The Buffalo Beauts and the New York Riveters met tonight in an Isobel Cup semi-final tie that conventional wisdom said was going to the red-white-and-blue half of New York State.
After all, the Rivs have one of the most lethal forwards in the league in Amanda Kessel, arguably the best goalie in the league this season in Katie Fitzgerald, and a truly solid roster full of quality from captain Ashley Johnston down – especially in Swiss star Janine Weber.
But the Beauts are no mean shakes themselves. Players like Shiann Darkangelo, Emily Janiga, Kelley Steadman and the ever present threat of a “Boz Blast” from one of the most feared defenders in the NWHL, Megan Bozek, meant that this game was bound to be a tight one, which would be won in a series of little battles as well as one big one.
And so the first period, that proved to be so. Beauts goalie Amanda Leveille was utterly dominant in the Buffalo net, turning away eleven shots in the first twenty minutes as she was tested by Madison Packer and Miye d’Oench, while at the other end Fitzgerald was virtually a spectator as the Beauts were unable to get any meaningful shots off against a Rivs D that did an excellent job of keeping shots away from her.
Enter Megan Bozek. The Cook County Cannon seized upon great work down low by Hayley Scamurra on the powerplay as Packer sat a cross-checking penalty to unleash a trademark howitzer of a Boz Blast through traffic at 14:47 and propel the Beauts into an early lead which they held until the first break, due in no small part to some superb stops from Leveille.
In the second period, once again, the Riveters saw much more of the offense but it was Emily Janiga who took the game by the scruff of the neck, forcing her way to the net to jam home the puck past Fitzgerald and give the Beauts a two goal lead only two minutes into the 2nd period.
The Rivs had to respond, and they did – Tatiana Rafter being credited with the final touch in a scramble in front of Leveille, who was still turning away the vastly higher number of shots NY were firing.
The Beauts, however, were taking their chances. After some strong penalty killing, the two goal lead was restored by Emily Janiga ripping a vicious wristshot from the left side of the slot bar-and-down for her second and the Beauts third, as she and Hayley Scamurra were playing together like they’d shared the same ice for years.
At the end of teh second, the shot count told one tale (24 shots to 9 in Rivs’ favour) while the score clock told another, as the Beauts led 3-1 and were 20 minutes from a return to the Isobel Cup Finals.
Janine Weber fired past Leveille only 11 seconds into the third period, however, to give NY the perfect statt and bring the Rivs back within one. The shots continued to flood in, but this couldn’t breach a hole in Buffalo’s Leveille.
Then came the moment that arguably finally broke the Rivs-the newest Beaut, Hayley Scamurra, slamming home from in front to restore the two goal advantage at 52:40.
The rest of the period saw the game go the same way as it had been all night-wave after wave of Riverters atack breaking on Leveille and the Beauts team defence. The PP counts (0/7 for NY, 1/3 for BUF) and the shot counts (12 on Fitzgerald and 36 fired at Amanda Leveille) tell their own story as to the Rivs’ dominance, but it was the team effort that won this for the Beauts.
Apart from Leveille, Hayley Scamurra’s 3pt night in only her second NWHL game (she scored a goal in her first) was crucial, as were Janiga’s two goals, but the way the Beauts played as a team bodes very well indeed for their rematch with the Boston Pride next weekend.
The Rivs, meanwhile, are left to rue what might have been, as their Isobel Cup bid foundered against a wall named Amanda Leveille. The NWHL will rarely see a better goaltending performance in the playoffs than this.