Monday, 9 May 2016

Buffalo Beauts bring back two significant leaders for promising second season

Having appeared in the inaugural Isobel Cup finals, the Buffalo Beauts were the NWHL’s Cinderella team. Despite a third-place finish, the club continued to work hard as the season progressed, gaining the admiration of their devoted fans, subsequently developing a stronger chemistry that paid dividends in the playoffs.
 
With a solid draft class from 2015 eligible to compete, the Beauts are determined to build on their solid season and lay the foundation towards contender status in 2016-17. With unrestricted free agency poised to alter the landscape of the NWHL, the Beauts managed to retain two of their top talents, setting a positive tone.
 
Undoubtedly, the most influential player on the Beauts roster for 2015-16, Kelley Steadman has signed another one-year contract with the club worth $15,000 USD. Considering her impact with the club during the season, becoming the league’s Cinderella Story, the dollar amount seems surprisingly low, as she was worthy of a $20,000 contract.
 
One element that is assured in the contract is that Steadman shall no longer be classified as a practice player. Despite her status as a Most Valuable Player in College Hockey America and her gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, she was a practice player during the Beauts’ inaugural season. As a side note, Steadman becomes the first practice player from last season to sign a contract.
 
Steadman proved to be the feel-good story of the NWHL season, leaving her mark not just on Beauts history but the league as well. During the league’s opening day, many of the Beauts’ Canadian-born players were inactive due to work visa issues. Propelled into the starting lineup, Steadman would score the first goal in franchise history.
 
Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Steadman logged the first goal in the history of the NWHL All-Star Game, which was hosted in Buffalo. In the postseason, Steadman would continue her magic, logging the club’s first playoff goal in a 4-1 win against the Connecticut Whale, where she was recognized as the First Star of the Game. She would continue to add to her legacy by scoring Buffalo’s first-ever goal in the Isobel Cup finals.
 
Appearing in only 10 regular season games, Steadman led the team in scoring with 20 points, three points ahead of Kourtney Kunichika. With an average of 2 points per game, it paced all skaters in league play, including scoring champion Hilary Knight. Had Steadman played a full season, she may have eclipsed Knight in the race for the top scorer.
 
Steadman’s astounding 13 goals were four better than Kunichika and Devon Skeats, who led all Canadian born skaters in points. Steadman’s five power play goals and two short-handed goals were also team highs. In addition, she led the Beauts with 78 shots, while Megan Bozek ranked second with 62.
 
Returning to the fold with Steadman is sensational Shelby Bram. Having also agreed to a one-year, $15,000 contract, her work ethic and team-first approach contributed a positive attitude throughout the locker room. It was no surprise that when the team captains were named, Bram was bestowed the honor of serving as assistant captain. Along with Megan Bozek, Meghan Duggan and Brianne McLaughlin, they formed the team’s leadership core.
 
Like Steadman, Bram also played with the Mercyhurst Lakers in College Hockey America and has also experienced her share of international hockey. Prior to the Beauts home opener, she made history as the first player signed to an NWHL contract to be invited to Hockey Canada’s Fall Festival.
 
Registering a respectable 10 points in 15 games played, Bram emerged as the club’s faceoff specialist, leading the team with 117 faceoffs won.  As a side note, she was one of only four Beauts to log a game-winning goal during the season.
 
Part of Bram’s legacy during that first season of Beauts hockey was exemplified by several milestones. In addition to playing in the NWHL All-Star Game (on home ice), she was the first Canadian-born player in franchise history to log a point. She would also make franchise history as the first Canadian-born player to log a point in the playoffs and the first Canadian ever to score a goal in the Isobel Cup finals.
 
Perhaps Bram’s most impressive statistic is the fact that she had no penalties all season. Such a disciplined style of play defined her overall approach to the Beauts, working tirelessly towards giving them a chance to succeed. It is that kind of effort that has enamored Bram with the fan base, making her one of the Beauts’ most popular players.
 
The opportunity for general manager Ric Seiling (who once played for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres) to re-sign such cornerstones of the franchise sends a positive message to its fan base. Although each team’s roster will look somewhat different this season, especially due to the impact of arriving draft picks, the ability to retain two such important players ensures the Beauts will maintain an exceptional team culture built on collaboration and respect while players like Bram and Steadman shall set the positive example for the new faces to follow.

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