All-Star goaltender Amanda Leveille has become the first player to sign with the NWHL's Minnesota Whitecaps for the 2018-19 season.
The league announced the signing Monday morning, though it had been reported by the Minnesota Star-Tribune late Sunday. Leveille, a Minnesota native, returns home to help lead the NWHL's newest team.
"Having a team in the State of Hockey is fantastic for everyone – the fans, the players, the game and our league," Leveille said.
"There is a such a wealth of hockey talent in Minnesota that this team can draw from," she added. "To be a part of a new chapter in woman's hockey and to continue to grow the game is a privilege for me."
This will be Leveille's third season in the NWHL, following two seasons with the Buffalo Beauts. Leveille split time in the 2016-17 season with Brianne McLaughlin, then took the helm of her team's goaltending last season.
In the 2017-18 season, she went 13-5 with a 2.85 GAA and .908 save percentage. Leveille was also named to the league's All-Star Game, held in Minnesota, and was named best goaltender by the media.
Leveille's election to sign in Minnesota is only slightly surprising, especially considering Buffalo's signing of Olympic netminder Nicole Hensley last week. That move seemed to bump Leveille out of a starting spot with the Beauts, and Minnesota is familiar turf for her.
Off the ice, Leveille works in the Twin Cities year-round training female goaltenders with Os Hockey Training. With players having second jobs, aside from just playing in the professional league, it logically makes sense that they would try to be close to their jobs.
"As the league expands, we understand that some players may want to move due to their life away from hockey," said Beauts head coach Ric Seiling. "The Beauts and our staff thank Lev for her dedication and excellent goaltending, and we wish her success in Minnesota."
Leveille became the 12th player to sign on for the 2018-19 NWHL season, and just the second who won't be suiting up in a Beauts uniform. Olympian Amanda Kessel previously signed with the Metropolitan Riveters.
The Beauts, meanwhile, now have 10 players signed for the upcoming season. Buffalo added four more players since Thursday, including a big name in forward Kelly Babstock.
Babstock, twice an NWHL All-Star, joins the Beauts after three seasons with the Connecticut Whale. She put up 50 points (23G, 27A) in 49 regular season games with the Whale during that time, and also had four goals in five Isobel Cup playoff games.
"Next season is going to be a great one and I am excited to contribute to this organization," Babstock said. "The fan base has always been passionate, and I am excited to play in front of a great crowd."
Babstock's signing is a significant loss for the Whale, who have yet to sign any players for the upcoming season. It is conversely yet another significant gain for the Beauts, who have been steadily adding new talent over the last few weeks.
In addition to Babstock, new Beauts GM Nik Fattey also added three NWHL rookies to the roster: Julianna Iafallo, Annika Zalewski and Savannah Harmon. All three were collegiate captains -- with Ohio State, Colgate, and Clarkson, respectively -- and will bring fresh talent to Buffalo.
Iafallo, a native of Eden, New York, just about 30 minutes south of Buffalo, attended the Beauts' free agent camp earlier in the month.
Playing professional hockey near her hometown? Definitely not something she ever dreamed of when she was younger.
"Back then, it was college, and that's as far as you go," she said. "I was pumped to get the experience with DI, but now with the Beauts, it's pretty amazing that women's ice hockey is finally getting on the map."
The former Ohio State captain noted three attributes she can bring to the pro game: her hands, speed and skill.
During her time with the Buckeyes, Iafallo put up 64 points, including a whopping 27 points in her senior season. She registered 22 goals, including 12 in her last season, and 42 assists.
Overall, Iafallo appeared in 148 games for the Buckeyes over four seasons between 2014 and 2018.
"Going away for four years, to be able to play at Ohio State and get the experience out there... to come home and hopefully play in front of your friends and family would be pretty cool," she added.
Zalewski returns to Buffalo, a city she previously played in when she was younger. She previously played for the Buffalo Bisons hockey team and Nichols School.
"It's pretty special to be back here," she said. "It's nice that it's familiar and comfortable, and I have some connections in the area, so that helps."
She spent the last four years at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, where she notched 84 points, including 46 assists, in 131 games.
Thirteen of her 38 collegiate goals came on the power play, so look for Buffalo to use her in that capacity in particular. Zalewski was named captain of the Raiders in just her sophomore season and held that title for three years.
"I try to play a solid two-way game, be good defensively and make smart plays, and try to contribute offensively in any way that I can," she said, adding that she tries to "make the players around me better."
Zalewski was drafted by the Beauts in 2017, with the 14th overall pick.
Defender Savannah Harmon rounds out the newest crop of Beauts.
Harmon captained Clarkson to their second straight NCAA national championship, her second season as captain. During her four years there, she posted 113 points (30G, 83A) and a plus-131 in 160 games.
Harmon also scored the game-winning goal for Clarkson in the 2017 national championship game.
"I learned a lot over my four years about leadership, and grew as a person," she said of her time at Clarkson.
Like Iafallo and Zalewski, she also attended the Beauts' free agent camp earlier this month, and said that she can bring a new voice and a different style of play to the Beauts organization.
"I'm pretty calm," she said. "My personality and the way I play is to stay consistent, not get worried, just stay calm, not get too high or too low."
Harmon was drafted sixth overall by Buffalo in 2017. She's also quite familiar with former Beaut Meghan Duggan, who coached her for two years at Clarkson before stepping down to prepare for the Olympics.
"There's nothing bad to say about Meg," Harmon said. "I've kept in touch with her over the years. She's an awesome leader, great person and great friend. From her work ethic to what she values is unbelievable."
As of June 18, twelve players have signed on for the NWHL's fourth season, including ten players for the Buffalo Beauts.
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