BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
The dictionary defines the term “free agent” as “a sports player who is not bound by a contract and so is eligible to join any team.”
This weekend saw the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts host their 2021 Free Agent Tryout Camp in the Olympic Arena of the Northtown Center at Amherst. Twenty-four women from across the United States, Canada and Europe travelled to Western New York for an opportunity to make the Beauts team.
Admittedly the odds are not in the player’s favor, considering there are only a small handful of spots open on the Buffalo roster. But hope and determination are the two factors that are a part of each player’s DNA.
For the Beauts front office and coaching staff who are observing the two days of on-ice practice and drills, the final decision of who goes or stays will not be an easy one.
What should be the final step in determining who will fill in the final roster spots available is now the first.
Thanks to the Pandemic the whole process has been reversed.
“Normally we have our draft in March or April and draft our players,” said Beauts General Manager, Nate Oliver. “Then we would go into the free agent camp and have a better idea of what your roster is going to look like.”
The Beauts do have a plan in place of building a team in Buffalo. For Oliver and the Buffalo coaching staff it is a philosophy of building the team from the back out.
“It began two seasons ago when the team began building, starting with goaltending,” stated Oliver. “Last season we continued building by focusing on defense.
“Now we’re going to be focusing on the front end of the team. That was a challenge for us last season in Lake Placid with our offense.
“This season our focus will be on building our offense. And with the upcoming draft we have scouted players, found out who is available, who are going back for their final year of eligibility and who may want to turn pro.”
Which brings us back to the free agent camp. With the camp now over with, where does the Buffalo GM see his team?
“I was really happy with the camp, although it was smaller free agent camp as compared to previous years,” responded Oliver. “I was happy with the competition we had.
“I don’t think any player looked out of place. Everyone seemed to put their best foot forward.
“There was a fair amount of experience on the ice as well. You had players that had played pro, others who played at the DI or high DIII.
“We had a pretty good array of players out there. And as I told the players on the ice after it was all over, they are going to make our jobs (GM and coaches) pretty hard.
“That’s a good problem to have.”
So where does that leave the free agents?
“I told all the players in advance and again today that we would not be offering contracts at the camp itself,” stated Oliver. “It would take a week or two after the camp for us to reevaluate our notes.
“We’ve talked to a few of the players but will not offer them any formal contracts. We will follow-up with all the players within the next couple of weeks.
“I’m of the mindset that I would like to get our roster situated early and finalized early. I like to do a lot of team building in the summer, even if it is virtual. We did that last summer.
“That’s going to help continually build our culture. In this way they will get to know each other and the staff on the team.”
And so goes the life of a free agent. The bottom line for all of them revolves around hope and determination.
That’s what got them to Western New York. They hope that’s what will keep them here as well.
Time will tell.
(Janet Schultz and NY Hockey OnLine Photo)