STAMFORD, CT- The Connecticut Whale continued their undefeated season, by topping the Buffalo Beauts in a shootout Sunday afternoon at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. The Beauts had pulled out to a 2-1 lead that they held until the later minutes of period 3. Kaleigh Fratkin tied the game up at 18:53 while the Whale had an empty net and an extra attacker on the ice. She was fed the puck by Shiann Darkangelo and rocketed it by Buffalo’s Amanda Makela.
The two teams went at it in a brief 4 on 4 overtime period. When the OT ended with no result, a shoot out followed. The Whale’s Kelly Babstock, Jessica Koizumi, and Kelli Stack all got it past the keeper, but Whale netminder Jaimie Leonoff stopped Devon Skeats of Buffalo during her first attempt, and although Kourtney Kunichika scored on Leonoff, once Stack scored that clinched the win.
“It’s always tough when a team scores right away in the first couple minutes. I think our team battled back,” Whale Captain Jessica Koizumi said afterward. “It was a really chippy game…lots of penalties, and it’s tough to get into the flow of the game. But I think there’s something special about our team right now. We’re finding a way to win no matter what it takes. We have different people that step up to score at different times. That shows we have a lot of depth too. We’re in a good place right now.””
Buffalo got on the board first as Meghan Duggan shot it over Leonoff’s shoulder in the first minute assisted by Erin Zach. After that surprise the game evened out. However about five minutes into the second period the Whale’s Molly Engstrom was given a five minute minor and a game misconduct for an illegal check to the head. During the ensuring power play Shelby Bram skated in front of Leonoff and backhanded it under her pads assisted by Kelly McDonald at 6:30. As is the case with majors, the goal did not end the penalty, but the Whale successfully killed off the rest.
Skeats was sentenced to the box soon after and the Whale took the chance to score as Sam Faber got it past Makela at 10:53. The Whale spent a good chunk of the period after that killing penalties including two back to back minors, and then during the second minor, a third minor was called giving the Beauts a 5 on 3 which Connecticut also fended off. The third period went by with the Whale trying to make the tie happen until needing to get the extra attacker allowing the Fratkin tally.
Buffalo used a defensive scheme which disrupted some of the Whale’s usual methods of attack. The Beauts were very effective at getting in the way of passes or just sending the Whale off their initial path forcing improvisation. Buffalo Captain and Defender Emily Pfalzer was a major presence often intercepting Whale passes or otherwise disrupting their plan. Blocked shots were a huge deal as well for the Beauts especially as the Whale attack was often blunted by a Buffalo player sliding in front of a well aimed shot.
“They keep building as a team too,” Koizumi noted. “They’ve given us four really good games. Our team just finds a way to put the puck in the net. They make it hard for us to get to the net…for us to get time and space for ourself. Their coaches do a really good job preparing them. It’s tough to get goals and we figured out a way to.”
While Makela was unable to stop any of the shootout attempts, admittedly a difficult feat by nature, her performance in regulation was excellent, as she had to fend off a variety of Connecticut efforts and saved 20 of the 22 shots taken on her. Leonoff also had a solid day making 25 saves on the 27 shots the swift Buffalo team flung at her. Leonoff is now 4-0 in the league and Makela is 0-1-0-2.
The Whale rise to 7-0 atop the league, and they will travel to the old airfield out in Brooklyn to face the New York Riveters next weekend. The Beauts are off after a doubleheader weekend and are now 1-5-0-2.
Koizumi who is an Assistant Coach at Yale, is on a roster that includes multiple players with ties to Yale and Quinnipiac including Leonoff and Tara Tomimoto who both played under Koizumi for the Bulldogs. Former Bobcats players Kelly Babstock, Darkangelo, and Chelsea Laden have seen action and Breann Frykas and Felicia Vieweg are rostered but have not played recently. Asked about the team chemistry given that, Koizumi explained that, “it absolutely helps with team chemistry even though Yale and Quinnipiac are pretty much rival schools. Certainly a lot of us have played together at once, with Quinnipiac or Yale, or with me and Fratkin on the Blades and Stack on the Blades and the U.S. connections out there. It certainly helps. The friendships…it translates to the ice.”
Additional Observations. (A lot happens in a game that doesn’t necessarily make the scoresheet. Here are some nonexhaustive notes.)
Kate Buesser was super effective stealing the puck from the Beauts, messing with a break, fighting to get the puck out of the zone as multiple defenders stood in her way and with other efforts.
On the penalty kill plenty of Whale players contributed. Babstock got it out a few times, Darkangelo messed with a Beauts pass, and on another PK blocked a shot and skated the puck out several times. Buesser and Shannon Doyle had clears. Stack flummoxed a Beauts play, and Fratkin literally laid down to block an attempt. She would also interrupt a clear a later attempt. Jordan Brickner had a clear in a late penalty, and Stack even headed into the Beauts zone to kill time.
Shelby Bram had at least a blocked shot, and also got the puck out of the Beauts zone numerous times.
During the team’s penalty kills, Hannah McGowan stole it and took it out of the zone. On another Harrison Browne got to the puck after a scrum in front of Makela and skated it clear. Bram had another blocked shot as did Browne. On another PK, Pfalzer stole the puck and skated away.
[Article originally prepared for Sportzedge. Should it be posted there, it will be removed here.]