PHOTO CRED: Matthew Raney
PITTSBURGH, PA - UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex came alive on Sunday, thanks to a sell-out crowd in town to cheer on the 2017 All-Stars from the National Women’s Hockey League. The 28 All-Stars, representing all four NWHL franchises certainly put on a show that kept fans at the edge of their seats. It was Team Kessel, led by New York Riveters’ phenom Amanda Kessel, that emerged the victors of the matchup against fellow All-Star opponents on Team Steadman this weekend, but the 11-10 game was a heart-stopping showdown that had both teams battling to the final buzzer.
Going into the game, Team Kessel had the one goal advantage on the scoreboard over Kelley Steadman’s team, having carried over their 3-2 victory from the skills competition the day before.
The ceremonial face-off hinted that this game would be like no All-Star game before. Iceburgh, the mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skipped out onto the ice and dropped the puck for what normally is simply left on the ice and casually picked up after a photo op. However, someone forgot to tell Steadman and Kessel this was an All-Star Game. The captains battled for the puck like it was an opening draw, and just like that the tone was set for the rest of the night.
Seconds into the game players were battling for loose pucks, blocking shots, even back checking! In an All-Star Game!
The scoring opened for Team Steadman with the Boston Pride duo of Brianna Decker from Alex Carpenter beating fellow Pride teammate Brittany Ott, stretching her post to post. Only minutes later, Kessel herself picked up a stray puck in the neutral zone to go in alone on Buffalo Beauts goaltender Brianne McLaughlin and put her team back up by one.
The scoring would continue back and forth for the remainder of the period leaving the score at 8-7 in favor of Team Kessel going into the intermission.
Team Kessel goals came from Megan Bozek, Rebecca Russo and Harrison Browne and for Team Steadman from Emily Pfalzer, Kelly Babstock along with a pair by Madison Packer. Although the score alone may be deceiving, Ott and McLaughlin both lived up to their distinctions as All-Stars, stymieing their respective opponents with unbelievable stops on countless odd man rushes and breaks.
In the second of the two 25 minute halves of play, both teams continued the back and forth battle, adding goals by Hilary Knight and a second from Browne for Team Kessel on Katie Fitzgerald, while Haley Skarupa, Carpenter and Steadman added tallies for Team Steadman on the Connecticut Whale’s Nicole Stock. Despite Steadman’s clutch goal in the final 17 seconds of the game to bring the score back within one, a comeback was not to be had; nevertheless, fans were on board, no matter the score.
Helmets littered the ice by the bench after an empty-net goal by Kessel coming in the final minutes of the game on the open Team Steadman net, solidifying the hat trick for the team captain who was just minutes later awarded MVP honors for her outstanding performance.
Fans can watch the action all over again on the NWHL website as the teams all gear up for their final push toward the Isobel Cup Finals in the coming weeks.