BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue in Toronto and Edmonton, the Sabres aren’t the only Buffalo hockey pros itching to get back on the ice.
“We want to bring an Isobel Cup back home to Buffalo,” Buffalo Beauts General Manager Nate Oliver said.
The Beauts’ 2019-20 campaign came to an end in the National Women’s Hockey League’s playoff play-in round on March 6, the first time the team failed to qualify for the Isobel Cup Final in its five-season history.
Buffalo captured the NWHL title in 2017. After the 2018-19 season, Kim Pegula relinquished control of the franchise and groups of players left the team, opening management and roster spots for younger talent that Oliver and the Beauts staff have been scouting for years.
Just as the pandemic began to wreak havoc on professional sports and the Beauts were entering offseason planning, an experienced defender came back into the fold: Olympic veteran Lisa Chesson signed a contract in April to return to the Beauts for the 2020-2021 season.
Chesson lives in Columbus, Ohio, working full-time as a software developer and commuting to Buffalo to compete. She acknowledged that her time away from the team during the 2019-20 season highlighted how important competitive hockey is in her life.
“It was an easy decision for me to come back to Buffalo,” Chesson said.
The NWHL’s season six timeline calls for a return to competition in January 2021, as the coronavirus pandemic has delayed opening puck drop months beyond the traditional October or November start date. Oliver confirmed the Beauts will open training camp in Buffalo during the week of September 21. He said Beauts players have been training independently around the world during the pandemic and holding team meetings over video conferences.
“I think we’re just excited to get started again,” Chesson said.
While balancing professional hockey and travel with a full time job works for some, other Buffalo area players have taken a different approach.
Former Beaut Jacquie Greco and a handful of players left the team in 2019 to join the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a group advocating for the creation of a professional women’s ice hockey league that its members hope can be more financially sustainable.
“The ultimate goal is to create a women’s league that’s these women’s full time jobs,” Greco said. “They don’t have to worry about waking up early for practice or coming home after work and going to practice.”
Greco skated in multiple PWHPA showcase events during the 2019-20 season intended to increase exposure for women’s hockey and generate support among potential investors, sponsors and fans. She was selected to travel to Japan and compete against the Japanese national team, but the coronavirus pandemic cancelled that exhibition.
Over the summer, Greco has paid for ice time out of her own pocket as she gears up for PWHPA regional tryouts, a new requirement for members hoping to compete in next season’s showcase events. While the Toronto regional hub is closest for Greco and other Buffalo area PWHPA members, border crossing restrictions may force them to try out in the New Hampshire hub when the time comes.
“You saw with Kendall Coyne, with the last All-Star game, people like women’s hockey,” Greco said. “It’s just that we need to get it to them and we need to get it to them in a professional way. And I know that we can be successful in that.”