Melissa Burgess

NWHL: Buffalo Beauts Make Coaching Change

The Buffalo Beauts shook things up in the world of the National Women's Hockey League, announcing that the team had relieved both head coach Ric Seiling and assistant coach Craig Muni of their duties less than 24 hours before the Beauts were set to host the Connecticut Whale.

It was a surprising move by the Beauts, who were 3-3 on the season in NWHL action. Buffalo had been off from league action for several weeks but had just wrapped up a four-game series against Team Russia; they lost three of those.

Seiling had served in a coaching role with the Beauts since their inaugural season, and both he and Muni won the Isobel Cup with the team in its second season.

Since 2015, the Beauts were 26-26-4-1 with Seiling behind the bench.

General manager Nik Fattey named Buffalo Sabres alumni Cody McCormick the team's interim head coach. Fattey will serve as interim assistant coach.

"It was a hockey decision we made," Fattey said, "with the idea that the season in front of us is big and important. We made a decision and we're going with it."

For a team stacked with talent like Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley in net, Emily Pfalzer and Blake Bolden on the blueline, and skaters like Kelly Babstock, Hayley Scamurra and Maddie Elia, the Beauts' record so far this season just wasn't meeting expectations.

"We have world-class players," Fattey added. "If we're 3-3, that's not where we need to be. They know the expectations are there... Maybe trying something new, having Cody's freshness and ideas and systems will be really great."

On paper, McCormick seems like an odd choice. He has no experience coaching professional hockey, let alone women's professional hockey, making many NWHL fans nervous (see: Randy Velischek and the Metropolitan Riveters this season). It also means that Ronda Engelhardt remains the only female in a head coaching role in the NWHL, a position she shares with Jack Brodt.

However, McCormick is familiar with the Beauts already, as he's been working with the team as a skills coach for several weeks and in his duties at the Academy of Hockey at HARBORCENTER, the Beauts' home rink.

Beauts fans will have to wait a bit longer to see just what he'll do behind the bench in Buffalo, however. McCormick was not behind the bench for the Beauts game on Saturday, as he had a prior commitment in his work with the local Indigenous community, but he did speak to the team after being named to the coaching position.

Regardless of who's behind the bench, the end goal, as always, is about winning a championship.

"We're a pro hockey team, so we're always evaluating. Last season, went on a good run and lost the Final in an electric building in New York. We look at it this year, we're gunning for first place in the hopes of a Final in Buffalo," Fattey said. "Every game, you want to win."

The Beauts still have much of the season ahead of them, with each game important in the overall NWHL standings and playoff positioning.

For the time being, both McCormick and Fattey are interim in their coaching roles. As for whether or not things could become long-term, or if the Beauts could look to other pro coaches like Shannon Miller, who recently stepped down from the CWHL's Calgary Inferno, it remains to be seen.

"We're going to be visiting those topics in the future," Fattey said, adding that the team will do a coaching search and determine a long-term solution as the season goes on.

The Beauts won 3-1 on Saturday with Fattey behind the bench, but now face several weeks off before they return to action on December 29. It's expected that the next few weeks will give McCormick time to put some of his systems in place and get in a few regular practices with the Beauts before they host the Minnesota Whitecaps.

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