Among the signature events on the PHF calendar, the Buffalo Believes Classic combines the outdoor elements with the essence of competition, creating a compelling showcase. As outdoor games have gone from novelty to staple, the emergence of the Classic provides an exciting facet to the PHF’s unfolding narrative.
First contested on December 28, 2019, a defining moment during the league’s fifth anniversary season, marking its first ever outdoor game, Taylor Accursi scored all four Buffalo goals in a 7-4 loss to the Metropolitan Riveters.
Returning on February 21, 2022, an ideal way to put behind the pandemic woes while establishing a new tradition in Western New York’s sporting landscape, the Beauts emerged victorious.
Defeating the Toronto Six in a 3-0 final, as Carly Jackson earned her first career shutout, Claudia Kepler scored the game winning tally. Dominique Kremer and Autumn MacDougall added their names to the scoresheet, garbed in beautiful powder blue retro jerseys. Adorned by white stars throughout the shoulders, with the words Buffalo Beauts in university font on the front, it represents a stylish homage to the Buffalo Bisons 1932 jersey.
Before 2022 expired, the third edition of the Buffalo Believes Classic provided an enjoyable start to the holiday season. Hosted on December 16 at Buffalo’s RiverWorks, a waterfront complex allowing for a view of the Queen City’s skyline, plus the return of the powder blue retro jerseys, provided a visual feast. As a side note, the following day saw the Beauts introduce Autism Acceptance jerseys.
Returning to such a grand stage, the third edition of the Classic took on a more monumental meaning for Kremer. Inheriting the team captaincy from Marie-Jo Pelletier, the increased responsibility has translated into a greater appreciation for the team. With profound perspective, praising the enthusiasm of the highly loyal fan base, this latest Classic served as a seminal moment for the proud captain.
“The level of support we get from our fans at the ‘Buffalo Believes Classic’ is unmatched in any of our other games. The fans help make the whole atmosphere electric and the environment all the more fun. Their constant cheering really puts the ‘believe’ in ‘Buffalo Believes Classic’. It is because of them that there is an unprecedented feeling of Buffalo pride during our outdoor game.
While I have only participated in the ‘Buffalo Believes Classic’ once before, being the captain this year made it all the more special. I take a lot of ownership in trying to embody our Beauts’ culture, and I found it even more important in the outdoor game to instill that mentality within the team. I have been blessed throughout my life to experience a myriad of incredible hockey moments, but being a captain for the Buffalo Beauts – for the ‘Buffalo Believes Classic’ and beyond – is definitely at the top of the list.”
Welcoming back the Toronto Six, certainly a key benefit of the Classic allows for building the promising rivalry between the two franchises.
Among the many unique storylines involved goaltending as Carly Jackson stood between the pipes once again, although on the opposite side of the rink. Wearing the paraphernalia of the Six, she was not the only player to switch sides in this budding rivalry. Having signed the most lucrative contract in league history, Mikyla Grant-Mentis departed Toronto, returning to the franchise she began her career with.
Another high profile free agent also enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the third Classic. With an accomplished career that saw her previously play in New York State, wearing the green and gold of the Clarkson Golden Knights in Potsdam, Kassidy Sauvé spent last season with Finland’s HPK club.
Gaining the start for the Beauts, Sauvé’s inaugural season for the franchise allowed for the unique milestone of the first outdoor game in her career. Marking an exciting highlight, the image of the gregarious goaltender wearing a toque, complete with obligatory pom pom, allowed for one of the most poignant images from the Classic.
Although Sauvéand the Beauts were on the opposite end of a hard-fought 2–1 final, a respectable 28 save performance provided an opportunity to remain competitive. Reflecting on the magnitude of the game, rekindling memories of many youthful moments honing her skills in the rustic chill, feelings of enjoyment and fulfillment rejuvenated Sauvé.
“Playing in my first outdoor game was a really nostalgic experience. When I was younger, I spent so much time on the outdoor rink playing hockey with my friends and this took me right back to those days. It helped to remind me that hockey is supposed to be fun and it is even better when you are surrounded by the best teammates and fans.”
While Carly Jackson became the first goaltender to appear in back-to-back Classics, Kepler added to the theme of history. Scoring in the second period, spoiling Jackson’s bid for a shutout, it provided the native of Verona, Wisconsin with her own exciting first.
Scoring a goal in back-to-back Classics, assuring a celebrated place in franchise lore, Kepler’s historic achievement stands as a significant point of pride. Recognized with Third Star of the Game honors, she followed it up the day after with another goal versus the Six, a rematch at HarborCenter for autism awareness, which also saw Kremer add her name to the scoresheet.
With a hockey odyssey that has taken her to competition in China and Sweden, Kepler is quickly making a name for herself in New York State. Running parallel to her playing endeavors, serving in a coaching role at Syracuse University, Kepler is among the Beauts most consistent forwards.
Destined to become one of the defining moments in her Beauts career, Kepler’s heroics in the Classic already provide an element of residual warmth. Contributing towards an event poised to grow in stature and popularity, the sense of achievement is only eclipsed by the experience of pure enjoyment.
“Playing in the ‘Buffalo Believes Classic’ is something I think we will all remember when looking back at our careers. The atmosphere of an outdoor game is electric, and it heightens every emotion you feel during a game. Scoring during both of those games is something I will always remember, because it was so fun to celebrate with my teammates and to compete hard for something together at such an exciting event.’
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated“
Images by Mike Hetzel Photography