The playoff brackets are set for the Buffalo Beauts and the NWHL, but there’s still one more weekend of games left to play. With the Beauts still struggling, this weekend’s games against the Metropolitan Riveters could serve as preparation for a playoff surge. Victory Press and women’s hockey reporter Melissa Burgess spoke with WBFO’s Nick Lippa about how the Beauts can improve and the year in review for the NWHL.
Only one last weekend before the playoffs Melissa.
Melissa Burgess: Yes. So they do play two more games, but at this point, we know everything for the playoffs. The standings cannot change. The Beauts will finish fourth in the NWHL which sets them up for a play in game to make the playoffs. But of course before we get to that they still have this final weekend with a pair of games against the Riveters.
You're going up against the Riveters. What can you take away from this game? A lot of people might look at it as is it meaningless? Or is it something where the Beauts can use this game to prepare for the playoffs?
MB: I think that's exactly what you do. You use it to prepare for the playoffs. You can test out some different line combinations or some different power play units because like we said, these games are really meaningless, but there's plenty of chance to get meaning out of them. See what your goaltending is like. Mariah Fujimagari has been hurt for a little while. She hasn't been able to play. She's supposed to be 100% ready for this weekend. So maybe you get her back in even just one game, get her fresh. See how she's doing so she's not coming into playoffs off of a break.
Coming in to this game, what would you say is one thing the Beauts really want to focus in on? You mentioned goaltending, but is there something else? They’ve had a couple of rough third periods recently. What should they be focusing on this weekend?
MB: Overall, just playing a 60 minute game. That's something that they really struggled with this past weekend against the Minnesota Whitecaps (this past) Saturday. They played probably a good 30 minutes and then just kind of fell apart. Sunday, they played a great first period, they were tied 2-2 after 20 minutes. And then they gave up six goals in the second period. And it just obviously fell from there and that's really hard to come back from. So starting off strong is always good, but they've really got to focus on playing strong throughout the 60 minutes. And if they do go down by a goal, not just completely falling apart from there.
So this wraps up the Buffalo Beauts regular season. What would we say stands out about this year of Buffalo Beauts hockey?
MB: Well one of the one of the things that definitely stands out is that the Beauts had quite the losing stand toward the end of the season here. They've lost 11 of their last 12 games. Obviously that's not ideal. That's really tough and it's hard to go into the end of the regular season in the playoffs on that kind of skid. But are there players who stood out in a good way? Yes. Taylor Accursi was great. Tiffany Hsu and Kelsey Neumann were both pleasant surprises in net. You've got some strong up and comers all across the board. Marie-Jo Pelletier on defense. So I think there's a lot of potential there. And those players can really ramp it up for the playoffs and we'll see what they can do.
We will go into this weekend. We'll see what happens. How about the NWHL as a whole. We're talking about this year in review, very uncertain heading into the year, but a couple of positives for the league as we head into this playoff stretch.
MB: I think after the whole thing that happened last year where the CWHL folded, all these players said they were going to sit out, the PWHPA was created. There was a lot of uncertainty for the NWHL going into this season. The question was, is there even going to be a season? So the fact that there has been a season, there has been bodies in the seats, there's X number of players who were being paid to get to play hockey. That's a big accomplishment and of itself given the rest of what's happening in women's hockey. And I think it's also been pleasant to see some of these players step in where you may not have seen Marie-Jo Pelletier. She's new to the league. Would we have seen her come to the NWHL if all those players hadn't stepped away? Who knows. But it's been a pleasant surprise.
We also have twitch as far as the platform. Melissa, I'd like to hear your year in review of Twitch and how has that been as a platform for the NWHL?
MB: I think overall it's been a really nice platform. At first, I was kind of skeptical about it. I didn't know a lot about it. It really seemed more gaming thing. But they've definitely found ways to succeed. And I think in the first year of this partnership, it's a building partnership. They created this open ice weekly show that airs on Monday nights. There's a famous gamer, who hosts and each week there's a different player that comes on and it's just kind of a neat way to interact with fans outside of the game itself. So taking advantage of the platform like that is really neat. And hopefully they'll do more like that in the future. But again, it's year one. So obviously, you know, they've got to explore what the platform has. But they've definitely had a great viewership. They say something like 6 million views for the open ice shows. Personally, I'm a little skeptical to use those numbers because what counts as a view and you know, if I refresh the page, because it's not working, then I count as a second view. So I think we can take that into consideration, but there's definitely room for improvement and I'm excited to see what they can do in the future.
The viewing platform of Twitch-- something that will be interesting to see how that progresses, but we are talking about progressing. It looks like the NWHL, we said it before, it's going to last more than a year. But it looks like it's doing okay. The worst case scenario for the NWHL didn't happen this year. Is that fair to say?
MB: I think that's fair to say. You know, I think a lot of people expected that worst case scenario with all those players not coming back. And notable players. Big name players. Olympians. Many people did expect the NWHL to falter. Has it had its ups and downs this season? Absolutely. But of course that comes any season and it is still only year five. And I think that that's something that even myself, I tend to forget that five years is still not a long time. I remember a few years ago at the CWHL All Star game, this was their tenth year or something like that. The commissioner said we're a fledgling league. We’re young. We’re still learning to crawl, and that was in year 10. I think about that quote a lot in terms of the NWHL and while there's definitely things to strive for and things to work for next year in the year ahead, including expansion, which they've mentioned as a goal in the future. We need to keep in mind that it is a young league and there is still going to be some growing pains.
One of the positives, there's been some collegiate players that are signing with some NWHL teams. And that was a bit of a question mark right there is how is that going to work heading into the end of the collegiate season for some women hockey players.
MB: This week we've seen a few signings. The Beauts have not announced any signings yet, but I expect that they will. The roster freeze went into effect Monday afternoon. So you did see a few players sign with other teams from like Sacred Heart and some of those other teams whose collegiate seasons has ended. And of course, next week, the CHA college season ends. So you could see more players come out of there and sign for the playoffs. There's definitively potential for those players to make an impact. Hayley Scamurra signed in that kind of situation with Beauts a few years ago and then just absolutely dominated.
There’s a sense of the unknown as we head into the playoffs and we're going to have much more next week to talk about with the playoff preview.
You can follow Burgess on Twitter @_MelissaBurgess for NWHL updates.
Read Burgess' work here at Victory Press.