Beauts Determined to Defend the Crown with Hard Work and Heart at Home
It is often said that one of the hardest things to do in sports is to repeat as champions. In the coming days, that is exactly the challenge the Buffalo Beauts will be embarking upon. But in truth, their commitment to "Defend the Crown" began long before this week and has been the team's driving mantra from the very beginning.
Almost exactly a year ago a gritty, hard working, third place team in blue came together to defy the odds and fight their way to a historic league championship in a David versus Goliath battle that was one for the books. It was a heart-pumping run and was everything playoff hockey is supposed to be.
This year, although the cast of characters may have had a few changes, at their core the heart of the Beauts remains the same. Returning netminder and All-Star captain Amanda Leveille has been an integral element within that core, playing nearly every minute since October. "Having leaders like [Corinne] Buie, Cheese [Lisa Chesson] and others who played on last year's winning team," Leveille began, spotlighting her fellow Cup-winning teammates, "will be a huge advantage as they know what it takes to win the Isobel Cup."
The leadership and veteran presence has certainly been put to work and has been a key factor in the Beauts' success, particularly in the latter half of the season. With nine returning players from last season's championship squad the balance of old and new talent has been the ideal jigsaw of chemistry. Team captain Corinne Buie, is the league's only two time Isobel Cup winner and has made a habit of performing in clutch situations. A leader by her tireless example, she and Western New York native Hayley Scamurra have combined for over 110 shots on goal in the regular season and are nothing short of deadly, converting their efforts to a combined 24 points.
Intensifying that offensive threat are defenseman Sarah Casorso, and longest-tenured Beaut Kourtney Kunichika, standing fourth and third in league-wide assists, respectively. Logging similarly dangerous offensive contributions were rookies Maddie Elia (5 goals, 9 assists), Kristin Lewicki (5 goals, 2 assists), and Taylor Accursi (6 goals, 5 assists).
The bar is high and even the newest additions are right in step with the veterans. "Our goal is to defend that title so it is in the back of our minds," Lewicki remarked. "But I don't let that get to me or overthink it - nor do I think anyone else does on the team. We just focus on one game at a time and play together. We know the talent we have on this team and the things we can make happen."
Contributing their own exemplary skills, the Buffalo defense also boasts exceptional leadership from 2018 defensive All-Stars Sarah Edney and Lisa Chesson. The two bring a calm and collected presence to the Buffalo defense, while also being some of the only shooters to best Boson's Brittany Ott over the course of a ten round shootout earlier this year.
It may have been a slow start for a team with so much promise, and a 2-4 record to the 2017-18 season may have worried some, for Buffalo it was all just part of the process. "As a team we have come so far since October," noted Edney. "We have become more comfortable with each other, learning the habits of teammates, but most of all I think the big thing that changed for us was that we gained confidence as a team."
Lewicki concurred, "At the beginning everyone was learning their roles on the team and getting used to playing with another and how we each play the game."
"Our team has grown because we finally found our team chemistry where it's starting to come together."
And come together they have. Since the Pegula Sports and Entertainment's acquisition of the championship franchise, the Beauts have remained steadfast in their pursuit of yet another historic season, amassing a ten game win streak to close out the regular season. The timing was no accident and the Beauts have made the most of the new connection. "Since that day," Leveille began, "our entire team culture and attitude has changed for the better. Practices were changed to better times so more players could attend."
"I think performing at the highest standard is something we already were striving for," Edney asserted. "This just puts a little more emphasis on proving to our new owners that we are utilizing all the opportunities that we have available to truly attain a professional standard."
It's a feeling that is shared across the team. "Our fan base at home games have gradually increased since we were bought by PSE," added Scamurra. "I think we have a huge advantage especially this year with home ice."
The NWHL are no strangers to the City of Buffalo or the HarborCenter, having joined forces to host everything from the league's historic, inaugural game (in 2015) to the 2015-16 All Star Weekend later on that same season. But there is something to be said for the importance of a home playoff game.
"I expect our playoff game to have the most fans we've had which will help us to keep playing at our best," Scamurra continued. "We haven't been home in what seems like forever, so this weekend will be a great homecoming.
Edney agreed, "A crowd brings energy and I think that is what we are most looking forward to. The energy that comes from the HarborCenter is electric and it is especially rewarding to win for those little girls in the stands."
The 2017-18 Buffalo Beauts are one fierce group of athletes that have had a single, collective goal in mind since October - "Defend the Crown."
"We play together and play for one another," Lewicki affirmed.
With a home crowd behind them and months of hard work, practice and preparation, the sky is the limit.
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National Women's Hockey League Stories from March 14, 2018
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- Beauts Determined to Defend the Crown with Hard Work and Heart at Home