PHOTO BY MICHAEL HETZEL
Buffalo Beauts goaltender Nicole Hensley is making a name for herself this 2018-19 NWHL season, and deservedly so.
Playing in her first professional season after winning gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, Hensley is boasting a record of 4-1-0 through the five games she has played for Buffalo, splitting time with fellow Olympic medalist Shannon Szabados. In Hensley’s five games, she has allowed a mere seven goals and has stymied opponents for two shutouts - a 4-0 win on Oct. 7 over the Connecticut Whale and another 4-0 win on Dec. 30 against the Minnesota Whitecaps. Her current save percentage of .941 and goals-against average of 1.40 are second in the league only to her goalie partner Szabados.
Hensley is also fresh off of participating in the 2019 NWHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. She was one of eight Buffalo Beauts selected to partake in the festivities. She won the Fastest Goaltender competition, defeating Szabados for the title.
Hensley is now back in Buffalo and focused on one thing - the Isobel Cup playoffs. The Beauts will play their final regular-season home game on Saturday, hosting the Metropolitan Riveters at 5 PM at HarborCenter. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets. The game will be streamed at NWHL.zone/watch.
NWHL correspondent Nate Oliver caught up with Hensley at a Beauts practice this week at the HarborCenter.
You took part in your first NWHL All-Star Weekend a little more than a week ago in Nashville. How would you describe the experience?
We had a lot of fun. It was great to see all the girls that everyone knows across all five of the teams. It was good to see all of them and get to hang out. Obviously, the competition on the ice was really good. It was just a fun weekend overall.
So the fun part with Nashville is now over, and you and your teammates must close out the regular season with three more games. What is your focus right now?
Our focus as a team is just to keep improving with every game we play. We want to have a strong push going on the way into the playoffs. Right now it's just all about confidence and continuing to get better as a team.
You have been a big-time performer in big-time games. The gold medal game at the 2017 Women's Worlds in Plymouth and your shutting out Russia in PyeongChang both come to mind. How are you going to need to elevate your game for the NWHL playoffs?
Just continuing to do what we've done all year as a team, and then individually as well. Just continuing to do what's helped us be successful. There is no reason to change anything just because the game title is 'playoff game', rather than just a regular-season game. You do the same things over and over again that led you to success in the regular season - that's what'll help come playoff time.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL HETZEL
You're originally from Colorado, and it's wonderful to see the ongoing support that you're getting from the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. What does it mean to have your hometown NHL team following your professional career so closely?
It's pretty cool. Obviously growing up in Colorado I was a huge Avs fan. They're a part of the reason why I started playing hockey. It's awesome to see NHL teams supporting women's hockey in general, let alone when they don't necessarily have a (women's) team in their state but they're still out there finding a way to get pictures and promote it. I just think that's a really awesome step by a wonderful organization to support the women's game in that manner.
You come across as naturally being upbeat and friendly. Here you are playing hockey at the highest level where you need to maintain your focus, especially as a goaltender. And yet, you always make time for media and fans, especially kids. How do you find the proper balance between keeping an intense focus and taking notice of others off the ice?
At the end of the day, I think being in this position as a professional athlete or a high-level athlete, your biggest job is to be seen and be a good role model to those younger athletes that want to be in your place one day. That's one of the most important things - to give back to the game that gave you so much. I don't think it's really a balance. I think it's if you see the opportunity to encourage somebody else's dreams, you should step up and do that because somebody did that for you as well.
In a short time, you have really adopted the city of Buffalo and have become a full-fledged Buffalonian. What words or sentiments do you have for Beauts fans who are getting excited for the NWHL playoffs to get underway?
The fans in Buffalo are incredible. It's been a huge honor for our entire team to play in front of them this year. We'll need them at least one more time for the regular season. Hopefully if we continue building this season, maybe a home playoff game as well - that's the goal for our team. It's been a huge honor to play in front of these rowdy crowds here at HaborCenter, so hopefully we can keep it going.