ALL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HETZEL
Lee Stecklein’s goal with 1:18 left in the third period was the difference-maker in a hard-fought battle as the Minnesota Whitecaps took a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Beauts Sunday afternoon at KeyBank Center, home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
In the first part of a doubleheader with the Beauts’ brother team, KeyBank Center was dressed in Beauts’ blue for the team’s first-ever game in an NHL arena. The scoreboards flashed Beauts’ logos and a chill-inducing video open showed on the video board, before the starting lineup was announced, complete with Beauts’ blue spotlights. Fans came decked out in Beauts’ gear toting signs supporting their hometown team.
The Beauts and Whitecaps headed into the third period tied at one after both goalies had put on a show holding the scoring at bay. Stecklein got the puck on the point, juked around her defender and ripped a shot into the upper right corner, getting the Whitecaps back in the win column and back into first place at 7-2. The Beauts now sit even at 4-4 on the season, with three of their losses coming at the hands of the Whitecaps.
“I thought it was a great pass from Kendall [Coyne Schofield],” said Stecklein of her game-winner. “I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a lane,’ and before I knew it, the puck was already on my stick. And then just reaction, because [Shannon Szabados] is a great goalie, and you have to get it just right to beat her, so I felt really lucky. We needed the win today.”
The Beauts controlled the tempo for much of the early goings, with a chance coming about midway through the first period, with Julianna Iafallo deflecting a shot just wide of the cage.
The Whitecaps went on the power play just moments later, and nearly capitalized on a scramble in front of the Beauts’ net, but Szabados shut the door. Buffalo answered with a nearly identical chance at the other end on a power play of their own, with Kelly Babstock attempting a wraparound and creating a scrum in front of Amanda Leveille.
The Beauts got on the board late in the first period, with Blake Bolden scoring a shorthanded goal 17:43 into the frame. Iafallo created space on the penalty kill and fed Bolden in the high slot, with Bolden earning her first tally of the season and getting the crowd at KeyBank Center on its feet.
Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the game at one on a Whitecaps’ power play midway through the second period, receiving a stretch pass from Amanda Boulier and squeaking a low shot past Szabados for her second goal of the season.
With the game knotted at one, the Beauts went to the power play early in the third. Hayley Scamurra threw a shot on net, and the rebounded kicked out to Dani Cameranesi, but the Whitecaps’ defense and Leveille teamed up to diffuse the threat.
“I think we were well prepared for [the Whitecaps] today,” said Beauts’ forward Maddie Elia. “It was a battle, and it really could’ve gone either way. We’ll come back tomorrow strong, learning from today and the last two times we’ve played them.”
Despite the loss, the Beauts, a roster chock full of Buffalo natives, enjoyed the opportunity to play on the Sabres’ home ice. “It was so much fun to play on the big rink,” said Hayley Scamurra. “It was so cool to see all the fans in Beauts’ blue and with signs. It was a great crowd.”
The Beauts and Whitecaps will meet for the final time of the regular season on Sunday at 1:30 PM ET at HarborCenter. Tickets are still available at NWHL.zone/tickets.