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NWHL begins historic inaugural season

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The National Women's Hockey League began its historic inaugural season Sunday.

The league's four teams, the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, New York Riveters and Buffalo Beauts each started an 18-game schedule that runs through February.

The puck was dropped for the first time before a sellout crowd at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Conn., where the Whale faced the Riveters.

"It's a dream come true," Whale goalie Jaimie Leonoff, who made 35 saves to pick up the first win in NWHL history, told the Collinsville Press. "Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine 800 tickets sold, kids screaming [in the stands] and girls on the ice. We had so much support."

Whale forward Jessica Koizumi scored the first goal in league history 2:28 into the first period. Brooke Ammerman answered for the Riveters early in the second, but forward Kelli Stack scored 1:10 later to put the Whale ahead for good en route to a 4-1 victory.

"I was wide open on the back door and I saw the whole net," Stack told the Collinsville Press. "I really just had to direct it over the goalie's leg."

Manon Rheaume, the first woman to appear in an NHL preseason game when she played for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff in Buffalo, where the Pride defeated the Beauts 4-1 before close to 1,800 fans.

"Everyone was saying how great Buffalo is and I don't think anyplace would have a crowd like this," Pride defenseman Emily Pfalzer told The Buffalo News. "I wouldn't expect anything else. I'm really proud."

Hilary Knight, a veteran of the United States women's hockey team who won silver medals at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics, scored the first of her two goals at 12:08 of the first period. Jordan Smolker and Amanda Pelkey each had a goal for Boston in the win.

Kelley Steadman's power-play goal at 7:58 of the third was the first goal in Beauts history. Meghan Duggan, captain of the U.S. women's Olympic team, earned the assist.

"It was a pretty nice pass from Meghan Duggan out of the corner," Steadman told the Buffalo News. "It was pretty much a wide-open net. Saw the goalie move over and knew that I couldn't miss. It was a great pass from Meghan and I was lucky to put it in. … The fans were amazing. We knew we wanted to get them a goal and give them something to cheer about."

Dani Rylan, the founder and commissioner of the NWHL and general manager of the Riveters, dropped the ceremonial first puck in Stamford.

"It's been such an emotional rollercoaster all day," Rylan told the Collinsville Press. "I think had goosebumps throughout the game. I was trying not to cry when I walked out onto the ice for the first puck drop. This was really special."

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