ALL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HETZEL
The Buffalo Beauts have maintained a status as legitimate contenders for the Isobel Cup each year since the NWHL's inception. This is due in part to their penchant of bringing talented rookies into the organization each season - rookies that are difference makers. This season, forward Annika Zalewski is included in that group of talented newcomers.
A Colgate University alum, Zalewski was drafted by Buffalo 14th overall in the 2017 NWHL Draft. Her NCAA career saw this native of New Hartford, New York, collect 38 goals, 46 assists and 84 points within 131 games as a Raider. With superb height (Zalewski is 5-foot-10) but soft hands around the net, it is no wonder that the Beauts sought to claim her.
Since jumping into the professional game, Zalewski has been generating points for the Beauts at a steady clip. She has played in all seven of the team's regular season games thus far season, with the team currently carrying a 4-3 record. In that stretch Zalewski scored her first career NWHL goal - a tally during a 7-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale on Oct. 13. That same game would be a two-point night for her, as she helped set up Lisa Chesson. In total, Zalewski has earned four assists for five points thus far in her rookie campaign.
Buffalo is now preparing to host the Minnesota Whitecaps in back-to-back home games this weekend. Saturday’s 2 p.m. game will take place at KeyBank Center – home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, the Beauts’ “brother” team – before a 1:30 p.m. rematch on Sunday at HarborCenter. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.
"I think mostly just the competition of the games," Zalewski said when asked what she was most looking forward to this weekend. "Two good teams playing against each other is always a fun time. Our series there - those games were fast-paced and the hockey was really fun. So I'm looking forward to the games, and then obviously the atmosphere will be great. It seems like there's a lot of buzz around both games, especially the one at KeyBank."
Zalewski could not be more spot-on with her assessment of the competition level and the eagerness league-wide to see these squads duke it out once more. When they faced off in Minnesota, the Whitecaps won both contests by close scores of 3-2 and 2-1. Zalewski and company are intent on returning the favor Buffalo-style.
"It felt like in that series we had a lot of chances that maybe we didn't finish on," she said. "That's one thing we can work on this weekend is finishing those chances. Overall, I think that if we just stick with our game and play our best, then we'll be in good shape."
The timing of these games has not been overlooked by Zalewski either. An opportunity to take in NWHL action the entire weekend in Buffalo is a great way to spread some festive cheer in the midst of the holidays. Like many, Zalewski was enthusiastic over some of holiday gifts she received this year too.
"I got a Polaroid camera which I'm pretty excited about," Zalewski shared. "Definitely old school, but it's pretty fun. Usually it's hockey equipment, but I don't get that anymore," she laughed.
Perhaps she will take the opportunity to try out her new camera this weekend. It might be especially worthwhile to do so at Buffalo's "Superhero Day" game for Sunday's contest. Through her own admission, Zalewski needs to get caught up on the latest in superhero lore.
"Do The Incredibles' count?" Zalewski laughed when asked who her favorite superhero is. "I think I'm an Incredibles fan. Spider-Man is pretty cool. I'm looking forward to that.”
The first 500 youngsters to enter HarborCenter on Sunday for Superhero Day will receive a special Beauts superhero cape!