BEAUTS READY TO DEFEND HOME ICE AGAINST PRIDE ON SATURDAY
By Nathaniel A. Oliver
There will be a reckoning in Buffalo this weekend, folks. Dec. 21 and 22 will feature one of the most significant showdowns of the 2019-20 NWHL season. The first place Boston Pride are making their initial trip to the Northtown Center where they will take on the Buffalo Beauts - who are currently second in the standings. The potential outcome of this weekend's contests will have significant implications.
Primarily, the Pride (11-0-0) are looking to remain undefeated by the time they get onto the I-90 East out of Western New York, thus improving their win streak to 13-0. The Beauts (6-4-0), on the other hand, want to become the first NWHL team to derail "The Pack" this season.
The two teams have already met three times this season, with Boston earning decisive wins of 4-2, 8-1 and 6-1 respectively. The key difference this time around is that Boston is the one entering into hostile territory, otherwise known as "Fort Beaut".
"I think we need to play 60 minutes of Beauts hockey," said Buffalo defender Lenka Čurmová. "We need to play disciplined, and use the advantage of home ice and the support of our 'Beauts blue' crowds!".
Čurmová is one of Buffalo's top blueliners, and is 3-5-8 in scoring through nine games this season.
Earning a win over Boston is by no means an easy task. Having scored 63 goals in 11 games, the Pride are averaging just shy of six goals per game. Meanwhile, the mere 19 goals they have allowed is the smallest total in the NWHL. Much of that latter note is due to the heralded goaltending of Boston netminder Lovisa Selander - the league leader in wins, goals-against average, and save percentage.
The Pride's firepower comes across as unquenchable, and their players lead in nearly every offensive stats category.
Star forward McKenna Brand is tops in the NWHL with 12 goals and 22 points in just 11 games. Original NWHLer Jillian Dempsey's 13 assists are tops too. Following Brand's 22 points, the remaining top-5 NWHL scorers are all Boston players as well - Dempsey (8-13-21), Mary Parker (10-7-17), Christina Putigna (4-12-16) and Alyssa Wohlfeiler (4-11-15) and Emily Fluke (5-10-15) who are tied for fifth.
Boston has 10 players total who have already reached double-digits in points this season. So, they are not a team that others should try to play run-and-gun with. But Boston now has to come into "Fort Beaut", which is no picnic either.
The Beauts have lost only once in their four previous home games. They also have a strong armament themselves. Beauts alternate captain Taylor Accursi's five power play goals are the most in the NWHL - three more than any player on the Pride. Beauts rookies Čurmová and Cass MacPherson each have two power play tallies of their own.
Buffalo's points lead is currently in a three-way tie shared by forwards Accursi (9-4-13) and Brooke Stacey (6-7-13), and defender Marie-Jo Pelletier (2-11-13). Stacey has yet to play an NWHL game where she hasn't recorded a point. Meanwhile, Accursi has been utterly on fire. She has gotten on the score sheet in each of the Beauts' past four games and is 7-1-8 in those contests too. The next goal that Accursi scores will be the 20th of her career.
With scoring by committee, the 34 goals that Buffalo has scored so far this season are third-most in the league.
"This weekend's games are huge for us," said Beauts forward Kim Brown. "I strongly believe we're ready to compete with the Pride. We've been working on a lot of strategy in practice that will help us. Boston is a very skilled team, but as long as we're taking care of our D-zone and limiting their offense, our opportunities will come and we're ready to capitalize."
Scoring aside, the Beauts will need their goaltenders to come up big this weekend. It will be interesting to see who Buffalo head coach Pete Perram goes starts in net for these next two games. Mariah Fujimagari has started the three previous meetings with the Pride, and holds a record of 3-4-0 with a 4.27 GAA and a.884 SV%. Veteran Beauts goalie Kelsey Neumann is currently undefeated at 3-0-0, and with the second-best GAA (2.64) and SV% (.921) in the league. However, Neumann hasn't faced a full-length Boston attack like Fujimagari has.
No matter who gets the netminding duties, Fujimagari and/or Neumann will need to give the most inspiring performance of their season to date for the Beauts to spoil Boston's spotless record.
"I think the best way to approach a team like Boston is to take it one shot at a time," said Neumann. "It's important as goalies for us to control what we can control, so we have to play in the moment and not try to look ahead for the next shot. It's also important to control our rebounds to not allow them second and third opportunities."
Saturday's game will be played at 5:30 PM (EST), while the Sunday, Dec. 22 game starts at 1:00 PM (EST). Tickets for the games can be ordered at beauts.nwhl.zone/
Photo Credits: Mike Hetzel