In their inaugural season, the Buffalo Beauts struggled through the year, playing from the basement for much of the campaign. With weeks left in the season, they finally secured the third place spot and were able to do something they hadn’t done in six previous attempts – defeat the Connecticut Whale. The playoff series win propelled the team into the championship, where the Beauts were unable to keep pace with the Boston Pride. It was a fantastic story, though; from last place to the Isobel Cup final.
The opposite has been true in Buffalo’s second season. The team started well, taking points in five of their first ten games. It’s not an impressive streak, but it was good enough to put the Beauts solidly in second place.
Since Jan. 7, the reigning monarchs of the Queen City have lost five of six, with only a shootout win over the New York Riveters breaking the streak. Unsurprisingly, Buffalo’s biggest bane has been roster issues. Some were predictable; it was known when she signed that Kelley Steadman would miss time due to her commitments with Robert Morris University hockey. Some were not so easy to foresee – the unexpected retirement of defenseman Anne Schleper, and the unexplained absence of Olympic silver medalist Lisa Chesson, for example.
Buffalo’s practice players have stepped up in a big way, but the loss of a national team player and a former national team player have burned them badly in the backend. All-star Megan Bozek has been complimentary of her new partner, Kayla Parsons.
After a recent loss to the Whale which knocked the Beauts out of a home-ice advantage in the playoffs, goaltender Brianne McLaughlin said that the team can’t use the roster as an excuse. “We’ve been all over the place all year. Everyone has a different situation; we’re trying to make this work and…As far as the lineup; we’re used to that. Sometimes we have Steady, sometimes we don’t. We’ve had a couple of suspensions this year…even if it does affect us, that’s something we need to eliminate and figure out how to make it work with who we have.”
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) March 16, 2017
Head coach and general manager Ric Seiling echoed his goaltender’s statements. “We’ve had a lot of issues that have happened through the year, but getting our team together, getting them to practice together, getting them to play together, and understand what they’re doing…we need to make sure we’re finding the right combinations.”
Finding the right combinations has been the most difficult thing for the Beauts to do. With Steadman in and out of the lineup, the top line varies from game to game. This also means that the team’s most consistent line, their energy line of Harrison Browne, Kourtney Kunichika and Devon Skeats also gets split up more frequently than might be healthy for the team.
Seiling also had thoughts on this dilemma. “When I put Browne, Kunichika and Skeats together, what do I do with Buie? Corrine is a big part of this team, and we don’t want to leave her out.”
After a victory in Connecticut last weekend, Buffalo secured the third seed for the second year in a row. Their success, as limited as it has been, cannot be sustained with a lineup that is so inconsistent. Seiling is correct when he points out the importance of the team getting time together, practicing together and playing together. It is impossible for the Beauts to play as a cohesive unit on the ice if they don’t have the time to be cohesive off of the ice.
There isn’t really a simple solution to the problem; because the players can’t secure a living wage through their professional hockey career, they are forced to work in jobs that take their focus away from training and team practices. It will be interesting to see how the Beauts approach the offseason. Whether Seiling will focus on putting a team together that is more local to Western New York or will continue with the same approach they’ve taken in their first two seasons. The question is whether the same approach will have the same results.