Caty Flagg (Left), Kelsey Neaumann (Middle), Carly Jackson (Right)
Goalies are weird, or at least that’s the growing stereotype that’s followed us around for decades. You see in portrayed in movies like “Slap Shot”, with Denis Lemieux and his illustrious “Finer Points of Hockey” interview. The movie “Goon” with Marco Belchior and his helmet featuring a portrait of his mother on it. Maybe it’s the fact that we stand willingly in front of the net while vulcanized rubber disks are sent flying at high speeds toward our heads. It takes a special kind of crazy to volunteer for that job right?
Regardless of anyone’s opinions of goaltenders, we are still a very special breed. I’ve played with dozens of other goalie partners over the years as both starter and back-up and one thing I can tell you is that the relationship between you and the other goalies in your locker room is key to being successful. It’s no secret that only one goalie can be in the net at a time, and we as goalies are true competitors. We want to be in the net as often as possible, but depending on your coach or maybe how good your partner is, equal playing time isn’t always an option. The worst thing one goalie can do is root for one another to fail or have a bad game. As goalies, we need to support each other for the betterment of the team. Because as Herb Brooks once said, “The name on the front of your jersey is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back”.
This season for the NWHL has been a very unique and short-lived one. Due to the pandemic with the Covid-19 virus, the NWHL was forced to take its six teams to Lake Placid to play at Herb Brooks Arena in a bubble, to help prevent the virus from infecting any of the players, coaches, or staff. Each of the six teams were to play each other once, then go right into a playoff to decide the winner of the coveted Isobel Cup. The Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, Connecticut Whale, and new expansion Toronto Six dreams, however of lifting that trophy would be cut short after less than two weeks when the Whale had to pull out of the tournament due to a covid outbreak within their team, and then Jack Brodt, Co-Coach and General Manager of the Minnesota Whitecaps tested positive, which would cause the league to ultimately suspend the scheduled semi-final and final playoff rounds. Both rounds are set to be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network, which would be the first time professional women’s hockey would be televised on a major cable network in the United States. It also would have provided a younger league with more exposure nationally, something it desperately needs if it ever expected to grow. The NWHL also recently announced two sponsorship deals with Dicks Sporting Goods and Discover. Tyler Tumminia, Interim commissioner for the league, hopes to continue the playoffs at a later date.
While in the bubble, Buffalo Beauts goaltender Kelsey Neumann and I corresponded about her overall excitement for going into the Lake Placid bubble. She was a previous guest on my podcast, “2 Goalies 1 Mic” and over the past year we’ve texted back and forth often, and I now consider her to be a friend. She was able to set up a sitdown interview via Zoom for a special installment of the show with not just herself, but both of her goalie partners Carly Jackson and Caty Flagg.
Neumann and her students in Buffalo
As I stated in the beginning, the relationship in a goalie room is imperative. Beauts head coach Pete Perram trusted Kelsey to be a mentor to both rookie goaltenders. As a veteran on the team, and knowing how much her knowledge can help both Jackson and Flagg, Neumann took on this responsibility with grace and pride. Carly Jackson, who was drafted third overall by Buffalo in this past draft, and Caty Flagg was signed as an undrafted free agent, were coming into a very unprecedented situation, with an extremely condensed schedule that would result in an immediate playoff, and Perram needed both of his young stud goalies focused and ready. Neumann made sure to be the big sister too, as she said to me “My Rookies”.
The four of us sat down for nearly two hours. We chatted about their collegiate careers, the drafting/signing process with Buffalo, their reactions to their first pro hockey experience, hobbies, and how they’ve been bonding since entering the bubble. It’s not a cliche saying, being a part of any team is like having a second family. You look to your teammates for support and guidance, just like you would your parents or siblings, and being in the Lake Placid bubble gave Neumann, Jackson, and Flagg the rare opportunity not to just come together to be better teammates, but to become sisters in arms.
