Ric Seiling remembered that first training camp with the Buffalo Beauts when the team formed four years ago.
"We didn't have a lot of players who could shoot the puck," the head coach said. "You go into Boston and they pretty much had the Olympic team there, shooting pucks and picking corners and I thought, 'Oh boy. We're in trouble.'"
Turns out, not that much trouble. In the first three seasons of the National Women's Hockey League, the Beauts have been in all three Isobel Cup finals, winning the trophy in 2017.
But this year's edition of the Beauts is loaded with talent and experience.
Buffalo opened its fourth season with a 90-minute training camp session in HarborCenter Wednesday night. It's the first training camp under the Pegula Sports Entertainment umbrella, after Kim and Terry Pegula acquired the team in December.
The little things were noticeable, like their own locker room decked out in Beauts colors and logos.
And big things were on display as well, like some of the high-profile players the team signed over the summer.
While the Beauts signed a solid core of players from last year's team (remember, NWHL contracts only last one season), they had quite an exciting signing period, landing Olympic goaltenders Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley, Olympic forward Dani Cameranesi, and two-time NWHL All-Star Kelly Babstock, who played the last three seasons with the Connecticut Whale.
"I know that everyone is ready to rock," said Babstock who scored four goals with five assists in 14 games with the Whale last season. "You can feel the energy. We know what we're going to do this season. We have goals and we're going to accomplish those goals. Having a winning season. That's what we're going to do and I'm excited to do that in Buffalo. The major part of why I came to Buffalo is that winning culture and wanting to win. That's what I want to do all the time, is step on the ice, play my hardest, and try to win those games and I'm super excited to have that whole team back me up."
Among those having Babstock's back is Szabados, the Canadian Olympic goalie who will be playing her first season of professional women's hockey. Szabados has extensive experience playing in men's professional leagues the last few seasons and knows there will be an adjustment to the women's game.
"As a goalie especially, it's a different game," Szabados said. "Not one better than the other, just a different game – a lot of puck possession, a lot of systems. It will be a bit of a learning curve for me. It will be my first full season against women. I'm sure there will be some ups and downs, but I'm looking forward to it."
Fans are also looking forward to it and the Beauts are noticing a growing fan base in Buffalo. Seiling said it never fails for him to hear that someone watched their first Beauts game and walked away going, "Wow, I wasn't expecting that. That's really good hockey."
Corinne Buie has noticed it at her day job as well. The forward, now entering her third year with the Beauts, works in a local coffee shop, and said that people are starting to ask her about the team.
But aside from the power of the Pegula marketing machine, there are little changes that make a big difference for Buie and her teammates. Like the access to more ice time at HarborCenter in the summer to work on her game.
"We've had a lot more ice time availability this summer. Obviously I've been working in the weight room and everything, but to be able to work on those skills on the ice is so valuable. I have the strength, but to be able to work on the tight turns, the starting and stopping, working on my shot, things like that, are so important."
While the talent level on the Beauts roster, and across the league, has jumped, there are some things about the Beauts that remain the same. Like their commitment to work ethic.
"I told the girls, nobody likes to play Buffalo," Seiling said. "They do not like to play Buffalo because we never quit. How many times that first year were we down four or five goals going into the third period and ended up going into overtime because nobody could play three periods like our girls played. That's the tenacity, that's the heart and soul, and that's really what the people of Buffalo are about. It's a blue collar town and people like hard work and we strive to have our girls working at peak performance for all 60 minutes and if overtime, that too.
"Character is a big thing with us. It always has been from Day One," Seiling said. "We really stress the family-team environment amongst our players. You're not only paying for yourself, you're playing for the person next to you and you're playing for the ones on the bench. As (assistant coach) Craig (Muni) and I keep telling them, we stand behind you for a reason. We're here to support you. It's not about us, it's about you guys and what you can do. You're the pioneers that are advancing women's hockey."
Training camp continues at HarborCenter with practice from 6:15-7:15 on Friday and a Black and Blue scrimmage from 1-2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Both are free and open to the public.
The Beauts open the regular season on the road Oct. 7 at the Connecticut Whale. The team's home opener will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, against the Whale in HarborCenter.