When Jacquie Greco was growing up, she was like a lot of kids her age, watching the Buffalo Sabres and dreaming of one day playing for her hometown team.
She won't be suiting up for the Sabres, but her hockey worlds came together on Thursday when Terry and Kim Pegula acquired the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League.
"It's absolutely amazing," said Greco, a Buffalo native and Syracuse graduate in her second season on the blueline for the Beauts. "I grew up wanting to be a Buffalo Sabre. At some point I realized that was impossible to do. Now my worlds have collided all at once. I grew up a Sabres and Bills fan and everything is all tying together."
Pegula Sports and Entertainment will manage the franchise. All daily operations will be run through the company, which also manages the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, and Buffalo Bandits.
It is the first of the four teams in the NWHL to have outside ownership. The other three teams are owned by the league while the Metropolitan Riveters have a "strategic alliance" with the New Jersey Devils. The Riverters play at the Devils' practice rink.
The purchase price was not disclosed, but Pegula Sports and Entertainment takes over all operating costs, including player salaries, immediately.
"We want to contribute to the growth of women's hockey," Kim Pegula said in a statement. "HarborCenter has allowed us to make a positive impact on the game at the amateur, high school and collegiate levels, and we believe this is the perfect time to expand our reach to include women's professional hockey through the NWHL. This sport provides outstanding opportunities, and we are committed to helping extend those opportunities to females of all ages."
Discussions between the Pegulas and the NWHL have been ongoing for a few months. The transition is happening mid-season simply because the deal was completed. While not specifically addressed by either side, the move allows the NWHL to interact with other potential team owners while working toward expanding the league. The goal is to add two more teams within the next two years.
There have been no changes announced by Pegula Sports Entertainment for the Beauts, who are off until Jan. 6, but the expectation is that there will be an immediate marketing push in conjunction with the Sabres.
The Beauts were one of the four original teams when the NWHL was created in 2015 and Buffalo won the Isobel Cup last season. The team has played at HarborCenter since its founding.
It's another huge step for the league, one that commissioner Dani Rylan believed would come after the players proved there was a market for professional women's hockey. Ultimately, the league hopes to have all four teams supported by NHL teams and Rylan hopes the league will expand within the next two years.
"We knew we had a couple of years where we had to prove the product and I think we did just that," Rylan said. "We had to keep knocking on doors and we refused to be ignored. I think it says a lot about the persistence of the players and their commitment to the game and I think the ripple effects of this will be seen throughout women's sports.
"The Pegulas commitment to the community is unique in the sport and what they've done for Buffalo is remarkable," Rylan said. "Welcoming the Beauts to their family puts our Buffalo team on the map. Now families can bring their sons and daughters to the rink and both can have the same dream of playing professional hockey in Buffalo. Having the Pegulas welcome us into their family strengthens that dream for young girls in the area."
While the Beauts roster has featured Olympians, most notably Getzville native Emily Pfalzer and U.S. captain Meghan Duggan, those players are not active in the pro league this season, focusing instead on preparing for the 2018 Games with the national team. The league will assemble an all-star team to play two exhibition games against the national team Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 at the U.S. Women's National Team's training complex at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Florida.
The Beauts are 3-4 this season and have four more home games in HarborCenter, hosting the Boston Pride on Jan. 6, the Connecticut Whale on Jan. 20, the Pride again on Jan. 27, and the Riveters on Feb. 3. The league is currently on holiday break.