Buffalo Beauts wrap up ‘unfinished business’ to win first championship

Kaitlin Cimini/Today's Slapshot

Team USA’s current contract dispute with USA Hockey might have taken too much from the players given how easily the Buffalo Beauts took the wind from the Boston Pride’s sails. The NWHL’s Boston franchise, which is comprised largely of national team players, was projected to win the second Isobel Cup with ease but found itself struggling against brick wall goaltending from Brianne McLaughlin.

The Pride started the night off with strong puck possession but allowed Buffalo to quickly get on the board in the first half of the game. It wasn’t until the second half of the second period that Boston started to dominate in zone time and look like themselves, despite sending nearly 60 shots on net.

Buffalo’s main strategy against the Pride was to clog the net around McLaughlin. While McLaughlin had a staggering game in her own right — she blocked a reported 57 shots and at times even abandoned her paddle to pounce on the puck — the Beauts’ defense-first mentality worked beautifully against Boston.

“I felt great tonight,” McLaughlin said of the game, which she announced this season would be her last as a professional player. “We did what we had to do and that was just get all over ’em, block shots, be in the way, be annoying. That’s exactly what we did, so it made my job a little easier.”

While Boston plays a very sophisticated game it’s been shown time and again, both this season and last, that the team can be stymied when facing physical play and a clogged crease.

Buffalo managed to do just that and blocked at least 15 shots against, something McLaughlin jokingly (or not so jokingly) thanked her teammates for after the game. The Beauts came out in force Sunday night, following up a stellar performance against New York in Friday’s semi-final with each of them playing at the absolute top of their game to claim the trophy they almost grasped last season.

There cannot be enough said about McLaughlin’s play. She shut out the Boston Pride for 2 periods and 16 minutes and those 57 shots were no paltry number. McLaughlin very nearly had a complete shut out, had it not been for Boston’s tenacity. McLaughlin earned the Isobel Cup MVP award for her time in the crease.

“She was a brick wall tonight,” team captain Emily Pfalzer told reporters after the game, fresh from a champagne shower.

“She was incredible,” echoed teammate Harrison Browne. “Incredible. She played the best game of her career. And that was the last of her career, too, so she went out with a complete bang. I couldn’t be prouder [of her] and to end my career with somebody as great as Brianne. She’s a great teammate, great person, great goalie.”

Browne, who announced last week he would retire from women’s hockey after the season ended, was a force for Buffalo, pinning Boston players to the boards and forechecking like his life depended on it. Buffalo’s play was characterized as “annoying” by teammates, something he told reporters was his aim on the ice, going into the Final against the team that topped them in last year’s championship.

“Our whole theme this year was definitely ‘unfinished business,'” Browne said. “We had unfinished business from last year and we took care of it. We just knew we had to stay on them, not give them any space and we needed to play them hard.

“They scored two goals in the last minute or two minutes — they gave us a big run for our money. I got a little nervous but I think we played our roles and we did what we came to do. This was the most together we’ve ever been as a team. We played as winners and champions.”

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