PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
The Premier Hockey Federation's Buffalo Beauts struggled early in the season but began to find their stride as the games went on. The late start, however, sunk them to the bottom of the standings amid tough competition.
The Beauts were frustratingly inconsistent this season. Their defensive support for goaltender Carly Jackson was severely lacking at times. They got hot at the right time as the season progressed, but how much does that matter when you flop in a single-elimination preliminary round game?
With that said, I don't want to come off too harsh! It took them a while to find their stride, but they did, over time. The outdoor Buffalo Believes Classic was undoubtedly the highlight of the season, not just for the entertainment value, but for the sheer skill they displayed against a tough Toronto Six team.
There's a lot to like about the Beauts, but it took them too long to gel when the season is so short. They were an entertaining team at times, but there is clearly a lot of room for improvement if they hope to be competitive in the PHF.
↑ Carly Jackson was always entertaining, on- and off-ice. You won't find her at the top of any of the goaltending stats, but she was absolutely the MVP for the Beauts. There were games the team had no business being in, but she kept them in. When they struggled, she did her best. When they won, she was a big part of it. Her personality also shone through on social media, throughout the season and at the All-Star Weekend.
↑ Cassidy Vinkle had a solid rookie season and is making a name for herself offensively. She recorded seven points (3G, 4A) in 19 games and led the team with 61 shots on goal. Two of her three goals were game-winning tallies.
↓ The Beauts allowed the most goals of any team (73) and scored the fewest (44). Their defense struggled at times to keep shots away from the net, and their offense was definitely missing some firepower.
↓ Looking at the larger scale of things, the Beauts have been trending down for the last three seasons. Calculating their points percentage, they've earned just 25 percent of possible points in each of the last two seasons, and 35.42 percent of points available in 2019-20. (Comparatively, they earned 71.88 percent of points available in the 2018-19 season.) Obviously, a LOT has happened in the scheme of things over the last few years to consider, but a downward trend like that is still not great on paper
The Beauts are currently owned by NLTT Ventures, LLC, along with the Minnesota Whitecaps. While I do expect at least one of those teams to change hands in the coming year or two, I don't foresee it happening this offseason. Team owners who control multiple teams have a multi-year period after which they need to divest.
After another season watching this team, it's very evident how much they think of themselves as a family. The camaraderie they showcase, especially off the ice, is huge. The impact of their personal connections with one another fuels team chemistry and can also build lifelong friendships. It's clear that they're enjoying themselves and having fun.
GM Nate Oliver often refers to the players as his friends and shares on social media about how long he's known some of them – since they were teens, even – and the energy on this team is admirable. But it hasn't translated to on-ice performance. The Beauts had a dismal record this year and have slowly fallen from an Isobel Cup-winning team to the bottom of the league, and it's a tall order to restore the team to its former glory.
With regards to the roster itself, we don't know a whole about the future, but we do know one player who won't be back. Marie-Jo Pelletier, a steady presence on the backend, recently announced her retirement at age 24 to pursue a career in nursing. She played three seasons with the Beauts from 2019-2022 and wore a letter all three years; she'll certainly be missed. It's unclear at this point if there are others who won't be returning; one example is Taylor Accursi, who was non-committal in her postseason remarks.
As a Buffalo-based writer, the other improvement I'd like to see would be a change in facility. While there are some perks to the Northtown Center, it's a decidedly outdated rink. The Beauts don't get top billing, and several games this year had to start late due to an earlier game going over its time slot, or something as simple as an ice resurfacer or rink staff not being available at the right moment. Oh, and the notorious issue across the league: the pegs of the nets came off more times than I can count!
Looking ahead to next season, the PHF Board of Governors has committed $25 million to the league over the next three years and at least some of those funds are supposed to be earmarked for facilities improvements. Hopefully, the Beauts can have a better stage to showcase their talent in 2022-23, and an improved early season start to go along with it.
(Photo: Michelle Jay/PHF)