Often in sports, rivalries stem from two closely matched teams battling each other for the right to be called champion. Sometimes, rivalries play out a David versus Goliath story, where the scrappy underdog finds themselves facing a veritable juggernaut. Such is the case in the NWHL Isobel Cup Final, where the third seeded Buffalo Beauts will face the nearly unstoppable Boston Pride in an unexpected rematch of last season’s final.
The storyline leading up to the championship game is a familiar one. Buffalo overcame unfathomable odds in the playoffs to defeat a team that dominated them in the regular season. Boston demolished a lesser-than team to send a message to their next opponent, something along the lines of ‘can’t stop, won’t stop.’
For Buffalo, there was method to their madness. From the outset, the Beauts have discussed their ‘unfinished business.’
After the surprising victory over New York, Megan Bozek said the team has shifted their focus. “The past two weeks, as a team, we’ve really focused on having our out-of-town players be at practices, and making those practices worthwhile… I think it helps, to be practicing as a team, and going into those games with a little bit of a gameplan.”
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) March 18, 2017
Buffalo’s lack of consistency has been their weakness throughout the season, which something that was acknowledged by coach and general manager Ric Seiling after Buffalo’s last loss of the regular season.
“We’ve had a lot of issues that have happened through the year,” he stated, “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.”
In their final regular season game, and in their matchup against the Riveters, fans finally got a glimpse of what could have been for the Beauts throughout the season. Seiling’s signing of NCAA star Hayley Scamurra was also a revelation. She has three goals in her two games as a Beaut, and seems poised to be a star in the league next season.
Meanwhile, Boston has been doing what Boston does best: scoring at will and at the same time, suffocating opponents and nearly daring them to possess the puck.
Former Beaut and current Pride forward Meghan Duggan was asked how Boston would prepare for their matchup with Buffalo. Duggan’s response betrayed a very confident Pride approach. “The Beauts are a very physical team. They play tough, and they have a great, hard-working battle mentality. That’s how they were last year when I was on the team, and that’s how they played this year.
“The Boston Pride — for us — we’re focused on ourselves. We’ve had a lot of reasons why we’ve been successful here, and when we won that game on Thursday night, it didn’t matter who our opponent was going to be on Sunday. We will be prepared and focused on our game plan, what makes us successful.
“That doesn’t change based on opponent,” she concluded.
Boston clearly has every reason to be incredibly confident heading into the championship game. The Pride have lost only once to the Beauts in the league’s two-year history; Boston has been victorious in twelve out of the thirteen matchups, which includes last year’s Isobel Cup series.
The odds are stacked against a Buffalo team who is fairly comfortable in the underdog role. The Beauts have had some close matchups with the Pride, but they’ve also suffered a slew of very one-sided defeats at the hands of the Boston team.
Boston’s dominance over the NWHL cannot be overstated. The Pride is a supernova in a field of stars. Buffalo is certainly capable of taking it to Boston; when they are at their best, the Beauts are a fantastic balance of skill and physicality. If the team can force the Pride into mistakes, get under Boston’s skin, and succeed on the power play as they have all season, the Beauts have a shot at raising Lady Isobel’s prize.
Flowing beneath the surface of the game’s story is the current situation with the American women’s national team. The women of Team USA are fighting severe injustice, and though they have all said that they are able to keep the two situations separate, the unity shown off the ice has translated to success on the ice for the Pride, which boasts a roster heavily laden with national team players.
Boston needs to do exactly as Duggan stated — focus on themselves, and the things that have made them successful. It’s a simple approach, but it’s been proven time and time again that it works.
If the Pride can stay calm and stay out of the box, Boston will win their second straight Isobel Cup.