NORTHFORD, Conn., — The National Women’s Hockey League season began in October and the Connecticut Whale have played one third of their schedule. On Saturday night, the Whale finally played a game at their new home rink – the Northford Ice Pavilion in the Northford section of North Branford.
Connecticut played with energy and passion with a dominating 6-2 win over the Buffalo Beauts, snapping a three-game losing streak in front of several hundred fans.
Kelli Stack, Nicole Kosta and Sam Faber scored two goals each while goalie Nicole Stock made 20 saves to earn the win. The Whale (3-4) outshot Buffalo, 42-21 including a dominating first period when they outshot the visiting Beauts, 20-2.
“We played great both ways,” Connecticut coach Heather Linstad said. “We had some good backchecks that kept (Buffalo) off the boards. Offensively, we transitioned very quickly, a lot faster than we’ve done before.”
Connecticut had played six games on the road to begin their second NWHL campaign.
“We were all really excited for our home opener,” said Kosta, a rookie who scored two goals in a game for the first time in her professional career. “The crowd brought great energy and that helped us. Give credit to the crowd, they were pushing us all game.”
High-scoring contests are nothing new between these two teams. Connecticut prevailed earlier this season with a 7-5 victory in Buffalo. Connecticut scored seven goals against the Beauts last year in a 7-6 shootout victory.
The difference on this night was defense, led by Shannon Doyle and Molly Engstrom. “One of the better things we did tonight was we were better in our defensive zone,” Linstad said. “We don’t give our defense enough credit. They did the right things and played well in zone. They moved the puck out quickly and let our forward quickly transition. All six (defensemen) played well.”
Defense helped get the scoring started when Kosta stole the puck from a Buffalo defender near center ice on a Beaut power play. Kosta took off down the ice on a breakaway and scored for a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal with 11:23 left in the first period.
About three minutes later, Stack scored off an assist from Ivana Bilic for a 2-0 Connecticut lead.
“That was a dominating performance in the first period for sure,” Stock said. “Today was a great example of coming together and showing what we could do.”
Connecticut extended their lead to 4-0 in the second period on goals from Sam Faber and Kosta. Buffalo scored on a 5-on-3 advantage at the end of the second period to cut the lead to three goals.
The Whale scored another two goals from Stack and Faber in the third period to clinch the victory. Faber scored on a breakaway after bouncing on a loose puck near center ice. After getting 14 shots on net in the second period, Connecticut limited Buffalo to just five shots on Stock in the third period.
“Hats off to the team and hats off to the defense,” Stock said. “They got into lanes and got their sticks on the puck.”
“We needed that,” said Stack, who now has four goals on the year. “We wanted to put on a show for the fans. This was an important game for us to come and set the tone early.”
Afterward, the Whale hosted a post-game skate with the players on the Northford Pavilion ice while other players provided autographs in the lobby of the rink.
Connecticut has little time to savor this victory. They hit the road on Sunday morning for a game in Newark, N.J., against the New York Riveters (2-4-2) at 5 p.m. The Whale host New York in the final game before the Christmas holiday break next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Northford Pavilion.
NOTES: Buffalo’s leading scorers Kelley Steadman (4 goals, 3 assists) and Shiann Darkangelo (3 goals, 5 assists) were held scoreless. … Darkangelo played with the Whale a year ago. … With the win, Connecticut moved out of the NWHL cellar and into third place.
Connecticut 6, Buffalo 1
At Northford, CT
Buffalo (3-5-1) 0 1 0 — 1
Connecticut (3-4) 2 2 2 — 6
Connecticut 1, Nicole Kosta, 8:37 (shorthanded); Connecticut 2, Kelli Stack (Ivana Bilic), 11:21; Penalties: Kelly Babstock (CT), interference, 5:14; Kelly Steadman (B), hooking, 18:37
Connecticut 3, Sam Faber (Micaela Long, Ivana Bilic), 3:54; Connecticut 4, Nicole Kosta (Nicole Connery, Kelly Babstock), 7:40; Buffalo 1, Corrinne Buie (Emily Pfalzer), 19:04 (pp); Penalties: Kelly Stack (CT), hooking; Micaela Long (CT), tripping, 12:00; Kelly Babstock (CT), roughing, 17:16; Kelli Stack (CT) roughing, 17:16
Connecticut 5, Kelli Stack (Dana Trivigno, Haley Skarupa), 4:13; Connecticut 6, Sam Faber, 11:21; Penalties: Harrison Browne (B), tripping, 6:21; Megan Bozek (B), hooking, 13:23
Shots on goal: Connecticut 42 (20-7-15), Buffalo (21 (2-14-5); Goalies: Brianne McLaughlin, Buffalo (L), 36 saves, 42 shots; Nicole Stock, Connecticut (W, 2-1), 20 saves, 21 shots
Three stars: 1. Nicole Costa (CT), 2. Kelli Stack (CT), 3. Sam Faber (CT)