Photos and Story By Janet Schultz, NYHOL
NWHL Heading to the Bubble
by Janet Schultz, NYHOL
While the NHL has managed to schedule games in their buildings with no fans and little media; the NWHL has been working for the past several months on playing a shortened season in a Bubble. They accomplished that goal and headed off to Lake Placid to play on the “Miracle” ice. Fans can watch on Twitch, put themselves in the stands in cardboard and be watch as women’s hockey takes on another historical moment in its short five years.
The Beauts held a Zoom press conference, which this writer is getting used to slowly, last week.
First among the announcements is that due to her employment commitment, Team Captain and leading scorer Taylor Accursi will be unable to head to Lake Placid.
“We will all have to step up and score goals. She is a key player but we are all going to have to deal and step up,” said Erin Gehen.
The teams will be housed on one floor of a Lake Placid hotel; food brought to them, they going directly to the arena and back to the hotel, for the entire time. The league is committed to protecting players, coaches and staff with regular testing and strict COVID protocols.
Buffalo Beauts Head Coach Pete Perram is ready, and so are the Beauts.
Looking at the roster, Perram and GM Nate Oliver have fulfilled a need to improve defense and gain depth through the draft and signings. Perram feels that the core group of players, along with the goaltending are the best in the League.
Newcomer Carly Jackson will be an important part of that core.
“I will bring confidence, trust and a solid, stable evidence back there,” said Jackson. “I am focusing on playing with new teammates and getting a rhythm going.”
The Beauts goaltending trio of Jackson with Caty Flagg and veteran Kelsey Neumann has been amazing in practice, according to Jackson.
“We have clicked and bounce ideas off each other as well as compete against each other. We are a good goaltending trio,” concluded Jackson.
With the signing of Brittany Colten the Beauts roster is set.
New Yorker’s on this year’s Beauts squad include: Forward Emma Ruggiero, in her second season with the Beauts. She played 10 of 24 games last season and was the recipient of the 2019-20 NWHL Foundation Award; Jordan Juron ( enters her fourth year with the NWHL after playing last season with the Boston Pride and previously for Buffalo in 2017-18 and 2018-19, she returned to Buffalo in November 2020 and finally Erin Gehen in her second season as a Beaut after an outstanding career with Buffalo State College and the WNYGVIH League.
The team has been together for the past six weeks in Buffalo.
“We struggled to get together, with players in Canada and the US.,” said Coach Perram.
“One of the things that shocked me the most is the intensity of practice once we did get together. We have been experiencing ups and downs, players in and out, but each practice has been top notch and players are 100 percent dedicated to the goal,” said Perram.
“I didn’t need to motivate them, they have a large compete level.”
One thing is the Beauts have gained some fans at the Border.
“Because they went back and forth so much and there is so little traffic, the Border patrol got to know them and had conversations with the players and told them that they were now fans,” said Coach.
The question is are they ready for a possible nine games in 13 days. A schedule many players have not seen unless they took part in international tournaments. (Or for Erin Gehen who played in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey League).
Alternate Captain and all-star defender Mary Jo “MJ” Pelletier explained she is mentally prepared and has been conditioning herself on and off the ice for the strenuous schedule.
“Recovery after a game will be the key element in Lake Placid,” said MJ, with Coach Perram agreeing.
“Player commitment on the recovery side is important and we have been very careful to prepare the players for that,” said Coach Perram.
“From coaching it is interesting. The league has allowed for additional players which helps us protect them. It will be 20 player rosters giving us flexibility in preparing for back to back games.
“We have been doing a lot of homework, watching video and preparing for the opposition,” he concluded.
“While the team was physically practicing in three different areas it didn’t take us long to have the chemistry fall into place when they got together on the ice in Buffalo,” explained Gehen.
“Everyone is ready for Lake Placid.”
For those of us that understand, the return of Brooke Stacey to the ice is a highlight. Brooke Stacey is returning after delivery a baby, C-section, late in the Fall.
“I am super excited to be back. It was hard to be in self-isolation due to pregnancy, but necessary. I have been on the bike five days a week and putting in a lot of effort in the gym to prepare me for practices,” said Stacey.
She was proud to announce that both Baby and Mom are doing great!
“This season has been a long time coming. We have been all training in our separate areas and are excited to get together to practice together,” said Lisa Chesson.
“Lake Placid will be a different experience. It will be special for all of us, and we will take it all in.” said Chesson.
More noticable for fans is they won’t be there. The noise from the crowd, the people walking around down near the concession stand, kids going in and out of the other arena. It will be much quieter in Lake Placid.
“I agree Buffalo is big city for fans but we will just go into the games, we will have our family and some famous people “in stands.,” said Gehen.
“It will be different but our game plan doesn’t change. We create our own momentum and we will create our own noise,” said Gehen.
This season the Beauts will be strong on the powerplay with a core of returning players and Chesson, who is a great contributor to power play. Along with that Coach feels they will move the puck fast and their communication as a team is an important factor in the play. Another strength are the rookies.
“All the rookies bring something special and are looking forward to play,” said Whitney Dove who comes into the2020-21 seasonas a rookie.
“All the players coming out of college are just happy to continue their careers and that brings something special to the teams,” said Dove.
Fans should watch for a tremendous group of leaders, including Alternate Captains Pelletier and Chesson. With that said most of the Beauts have served as captains at one time in their career which provides the team with lots of leadership.
“Plus Chesson’s international experience will also add to the season,” said Nate Oliver, general manager.
While this may be one of the most challenging seasons in NWHL history, it will also be an unforgettable one.
“We will be all together to go through it. We will say we have been down this journey together and I can say ‘I have been’ there,” said Coach Perram.
While the players are too young to remember the “Miracle on Ice,” they are not removed from it. For many they have parents who did experience it, for others they have played or at least visited Lake Placid.
“For me to be on the same bench as Herb, you can’t replace it and will be the coolest experience,” said Coach Perram.
“I started my national career in Lake Placid and you get goosebumps walking into that arena,” said Chesson.
Even this writer had the experience to walk out on the ice as a photographer when the NYS Girls High School Varsity Finals were held there. And yes, even she got emotional.
For the fans, tune into Twitch and be part of the history. The semi-finals and finals will also be covered on NBC Sports, another stride for women’s ice hockey.
For scheduling details, rosters and other news from Lake Placid, go to www.nwhl.zone.