Rematch of 2019 Isobel Cup Final Arrives Saturday Night
By Nathaniel A. Oliver
This weekend will be the first time since the 2019 Isobel Cup Final that the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps will face one another. As you might imagine, the anticipation among the players for this meeting between the two teams is intense.
"I’m really excited for this weekend because of the history and rivalry between Buffalo and Minnesota," said third-year Beauts forward Taylor Accursi. "So this weekend will definitely kick-off another great pair of exciting games between us."
Buffalo and Minnesota will square off twice this weekend — on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1:00 PM. Both games will be played in the Northtown Center, or what is more affectionately known as "Fort Beaut". Tickets for the games and all future Beauts home games can be purchased here.
Both contests are critical in the battle for earning home-ice advantage come playoff time. The Beauts (3-3-1-0) and the Whitecaps (3-2-0-1) sit in second and third place respectively in the NWHL standings, and their records are nearly identical. They face each other five times total this season, so this weekend presents a unique opportunity to set a tone in the season series.
“These next two games against Minnesota are very important," said Beauts forward-defender Ashley Birdsall. "There are four points up for grab, and those are four points we want — especially playing at home. We’re working hard in practice this week in preparation for the upcoming games. It will be our first time playing Minnesota this year, so it’s always a little difficult to know what to expect entirely. However, focusing on strong defensive-zone play against this team will benefit us. Also, producing as many shots as possible against a solid Minnesota goaltender will be key — when in doubt always shoot the puck and create traffic in front of the net."
Much like last season, Minnesota's Jonna Curtis and Amanda Boulier are near the top of the stats columns. Boulier (1-9-10) is the second-leading scorer among NWHL defenders, and her nine helpers are tied for second in the league among all skaters. Curtis (5-4-9) is tied for third league-wide in goals scored and has more than lived up to expectations in her second year in the league following her NWHL Newcomer of the Year-winning campaign in 2018-19.
Curtis and Boulier are joined by a pair of talented rookies in forward Nicole Schammel (4-5-9) and defender Sydney Baldwin (4-5-9). Both Schammel and Baldwin are making legitimate cases of their own for the 2019-20 Newcomer of the Year Award by the performances they each have generated. Minnesota's 25 goals scored as a team is second only to the Boston Pride's 42. There are 10 different Whitecaps to have tallied a goal this season.
Of course, the Whitecaps also have the reigning Goaltender of the Year in two-time Isobel Cup champion and former Buffalo Beauts netminder Amanda Leveille. Through the club's first six games of the season, Leveille has handled all of the Whitecaps' goaltending duties. She currently boasts a .909 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average.
Fans across the NWHL are hoping for a first-time battle between longtime friends and former goalie partners Leveille and Beauts goalie Kelsey Neumann.
Neumann is fresh off of earning NWHL Player of the Week honors after her 41-save performance against the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 17. Fellow Beauts goalie Mariah Fujimagari faced 42 shots of her own from the Boston Pride on Nov. 16, and turned aside 36 of them in a 6-1 loss. Head coach Pete Perram has split the goaltending duties between Fujimagari and Neumann in the past two weekends when the team has played.
The top scoring line for Buffalo has been slightly tweaked, but it has remained potent. Cassidy MacPherson has continued to center left-winger Brooke Stacey. Perram has swapped his right-wingers though — former linemate Iveta Klimášová has now been partnered with team captain Corinne Buie and alternate captain Accursi on the first line, while Erin Gehen has joined MacPherson and Stacey. The line of Stacey-MacPherson-Gehen accounted for six points in Buffalo's Nov. 16/17 weekend showings.
Stacey has remained the Beauts most dangerous scorer all season long. She has 11 points (6-5-11) in seven games, and has yet to play an NWHL game where she hasn't recorded a point. Those 11 points have Stacey tied for fourth across the league, while her six goals are second only to Boston's McKenna Brand.
Buffalo's top defense pairing has also been their best offensively as well. The combination of Lenka Čurmová and alternate captain MJ Pelletier keeps opposing skaters on their toes in both zones. Čurmová (3-3-6 in 6 games) and Pelletier (2-5-7 in 7 games) are both averaging a point per game as blueliners.
These games this weekend are going to be a big test for us," said Beauts defender Ana Orzechowski. "We’ve only played Connecticut and Boston. We’re second in the league at the moment, so we want to keep this momentum going. We’re so excited to get the chance to play Minnesota coming off of a split this past weekend because not only is our morale and positivity at an all-time high, but so is our tight knitted closeness as a team and a family."
Photo Credits: Mike Hetzel, Bryan Johnson