By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Allow me to tell a personal anecdote about what the standings are like in the National Women’s Hockey League.
I once played in a five-team pickup basketball league in Cheektowaga. Two of the teams were made up mostly guys that just missed making the Canisius varsity, so they were way better than us. Two of the teams were awful, so we were way better than they were. Therefore, my group never came close to beating the good teams, and never lost to the bad teams. It was not a season for buzzer-beaters.
The NWHL is almost like that. The difference is that there are three really good teams, relatively speaking, and two teams which are down a large notch.
Luckily for local fans of women’s hockey, the Buffalo Beauts are one of the good teams. They played the Metropolitan Riveters, who are looking up at the Beauts in the standings, on Saturday night at HarborCenter.
As they say in tennis, the Beauts held serve. They beat Metropolitan (think New Jersey), 4-1. Buffalo improved to 10-4 on the season, and moved into a three-way tie with Boston and Minnesota at the top of the NWHL.
As you’d expect, there’s nothing like a six-game winning streak to put a smile on the face of a coach.
“It feels good to win,” Cody McCormick of the Beauts said. “We hadn’t played in a while, and we wanted to make sure we were sharp. I thought the players played great.”
The last thing the Beauts wanted to do on Saturday was to give the Riveters the feeling that they had a chance to win. They took care of that nicely almost from the opening faceoff.
“That’s where our success comes from – be in position and our structure,” McCormick said. “We might have done more with our chances, but we were happy with the result tonight.”
Kelly Babstock got the Beauts on the board late in the first period, and Metropolitan never gave the impression it could win the game from there. Emily Janiga had two goals, including an empty-netter, while Taylor Accursi also scored.
Meanwhile, it was a relatively easy game for goalie Shannon Szabados, who stopped 15 of 16 shots (Buffalo had 37 shots). She even picked up an assist on the game’s last goal.
“I thought it was a pretty good box-out,” she said with a laugh. “It was one of the lucky ones. It’s not how I imagined it would go down.”
It’s almost crunch time in the NWHL. The Beauts are 4-4 against the other league leaders this season, and 6-0 against Metropolitan and Connecticut. Everyone has two games left – and Boston and Minnesota do play each other – so Buffalo can guarantee a tie for first in the overall regular standings by winning at Connecticut on March 2 and at Metropolitan on March 3.
The playoff system is simple. In terms of seedings, No. 4 plays No. 5, with the winner meeting No. 1. Meanwhile, No. 2 goes up against No. 3. It’s all best-of-one, so that makes home ice in the playoffs games very important because there is no margin for error.
Saturday’s crowd at HarborCenter was 1,572 – easily the Beauts’ biggest of the season. Buffalo would like to play as many games as possible here when the postseason arrives.
“It was great to see tonight. There was a lot of energy in the building,” McCormick said. “I definitely hope this is building. Just seeing the players interact with the crowd and the young kids here, and it’s a real pleasant thing to see.
“Everyone wants home ice, especially with the way the playoff format is. It’s just hockey in front of us. We’re going day to day.”
The Beauts are playing their best hockey at the right time of the year. We’ll see how that translates when it’s elimination time. Then we’ll know if the Isobel Cup (named after Lord Stanley’s daughter) will be returning to Buffalo for the summer.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)