Every NWHL team has lost at least a few special players this offseason, and the Beauts are no exception. The roster of the defending Isobel Cup Champions has undergone a dramatic transformation this offseason. Megan Bozek and Emily Pfalzer will both be preparing for the Olympics with the United States women’s national team. For the past two years, that duo has been the foundation of the Beauts. They’ve also helped to shape the team’s identity.
There’s no replacing players like Bozek and Pfalzer, but general manager and co-coach Ric Seiling had to do something. His solution appears to be bringing back veteran Lisa Chesson for a second season. That may come as a surprise to some Beauts fans because Chesson played in just seven games in the 2016-17 season.
Chesson may not have many NWHL games under her belt, but she has plenty of experience playing women’s hockey at an elite level. After her impressive career at Ohio State she won a silver medal with the United States at the 2010 Olympics. Chesson has also won two golds and one silver medal at the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
The Beauts lost a lot of leadership this offseason because of retirements, free agency and centralization. Chesson is now the oldest and most experienced player on the roster, which holds a great deal of value for Buffalo. The Beauts will have at least six rookies in the lineup next season. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kourtney Kunichika and Chesson emerge as the core of Buffalo’s new leadership group.
“With the talents and compete level of Chesson and Kunichika returning, they will no doubt bring the attitude that they have something to prove and that the Isobel Cup was no fluke,” Seiling shared in a league press release. “Their leadership and experience will benefit all of our new players.”
But there’s a lot more to Chesson than intangibles. She’s an elite defender, and Seiling and her Beauts teammates know it.
When Chesson was in the Beauts lineup last season she was a game changer. Frequently paired with Bozek, she had three assists in seven regular season games in the regular season. Because of her limited number of games, NWHL fans didn’t get to see the pair together often, but it may have been one of the best shutdown pairs in women’s hockey.
When the Isobel Cup Playoffs arrived Chesson was one of the Beauts who took her game to another level against the Riveters and Pride. She ate up a ton of minutes against faster, more talented teams and contributed to both upset victories.
— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) July 16, 2017
Chesson may have lost some of the quickness that made her a standout when she played with the Buckeyes, but she’s still a strong skater. She’s played enough to know how to conserve her energy and when to empty her tank at the end of a shift to make something special happen. Chesson’s production last season was solid, but she’s capable of much more. And there’s a good chance we’ll see that next season if she sees more time on the power play.
The big question for the Beauts will be how often Chesson is able to play next season. Chesson’s out-of-state job and obligation to the AAA Blue Jackets essentially made her a of a part-time player. Whether or not things will be different for the 2017-18 season remains to be seen.
“I think one of the biggest challenges women face, especially now in the NWHL, is balancing full-time training with a full-time job,” Chesson shared in an interview with I Want Her Job last September. “Most players will have separate jobs, so it’s finding that time to train and be at your best when you have another commitment that also needs your best.”
The Beauts will also look to Jordyn Burns and Sarah Casorso to step into larger roles on the blue line. Along with Chesson they’re the new core of Buffalo’s defense. But make no mistake, Buffalo will be a different team with Chesson on the ice. She’s the best puck-moving defender on the team. Her composure with the puck on her stick will be critical for the Beauts.