While waiting to meet with Brianne McLaughlin, the goalie for the Buffalo Beauts, a group of young women came from the elevator carrying hockey bags that were double their size and perhaps quadruple their weight. I looked past the cheerful bunch as they didn’t fit the image of professional female hockey players I’d conjured up in my head. But when I heard my name and received a warm greeting from Brianne, I realized that my preconceived notion of what a female hockey player looked like was completely inaccurate.
It was 7:00, Wednesday evening, that I had the pleasure to meet this group. The team was headed into IMPACT Sports Performance, the gym within HarborCenter, where they were about to spend the next two hours weight training before their practice, scheduled to begin at 10:00 p.m. The women consider their time spent in the gym just as imperative as their time spent on the ice. They meet twice a week at the HarborCenter to practice as a team, but most of the players spend extra time training on and off the ice.
Bri’s energy became contagious as she enthusiastically described the newly founded team and their expectations for the season ahead. Bri described the first scrimmage against Mercyhurst University as being a benchmark for where they are and where there’s room for improvement. She feels that the team’s consistent hard work, relentless drive and positive attitude play a critical role in their future success.
While the league is new, Bri and her fellow teammates are no strangers to the world of professional hockey. Bri, along with Beauts’ forwards Meghan Duggan and Shelby Bram, and defense player Megan Bozek, are all former Olympians and will be playing for Team U.S. in the 2016 Olympics. Skating along with these accomplished team members are women who are fresh out of college. The common denominator that brings them together is their immeasurable passion for hockey.
The Buffalo Beauts are just one of four North American teams in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). And who better to welcome a new national sports team than Western New York? When I asked Bri what she’d experienced thus far in the way of Buffalo’s passion for sports, she laughed. “In just two weeks, I realized that everything is about the Bills. Living in Pittsburg, I’m surrounded by crazy Steelers fans, but I think they may have met their match.”
The other teams in the NWHL include Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, and New York Riveters. 2015 marks the first year since 2007 that there has been a National Women’s League in the US and the first time in history the players will receive salaries. As monumental as this is, the women are most excited about making history.
According to Bri, a lot of people are going to be surprised by how entertaining women’s hockey is. “Women don’t hit, so instead, we have to develop and rely on strong skill sets,” Bri explains.
The collective goal of this phenomenal group of women is to become positive role models for young girls, just as Manon Rheaume, the first woman to play for the NHL, was for many of them. With the help of social media and the overwhelming amount of support they are receiving from the league, there is no doubt the NWHL will soon become a staple in the world of sports.
The impact of this league, and team, on future generations is yet to be known, however the influence it has already had on one 10-year old girl (in Bri’s hometown) is certain. When the league was officially announced, the young girl tackled Bri, enthusiastically exclaiming, “Maybe we can be teammates someday!”