One of the key objectives in the formation of the NWHL involved its role as a responsible corporate citizen, looking to give back to the community in the hope of betterment. In the league’s second week, such an initiative took place at HarborCentre as the Buffalo Beauts hosted the Connecticut Whale.
Raising funds for Stride for the Cure, the Beauts were donned in very sharp looking black jerseys with pink and white trim. Produced by Pop Top Sports, the jerseys were signed and auctioned off after the game, with proceeds going towards breast cancer research.
The day before the game, several Beauts players participated in the Strides for the Cancer Walk, held at Canalside on Buffalo’s Prime Street. Among them were the likes of Shelby Bram, Hailey Browne, Paige Marie Harrington, Kelly McDonald, Hannah McGowan, Brianne McLaughlin, Tatiana Rafter, and Hayley Williams. In recognition of such a noble cause, Rich Cleland, the CEO of Erie County Medical Centre participated in the ceremonial faceoff. Many players took to social media to highlight the cause, recognizing family members who have been affected by cancer.
Beauts goaltender Brianne McLaughlin showed her support in an even more unique way, as she had a streak of pink among her long blonde hair. As a side note, the Beauts’ first-ever draft pick, Buffalo native Emily Janiga, currently a star with the Mercyhurst Lakers, was also in attendance.
After the puck drop, both teams were locked in a defensive stalemate for several minutes. The Whale would draw first blood as Alyssa Wohlfeiler scored on McLaughlin. Earning the assist was Lindsay Berman as said goal was scored with 15:50 remaining in the first.
Despite the lead, the Whale struggled to protect it as consecutive penalties were issued. Whale superstar Kelli Stack was sent to the penalty box, followed by Wohlfeiler, who was called for hooking. Ironically, the Beauts would tie the score while they were short-handed.
Team USA’s captain, Meghan Duggan logged her first career goal for the Beauts with 3:48 remaining. Earning the assist was Kelley Steadman, who scored the first goal for the Beauts (and also got its first penalty) a week before.
In the second period, both teams were eager to get the lead. Emily Pfalzer, whose grandmother suffered from cancer, played with an even stronger sense of purpose. With a sliding block on a Whale pass, she was one of the Beauts’ unsung heroes in a hard fought game.
Sam Faber, a charter member of the Boston Blades would break the deadlock, providing the Whale with the lead once again. Assisting on the goal was Kaleigh Fratkin, the first-ever Canadian born player signed to an NWHL contract. Said goal would prove to be the only one scored during the second, as Buffalo faced a 1-goal deficit.
The third period saw the Whale encounter frequent penalty problems. From Micaela Long called for hooking to Fratkin called for elbowing, the Beauts had many opportunities to tie the score, but goaltender Chelsea Laden provided a solid performance in her pro debut.
Of note, it would be the Whale that would capitalize on the power play. With Tatiana Rafter sent to the penalty box with 9:08 left, Kate Buesser scored with the assist credited to Fratkin. Extending their lead to two goals, the Whale was within reach of winning their second consecutive game.
Refusing to give up, the Beauts showed resolve as they trimmed the Whale’s lead back to one goal. With 2:59 remaining, Kelley Steadman scored a goal in her second consecutive game, as the assists were credited to Meghan Duggan and Shelby Bram.
Molly Engstrom, who played with Duggan on Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, nullified the Beauts’ efforts by scoring her first career NWHL goal. A long-time blueliner with the Brampton Thunder who appeared in two Clarkson Cup championship games, Engstrom’s goal was nothing short of timely, as Kelli Stack earned the assist. An empty net goal would result in a 5-2 final for the Whale as the Beauts shall have to wait another week for the first win in franchise history.
The true victory was the great role that the NWHL and the Beauts played in raising money for breast cancer research. Recent years have seen tremendous hockey humanitarian causes from women’s teams at numerous levels.
Donning special edition jerseys, including the trademark pink jersey at numerous Pink at the Rink initiatives, to camouflage style jerseys for military fund raisers and the autism puzzle logo that adorns jerseys for autism research, the women of hockey have worked tirelessly to raise awareness to such important causes. To see such compassion continue at the professional level in the United States sets a positive example, raising the morale of those affected in the community.