Opportunity allowed Taylor Accursi to fall back in love with the game – and turned her into an NWHL all-star

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The disparity between what the record book will remind us about the result of any given contest and the lasting memory of that same outing can be a funny thing.

Take the game in which Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd goal. That’s the marker that made ‘The Great One’ the greatest goal scorer in NHL history. It was the goal followed by Gretzky’s iconic running-man celebration, and it was met with the entire Los Angeles Kings bench streaming onto the ice, a center ice celebration that included a Gretzky speech and a more than 10-minute stoppage in play. But you know what else the record book says about March 23, 1994? It says Gretzky’s Kings were walloped, losing 6-3 to the Vancouver Canucks. But hey, it makes sense we often gloss over that part of the story.

This is to say that, sure, when fans look back on the NWHL’s Buffalo Believes Classic in a few years’ time, some will recall it as the circuit’s inaugural outdoor regular season contest, one that pitted the hometown Beauts against the visiting Metropolitan Riveters. Some may also recall the visitors skated away with a 7-4 victory. But the memory that will stand out in the minds of those who were there or watched from afar won’t be the final score or who ultimately won. Rather, it will be Taylor Accursi’s third period performance.

It’s a performance that started rather innocuously, of course, with Accursi and the Beauts failing to find the scoreboard through the first 51 minutes of the outing. But roughly nine minutes into the final frame, Accursi got Buffalo on the board. And then little more than five minutes later, after the Riveters had restored their three-goal lead, Accursi struck again. This time, she toe-dragged around a defender before stuffing home a second attempt. Two minutes after that, Accursi completed the hat trick, picking up and rifling a loose puck past Riveters goaltender Sam Walther. But it’s what happened next – 25 seconds after play had resumed and all the hats had been cleared from the ice – that Accursi really put her stamp on the game, stunning everyone with a seeing-eye blast that eluded everyone for her fourth goal in a hair less than seven and a half minutes.

I literally was like, ‘Holy crap, we tied it up,’” Accursi laughed. “After that split second, I was like, ‘Holy crap, I also scored four goals.’”

Shocking as it may have been, the four-goal game is a testament not just to the effort Accursi put in that night, but what she has done throughout the entire season.

Amid the changing women’s hockey landscape and the departure of many notable Beauts, Accursi, who had 10 goals and 17 points in 28 games with Buffalo in her two prior NWHL campaigns, has transformed into one of the most lethal scorers in the league by grabbing onto every opportunity she’s been provided and molding it into a breakout campaign. Powered in part by her four-goal outing, the 24-year-old’s 15 goals are tops in the NWHL, her 23 points fourth-best in the circuit and first among Beauts skaters and her career-best single-season output – to which she continues to add – is proof positive what she can do if given the chance.

“I’ve had the ability to put the puck in the net my entire career,” Accursi said. “It’s just this year I’ve been being used a lot more and in different situations, and that’s allowed me to be more successful than I have in past seasons…This year, I guess, more or less, I’ve definitely been given the confidence to believe in myself and what I’m capable of doing and it’s showing.”

Where Accursi has seen the change and begun to truly feel it is in her play with the puck. In seasons past, when she was utilized primarily as a power play specialist and less an offensive focal point, her mindset was to move the puck along, get it to someone who can produce or make a play or who is “stronger or smarter with the puck,” she explained. “But now it’s more or less that I am (that) player. Do something with (the puck) in an positive way. I guess the mentality has changed for me.”

At times, that belief in herself is subconscious, an intuitive trust in her ability to make something happen. And that’s something Accursi admits she needed. Speaking frankly about her time in the NCAA, Accursi said she didn’t “exactly have the most positive…experience,” finding herself on the bubble instead of in the top six as she had expected when she was recruited. She felt she wasn’t being put in a position to succeed. And though she gradually earned her place and managed a career high 23 points in her senior season, she still felt she could provide more. Joining the Beauts allowed her to do that. But it’s this season, in her newfound role as a centerpiece of Buffalo’s attack, that has meant the most.

“It’s definitely allowed me to fall back in love with the game,” Accursi said.

Through her rekindled love of the game, which has been constructed on top of the opportunities she’s been afforded, Accursi has also earned the right to call herself something she hasn’t at any point prior in her NWHL career: all-star.

When the NWHL announced the rosters for the February event in Boston, Accursi was selected to join Team Dempsey alongside fellow Beauts defender Marie-Jo Pelletier and goaltender Mariah Fujimagari. Over the moon about the selection, Accursi said she “felt like a kid in a candy store” when she found out about the all-star nod. “That puts me in a category with players that are in this league and have been in this league from the start,” she said. “It’s an honor to be a part of something like that.”

Of course, if this is only the beginning of Accursi’s rise, chances are this won’t be the last time she receives the honor. Matter of fact, if this season is any indication, there could come a time when an all-star selection becomes old hat for the Beauts’ standout scorer. And maybe that will come around the same time we stop remembering who won the Buffalo Believes Classic and instead recall it only as the night Accursi scored four.

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