This has been one of the most interesting seasons in women’s hockey. Less than a month into the season, the newest players in the two professional leagues have had the biggest impact on their teams. Several rookies in the NWHL and CWHL have jumped into the lineup and played huge roles in the success of their clubs, and this includes the first-year players on the Buffalo Beauts.
The team is off to a somewhat disappointing start. At 1-2-1, the Beauts are still struggling to really find their groove – concrete lines with chemistry, a good offensive system and consistent, stout defense. Despite allowing a league-high 17 goals against, the team has had surprisingly solid goaltending that is frequently hung out to dry by its teammates.
But there have been bright spots in the Beauts’ lineup. The team experienced a high turnover in the offseason, and consequently, there are several older players on the team who are considered rookies, in that they are playing in their first professional seasons.
One of these “rookies” is Olympic silver medalist Lisa Chesson. The 30-year old natural defenseman has played an important role for the Beauts so far in the team’s second campaign.
Chesson has been eying the NWHL for a while and watched last season closely. In a 2016 interview, Chesson told Today’s Slapshot, “I had been interested in playing for Buffalo all throughout last season. I went back and forth with my decision to continue playing and after speaking with some of the players and coach Seiling, the decision was easy for me.”
While she is in no way inexperienced, Chesson’s first year in the NWHL has found her playing both defense and forward as the lineup demands. Most often, Chesson is starting on defense and jumping into a forward role when the team falls behind and the coaches begin to shorten the benches. Chesson’s flexibility is a fantastic example of the leadership she brings to the team.
Though she has only two points on the season, Chesson’s contributions on the ice aren’t measured on the scoresheet. She is often paired with fellow rookie Sarah Casorso, who also bounces between defense and forward. Chesson is a calming influence on the team that has only led for 8:53 out of 245 minutes this season. The Beauts have a tendency to lose their cool in their zone. They begin to scramble, lose position and, as a result, often give up goals. Chesson takes the ice to slow things down, restart communication, and get the team back on track.
At the other end of the spectrum is Buffalo native Emily Janiga. Her homegrown fan-club can often be found in the stands waving a giant Janiga head or hanging out beneath a “Janigaville” banner. Janiga says that having the crowd on her side boosts her performance.
“It’s good to have that confidence,” she said. “It was great to have my family in the stands, and to look up and see my mom and my dad.”
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) October 10, 2016
The young center graduated Mercyhurst in 2016, when her senior year was interrupted by an injury. A year later, Janiga says she’s starting to return to proper form. “It’s good to be back in the swing of things. It was a slow summer, and I had to put some extra work in to make sure I was back and ready for the games.”
“It’s good to be back in the swing of things,” she said. “It was a slow summer, and I had to put some extra work in to make sure I was back and ready for the games.”
The extra work she put in throughout the summer has paid off. She is centering the Beauts’ top line, with Shiann Darkangelo on the left and either Corinne Buie or Kelley Steadman on the right. Janiga is thankful to be playing with such talented forwards.
“Being new to the league, they’re helping me and kind of showing me the way,” she said.
The veterans may be showing her the way, but Janiga is not taking the opportunity for granted. With two goals and one assist, she’s already been a difference-maker for Buffalo. Both of her goals have been on home ice against the Connecticut Whale, and both were important sparks for the team’s comeback attempts. Her calm demeanor both on and off the ice speak volumes about her leadership potential.
The Beauts will look to improve on their record when they come back from the break for the Four Nations Cup with a pair of games against the New York Riveters. Certainly, leaders like Janiga and Chesson will continue to play important roles in the team’s success, despite their rookie status.