Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Kelley Steadman's sterling career embodied the exciting potential of the NWHL

Originally published on Women Talk Sports

In the blooming history of the Buffalo Beauts, the club was blessed by an abundance of superstars, highlighted by the likes of Meghan Duggan, Brianne McLaughlin and Emily Pfalzer, among others. Complemented by the remarkable show of support for Harrison Browne, along with Corinne Buie’s heroics in the march to the Isobel Cup, such stars have enamored a highly loyal fan base.

Perhaps the most fascinating player of this brief yet captivating era was Kelley Steadman. A soft-spoken yet assiduous competitor whose amazing hockey resume included a multitude of championships on both sides of the Atlantic, along with gold at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, her heart of gold and authentic appreciation of fans, teammates and the game alike truly defined the raison d’etre for the NWHL.

Scoring the first goal in Buffalo Beauts history, it was more than just a concrete moment that added to the exhilaration of the NWHL’s opening day. It sparked Steadman’s impact, one that would see her embedded within the Queen City’s sporting mythology.

With Steadman having announced her retirement, that epic goal only enhances her mystique, quantifying a truly magnificent legacy. Joining the likes of recently retired teammates McLauhglin, Browne and Devon Skeats, all still in the primes of their careers, riding off into a sunset far too soon for a jubilant fan base, all that remains is to ponder what if this remarkable collection of talent would have remained for a third season.

Originally penciled in as a practice player, such plans were quickly shattered as Steadman was called into action with a sense of urgency, attributed to unforeseen issues with player visas. Such a move would prove to be a significant element in building the mythology of women’s ice hockey in Buffalo.

Unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, Steadman shone brilliantly, combining grace and a smooth scoring touch in a performance that reached legendary proportion, as the NWHL quickly gained a place of relevance on the sporting map.

As the season progressed, Steadman’s continued heroics at Harbor Centre became a vessel where fans could pour their emotions. No game would prove to be more prevalent there as the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game. The amalgamation of history, home ice advantage and sportsmanship resulted in a perfect storm. Emerging with MVP honors, it only affirmed Steadman’s role as a shining star and a fan favorite.

For Steadman, the NWHL All-Star Game would truly emerge as her lasting legacy. In the 2017 edition of the event, there was a tremendous sense of gravitas. Named as one of the team captains, this heartwarming moment and sense of appreciation was reciprocated with a proud fan base in Pittsburgh, site of the first neutral site event in league history, and the first professional women’s hockey game in the Keystone State.

After a difficult holiday break which resulted in an unfortunate alteration in the salary structure, there were many cynics that saw the league clinging to survival, before slipping into obliteration. With a player of Steadman’s magnitude remaining on the stage, it was a crucial element in a renewed vitality and focus, as the 2017 All-Star Game signified a relevant turning point.

Considering that Steadman, who juggled her playing career with an executive role as part of the Robert Morris Colonials leadership group, along with McLaughlin, a Colonials alum, the coordinates for the All-Star Game provided ample motivation. Both gaining the loudest ovations among the sold-out crowd, it was their finest hour as professionals.

While super rookie Amanda Kessel stole the show, scoring the first hat trick in NWHL All-Star Game history, it was an accompanying plot line to a much more profound narrative which starred Steadman and McLaughlin. This pair of remarkable leaders, trusted with the burden, easing the load and renewing the relevance of a league working to rebuild trust and set things right, their goals were fused, companions of a unified cause.

In the aftermath of this remarkable career milestone, Steadman and McLaughlin continued to set the tone for the Beauts. Their leadership was crucial in helping the club reach the jubilation of the Isobel Cup, gaining redemption after a heartbreaking finals loss in 2016. Providing the Queen City with its first hockey championship since the Buffalo Bisons captured the AHL’s Calder Cup in 1969, it was also part of a unique personal parallel for Steadman.

With a career that has included etching her name on the Clarkson Cup, capturing the College Hockey America (CHA) Player of the Year Award with the Mercyhurst Lakers, and a championship competing in Russia with fellow Clarkson Cup champion Cherie Hendrickson, the Isobel Cup was part of a remarkable feat in 2017. With the Colonials capturing the CHA postseason championship, qualifying for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, Steadman became the first person to win both the Isobel Cup and a CHA title in the same season.

The season to come shall see Steadman take on a full-time coaching capacity in the CHA. Returning to her roots, where she called the likes of Meghan Agosta, Bailey Bram, Jesse Scanzano and fellow American Pamela Zgoda as teammates on a dominant Mercyhurst Lakers team, there is an emotional sense of homecoming. Taking on the role of an assistant coach with the Lakers, her enthusiasm for the game and comforting presence shall foster and encourage an exciting new generation of talent.

While there may be an element of sadness and mourning among the Beauts fan base, aware that Steadman shall no longer don their colors, it should not be approached as a time of sorrow. Instead, it deserves to be celebrated as an amazing time which enriched the experience for all involved.

Steadman was a gifted player, and the opportunity to share those gifts was a blessing, one that truly helped to alter the portentous perception of the Buffalo Sports Curse.

The Beauts may have built the stage, but it was Steadman that wrote the role. An eminent competitor whose legend in Buffalo sports history is destined to go untarnished with the passage of time, she truly mirrored the ambitions of the NWHL to bring an exciting and empowering new chapter for professional women’s ice hockey in the United States.

While she remains part of the game, looking to restore the glory days that she helped establish at Mercyhurst, while developing the next generation of stars that may one day emulate her heroics, the greatest legacy of her career will forever be embedded in Buffalo’s sporting culture.

For a legion of fans in Buffalo, her efforts will always remain in their hearts, forever grateful for the impact of this soft-spoken and stoic superstar, always reflecting on her meaningful Beauts career with a warm sense of nostalgia.

No comments:

Post a Comment