While the two most notable teams at the NWHL All-Star Game in Buffalo were Team Pfalzer and Team Knight, there was another team, one filled with unsung heroes collaboratively focused to ensure that the Game was a success. From a dinner event to a skate with the fans, not to mention the game itself, their hard work and dedication made them equally worthy of the All-Star prestige.
Among such a group of individuals that were part of this admirable team, working tirelessly to ensure that All-Star weekend provided a positive fan experience, while ensuring that it was one defined by fun for the players, both groups able to hold tight to such memories in the future, included Buffalo Beauts blueliner Tatiana Rafter.
During the weekend, she donned many hats, as her positive outlook and upbeat personality set the tone for the jubilation to come, simultaneously embodying the meaning of teamwork. Starting on Thursday, three days before the historic faceoff, Rafter had utilized Go Pro to film footage at Buffalo’s canal side, which included a pair of young Beauts fans named Molly and Ashlyn. The result was a heartwarming promotional video about the All-Star Game.
On Saturday, Rafter was given the responsibility of allocating Go Pros to players while also going to social media to report about the exciting Skate with the Stars promotion that featured youngsters on the ice with an assortment of NWHL All-Stars. As a side note, Rafter was on ice in order to obtain footage.
Adding to such momentum was an action-packed Sunday that saw Rafter back on ice as Master of Ceremonies for the Skills Competition, also running the NWHL’s Snap account. Afterwards, Rafter did an exceptional job of providing color commentary with the head PA Announcer for the game itself. In the aftermath of the game, she had the privilege of interviewing Game MVP (and Beauts teammate) Kelley Steadman, which served as the final piece for the online stream.
“I feel truly blessed for the opportunity to have been so involved in the inaugural NWHL all-star weekend. The league granted me the role of MC’ing the skills-competition from ice level as well as doing color for the live broadcast of the All-Star game itself. I was a bit nervous to switch out of my usual identity as a player but the girls and NWHL staff really made my job easy.
It was a particularly humbling experience since I was able to see the hard work all the NWHL staff puts in behind the scenes. Without the commissioner’s vision, our GMs effort, coaches time and interns dedication, our dream to play pro hockey wouldn’t be possible. Personally, after MC’ing the inaugural all-star weekend, it brought to light more than ever that we are all a part of something special because we are not only living our dream but representing the future of the next generation. This season really does extend above and beyond us.”
In serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the All-Star Skills Competition, it was an opportunity for Beauts fans, and subsequently, NWHL fans, an opportunity to appreciate Rafter in a new perspective. With her effervescence and magnetic smile, her love of the game was evident. As a side note, the NWHL deserves to be applauded for allowing one of its players to engage in such a role, truly adding to the sense of accomplishment and belonging that have served as one of the league’s trademarks.
During the Skills Competition, there was no shortage of humor. From Team Pfalzer goaltender Brittany Ott receiving a pie in the face, a staple prank in baseball, to Team Knight forward (and fellow Canadian) Kaleigh Fratkin donning a fuzzy yellow chicken head, fun emerged as a key theme. With the chance to interview players on the ice as MC, it was only natural that Rafter would converse with Fratkin. In asking Rafter if it was one of the highlights of the competition, she replied,
“In a word, hilarious. I saw this chicken on skates and thought immediately – I HAVE to interview Fratty. I actually ended up returning the Chicken head back to DC Costumes yesterday in Buffalo for the Whale. When I talked to Fratty, I asked why a chicken head? She mentioned to me that the store had a buffalo head also but that might be a little controversial! That’s one for the All-Star books for sure.”
While the NWHL All-Star Game allowed Rafter her first experience as a broadcaster, one where she shined, there was a remarkable display of professionalism. Remaining neutral throughout the broadcast, there was still an inner feeling of pride to see her Beauts teammates grace the ice and make history.
Among the historic events that involved the Beauts in the game itself, Devon Skeats of Team Pfalzer became the first Canadian to score a goal in the NWHL All-Star Game. Kelley Steadman, who has already made history by scoring the first goal in Beauts franchise history, assembled a solid two-goal performance, endearing her to the ecstatic home crowd. Earning Game MVP honors, Steadman added another chapter to her growing sports legend in Buffalo.
In addition, Hayley Williams, one of four players that earned the opportunity to play through an online vote was another Beauts player that added her name to the score sheet.
The fact that Rafter was part of the broadcast booth was fitting as it added another strong feeling of Beauts pride to the event. The fact that Rafter got to grace the ice for a team photo with all the Beauts All-Stars was a great show of respect and gratitude for her hard work throughout the entire weekend,
“It was hard not to go wild on the live broadcast when Steady, Williams and Skeats scored throughout the all-star game! I am very proud of my teammates and it is very special to me that I got to share this weekend with them.
What I am most proud of my teammates for is that they represented our "home town" well. The reason Buffalo has maintained a strong fan base through the organizations ups and downs is because the girls aren’t just talented athletes, they are valuable people.”
For sports fans who facetiously comment about a Buffalo sports curse (notably due to the city’s Super Bowl frustrations and infamous Stanley Cup outcomes), they have yet to see the empowering impact of the Buffalo Beauts. Accomplished, strong women such as Rafter, Steadman and the remainder of the Beauts roster have added an empowering ray of sunshine to the Queen City, subsequently becoming sporting role models for Western New York’s young athletes.
Considering that Buffalo once had a professional women’s soccer team (dubbed the Western New York Flash) which featured Christine Sinclair and Marta leading the club to a league championship, along with Kathryn Smith recently joining the Buffalo Bills coaching staff, the amazing contributions of women to the city’s sporting scene has been nothing short of inspiring.
There is no question that the superlative efforts of the Beauts and the rest of the NWHL players, coaches and staff for the inaugural All-Star Game has only added to such remarkable momentum. Providing a lifetime of memories for fans, players and volunteers alike, it was a milestone-filled weekend for a jubilant Rafter that she hopes has a positive impact for seasons to come,
“The NWHL’s all star weekend was such a historic event in terms of growing the game so overall it will stick out to me that I helped build the foundation of women’s professional hockey. I hope that the girls growing up playing hockey will have the chance to play hockey as a career instead of a part-time job.
From the actual weekend, my favorite part of the weekend was getting to know players from other teams. I think it will add an interesting element to the rest of the year, facing off against some familiar faces. It really did bring the founding four closer together.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Tatiana Rafter