking dangerous for the upcoming season.
Neither of the two signees have played in the NWHL prior, though Cameranesi was a 2016 draft pick of the Connecticut Whale.
Although the league has in past years instituted a draft tax, there will be no such tax or compensation required this signing period, in light of the league's expansion.
Cameranesi and Hensley join Amanda Kessel as Olympic players signed in the NWHL for next season. Kessel, who previously played for the Metropolitan Riveters, signed with her previous club (then known as the New York Riveters) as announced last week.
Cameranesi, 22, will be a significant contribution to a Buffalo offense that has already seen some of its top scorers -- including Maddie Elia and Hayley Scamurra -- return.
"We're thrilled to be able to add such an accomplished young player to the team," said Beauts GM Nik Fattey. "Dani brings a winning pedigree and offensive skills that we believe will pay dividends for our team this season," Fattey added.
The Plymouth, Minnesota native attended the University of Minnesota from 2013-2017. There, she put up 201 points, including 108 goals, in 143 games. She helped the Golden Gophers to two national championships and was named a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award twice.
She's also represented the United States in a number of international tournaments, including a pair of U-18 world championships, the 2015 World Championships, the 2014 and 2017 Four Nations Cups, and the 2018 Olympics.
Cameranesi averaged a point per game in Pyeongchang, with three goals and two assists.
Though she's already built up a storied hockey career, joining the Beauts will be Cameranesi's first foray into professional hockey.
"I ultimately desired to be a part of an organization experienced in running a professional sports business," she said, pointing to the Pegula family's ownership of various teams in Buffalo.
"Their passion for growing the game of women's hockey can be seen in the strong foundation they created for women through the Buffalo Beauts organization," she added, also noting the team's facilities as a contribution to her decision.
During her conference call with media Tuesday, Cameranesi was asked about the chances of other players from the Olympic team joining the NWHL and the Beauts.
"I think you’ll be seeing a few more in the coming days and weeks," she said. "I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.”
Clearly, she knew what the NWHL world found out less than 24 hours after the announcement of Cameranesi's signing: that teammate Nicole Hensley was joining her in the NWHL, and with the Beauts.
Hensley will suit up in goal for Buffalo this upcoming NWHL season. The Lakewood, Colorado native played four seasons for Lindenwood University in the CHA. Between 2012 and 2016, she appeared in 122 games, going 30-78-12 with a .921 save percentage and 2.98 GAA.
She is currently the NCAA's all-time leader with 4,094 career saves and holds the record for saves in a single game, with 90.
Internationally, she's played for Team USA in multiple Under-22 series, world championships and Four Nations Cups (2016, 2017). She appeared in one game in the 2018 Olympics, a 5-0 win over the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the preliminary round.
Hensley's signing was announced informally Wednesday morning when she appeared on The Instigators, a Buffalo weekday radio show hosted by NHL alumni. The show also broke the news of the Pegulas' purchase of the Beauts in 2017.
On the radio show, Hensley said she visited the Buffalo about a month ago, giving her the chance to see the team's rink and more.
"I was so impressed with their facilities, on-ice and off-ice," she said. "All the accommodations for their players are second to none in women's hockey right now."
The 23-year-old said she began playing hockey after the 2001 NHL season, when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, at a time when hockey was "naturally booming" in the state.
She spoke to the importance of professional women's hockey as well as the national team, particularly for the visions of future generations.
"We think, how can little girls see professional women's hockey players so they can dream about it? Because you can't dream about what you can't see," she said.
"There's a lot of talk among players about how we can do a better job, to get these little girls streaming games or seeing games live," she added.
"There's so much opportunity with the professional leagues in North America for us to be role models," Hensley said. "I think that's something we say a lot with Team USA - that we're bigger than ourselves."
Hensley also spoke in the radio interview about the Olympics and the USWNT's fight for equal pay -- and what that meant for them once they did hit the ice.
"We had stood for something so big off the ice that nothing was going to stop us on the ice," Hensley added.
With these two signings, the Beauts have already filled out a significant potion of their roster for the upcoming season. It's uncertain at this point what Hensley's signing could mean for Amanda Leveille, a Minnesota native who's expressed her interest in returning to Buffalo.
Kessel remains the only player signed for the Riveters, while the Pride and Whale have still not signed any players for the upcoming season. Free agency began on June 1.
It's unknown at this point what the salary cap for each team will be, or what the salaries for the already-signed players are.
Stay tuned for more information and NWHL free agency coverage throughout the summer.
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