Sport Inside the NWHL: Buffalo Beauts' replenished power play still one to fear

21:01  12 october  2017
21:01  12 october  2017 Source:   sportingnews.com

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This is not the same Beauts team that shocked the Boston Pride and won the 2017 Isobel Cup, but new talent from the CWHL and NCAA ranks should fit right in.

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The Buffalo Beauts' 2017 offseason was defined by change — a lot of change. Five of their top seven scorers from last season are now centralized with the United States women’s hockey team, playing in the CWHL or retired. In other words, this is not the Beauts team that shocked the Boston Pride and won the 2017 Isobel Cup.

But despite all of the roster turnover, Buffalo may still have the best power play in the NWHL.

The Beauts have earned a reputation for being a tough team to play against. That tenacity has led Buffalo to back-to-back Isobel Cup Finals, not a bad track record for a franchise with a regular-season record of 11-19-5.

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Last season, the Beauts had the lowest-scoring offense in the league. Buffalo averaged more than half a goal fewer per game than the Riveters. However, the team's power play was the best in the league at 20.6 percent. The Beauts were also the best team at drawing penalties in 2015-16 and 2016-17, which helped make up for some inconsistent play at even strength. The Queen City's team scored two or more power play goals in four of their six victories last season.

Kourtney Kunichika is one of a handful of returning players from Buffalo's championship team. Kunichika is a two-way center who has shined on special teams. Last season, she finished third in the league in points on the man advantage. Four of the veteran’s five power-play points last year were primary. Kunichika was one crucial cog from last season's power play who came back for this season; Corinne Buie was the other.

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Buie, the only player with two Isobel Cup victories, is a nightmare matchup for penalty killers. Her 5-9 frame and finishing ability helped her lead the league with five power-play goals last season — tying the record for goals on the man advantage in an NWHL season.

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Buie told Sporting News the key to her power-play production last season was a combination of a few things.

"Strong shots from the point that generated rebounds and I was fed some nice passes," the big forward explained. "I’ve been working on my shot and I think that made a difference for me, too."

The Beauts signed Jess Jones, Rebecca Vint and Sarah Edney to help replace the team’s lost firepower. All three Canadians played with the Brampton Thunder last season. Jones shared the CWHL scoring lead with Olympian Marie-Philip Poulin. Eyebrows were raised when Jones was left off Team Canada's centralization roster, but Canada's loss is the Beauts' gain. She is, without a doubt, the biggest new face in the NWHL.

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Vint is a 5-10 power forward with a scoring touch who is accustomed to playing with Jones. In the past two CWHL seasons, she has scored 27 goals in 43 games. Seven of those goals came on the power play. And Edney gives the Beauts an elite puck-moving defender who can prowl the blue line on the man advantage.

Edney may not have Bozek’s big shot, but she did have three primary points in ten games on the Thunder’s power play last season. She also has a knack for scoring goals. In 38 career CWHL games, she has piled up nine goals from the blue line. Only Laura Fortino has scored more goals among CWHL defenders in the past two years.

Jones was the engine of the Thunder’s power play last season. She led the CWHL in power play points and shared the league lead in primary points on the man advantage. We should see head coaches Ric Seiling and Craig Muni rebuild the power play around her and her skill set. The key ingredients for a lethal Beauts power play are all in place.

"Even though we’ve just had a few practices and one preseason game, there’s good chemistry on the ice [with Jones, Vint and Edney]," Buie told Sporting News. "They are skilled and experienced players who have accomplished a lot in their careers. I’m looking forward to seeing them make an impact for us this year."

Rob Vollman’s translation factors for women’s hockey suggest that competition in the NWHL and CWHL is roughly equal. So we should expect Jones, Vint and Edney to be just as productive on the other side of the Niagara River.

Joining the former CWHL stars are rookies Kristin Lewicki, Kaylyn Schroka and Sarah Shureb. The trio formed a dominant line for Adrian College (NCAA Division III) last season and could give the team some scoring depth. Even with Kelley Steadman, Shiann Darkangelo and Emily Janiga all gone, the Beauts' offense looks solid on paper.

It's no small task to rebuild a power play that cashed in one in every five opportunities, but Seiling and Muni might just pull it off. The Beauts have nearly a dozen new skaters who fit the team's identity of hard-nosed, physical hockey and a promising top six.

The man advantage opportunities will come, and thanks to Jones, Buie and company, so too will the power-play goals

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