Be sure to tune! Whole episode will still be available after live stream is over! #Beauts #WomenInSportsDay #GirlsAndWomenInSportsDay #NWHL #underarmour @UnderArmour @dickssportingss @BuffaloBeauts @NWHL #StrongerwithSports https://t.co/5YwBwJoRGd
— 2 Goalies 1 Mic (@2Goalies1Mic) February 4, 2021
Neumann, a wily veteran of the three, is in her fourth season with the Beauts. She previously played for SUNY-Plattsburg and Clarkson University. Neumann was instantly a fan favorite. Although she didn’t serve as the primary starter for Buffalo, she engrained herself with the community and took her responsibility as a role model to its children seriously. So seriously, in fact, she was awarded the Beauts NWHL Foundation Award in 2016-2017, which was awarded to the player most actively applying the core values of hockey to her community as well as growing and improving hockey culture. The Beauts this same year went on to win the Isobel Cup as league champions. She served as the team’s third-string goalie, but her goalie partners then, just like now, would tell you that she was an integral part of them winning that season with her leadership, experience, and love for the game and her team. Through her second to none social media content, attention to detail (and fun) in goalie clinics, and her fun-loving personality with the kids in the community, Neumann today remains a fan favorite around the rinks in Buffalo.
Thank you @NBCSports for believing in the growth of women's hockey. @NWHL has always been about growing the game. This is a big step for the league, the players, and the fans! #SeeItBelieveIt #growthegame #WednesdayMotivation https://t.co/QQ7Z5nhZ8V pic.twitter.com/JMF3TgpXj3
— Kelsey Neumann (@lilneumy) December 23, 2020
Carly Jackson was drafted by the Beauts third overall this past year out of the University of Maine. In five seasons with the Maine Black Bears, she posted remarkable numbers. In her senior season, she posted a 1.90 GAA and a .934 save percentage in 32 games. Her season would be highlighted by a 3-2 victory and an outstanding 57 save performance in the Hockey East Quarterfinals that saw the Black Bears sweep the heavily favored Boston University Terriers. Jackson would leave the University of Maine as the all-time leader with wins (45), saves (3,029), save percentage (.923), goals-against average (2.15), and shutouts (10). When talking to Jackson, I asked her what about her five seasons with Maine helped prepare her for professional hockey, and being the starter this early in her career. She said with a lot of pride, “ The University of Maine helped me build good habits. Before going to Maine I always considered myself as someone who worked hard and was a sponge and soaked in everything I could. They gave me direction and structure. My coaches believed in me my entire career and helped me build my confidence, swag, and develop a routine.”.
Although the Beauts were only to win one game, Jackson, or “Farts” as we call her, stood out immediately keeping Buffalo in games they were greatly outmatched in. Being a goalie, and for the last decade a coach, I can’t stress enough how important having a strong goalie like Jackson is. Outside of the obvious, Jackson’s ability to keep the Beauts in games even when the ice seems to be tilted in her direction goes a long way to the overall morale of the team, and their confidence to keep pressing and create chances. She was undoubtedly the MVP of the team for the small number of games played.
Caty Flagg signed on with Buffalo as an undrafted free agent this past year and played her previous two seasons with UMass-Boston. With UMass, she posted a mind-blowing 1.84 goals against, and a .942 save percentage, which were both second-best in the conference. She would also become the first UMass-Boston player to be named New England Hockey Conference Goaltender of the year…..Yeeeahhhh #FlaggSwag. Knowing she wasn’t coming into this bubble tournament to compete for the starting job, she took her role as Jackson’s back-up seriously from the bench. If there were fans in the stands, they’d be able to hear Flagg clearly from the nose bleeds cheering on Jackson and the rest of the Beauts, with Neumann right beside her coaching in between whistles and periods.
Throughout this 2 hour sitdown, we laughed a lot. We exchanged stories and learned nicknames. We had the inaugural segment of “Tell Me About Your Tendy”, where we learned who was the grossest (Farts), if they’d rather outrun a bear or outswim a shark, and who would most likely be the hockey mom that would fight another hockey mom who bad-mouthed her kid. Although she insisted that we not refer to her as the “Mom” of the group, Kelsey is clear as day both Carly and Caty’s caretaker. She takes pride in her role amongst the three of them and doesn’t mind being a mentor. But even though she has her serious moments, she’s not afraid to sit back and crack a joke at the expense of the other two. After a few laughs even at my own expense, and concluding the interview, I came to my own conclusions that the Buffalo Beauts organization is in good hands between the pipes for many years to come. For Duane, Caretaker, Farts, and FlaggSwag…..Go Beauts.
Thanks, everyone. I’ll hang up and listen.