On June 10 and 11, the Buffalo Beauts held their second annual free agent camp. The two-day tryout was structured to identify players who have the potential to join the NWHL’s returning champion in its quest to reach the Isobel Cup Final for a third consecutive season.
This year’s camp held a slightly brighter ray of hope for those in attendance, as several spots on the Beauts have opened up following the announcement of the US National Team’s centralization roster. Additionally, Buffalo had signed only one player as of the start of the camp, so with 17 slots to fill, general manager and head coach Ric Seiling had a lot to look for.
Free agent camp is this weekend!
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) June 7, 2017
Assistant coach Craig Muni said that this year’s pool set is among the best he’s seen.
“I believe the camp was very productive,” Muni told FanRag Sports. “You can see the skill level of the young ladies getting better with every season. The players who set themselves apart from the pack are those with speed and hockey knowledge.”
Muni drew an optimistic comparison to the camp held last June.
“[For] an overall comparison to last year’s free agent, [this year’s] camp is very similar but there was more noticeable speed on the ice this year,” he said. “Some players stood out not only on the ice, but come with high recommendations from their college coaches. We have some tough decisions to make for the season.”
Seiling agreed, telling FRS, “It was a very productive camp.”
Overall, 23 women registered for the camp, and though a few were unable to attend, there were a few players that Buffalo fans will be familiar with. Forwards Hannah McGowan and Hayley Williams returned to Buffalo ice after they each played last season elsewhere, and goaltender Kimberly Sass has notified the team she’s interested in returning as well.
Williams was a 2016 NWHL All-Star and utility forward for the Beauts in the inaugural season, where she scored five points in 17 games. She spent the last year skating with the Brampton Thunder of the CWHL. McGowan traveled to Europe to play out the 2016-17 season, where she won the league championship with the Neuberg Highlanders. McGowan contributed six points in eight EWHL games.
The Buffalo Beauts have made a tradition of playing against Mercyhurst’s women’s hockey team as a tune-up for the regular season, and have developed a relationship with the program. After signing Mercyhurst standout Emily Janiga last year, four Mercyhurst graduates signed up for the camp. Among them were forwards Taylor Accursi and Katherine Donohue, defender Paige Horton and goaltender Julia DiTondo.
Accursi finished second in scoring for Mercyhurst, and Horton was second in points among defenders for the Pennsylvania squad. All of Horton’s points came at even strength, which is an area that Buffalo struggled in mightily in the last year. Conversely, Accursi had five power play goals – 56 percent of her overall goalscoring production. Accursi could certainly bolster an already successful Buffalo power play unit.
Two Penn State blueliners attended the camp with hopes of making the roster. Kelly Seward was an accomplished defender for the Nittany Lions, and scored 14 points in her senior season. She was joined by standout Cassie Dunne, who wore the ‘A’ for Team USA at the University Games, helping to lead the team to a bronze medal.
This year’s camp featured some notable names, with varied experiences, both professional and collegiate. When asked about the pool of players, Muni was quick to credit the development programs that exist in the area.
“We’re fortunate, as we’ve always had a high interest level in this region for the ladies to continue their hockey careers,” Muni said. “Being a border city, we always have a large number of Canadian players with interest to play in the NWHL. Winning the Isobel Cup this past season has given an endorsement and recognition for the Buffalo Beauts in the community.”
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