Ah, the advantages of signing a player capable of playing more than one position! Word was released on the morning of Aug. 14, 2019 that the Buffalo Beauts had signed forward-defender Ashley Birdsall. The team’s management and coaching staff took notice of Birdsall’s successful performance at the Beauts’ recent Free Agent Camp, and made sure to sign her up.
“Ashley is a very versatile player, with an undeniable and contagious work ethic,” said Buffalo’s General Manager Mandy Cronin in the press release for her most recent player signing. “She will be a workhorse for the Beauts.”
Birdsall played NCAA hockey for the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets from 2008-09 through 2012-13. A native of Duluth, Minnesota, she also played for the Minnesota Whitecaps for three seasons prior to the team having joined the NWHL.
Birdsall Is an All-Around Tough Athlete
What is particularly interesting to note for this signing is that Birdsall is about to complete her ninth year of service for the Minnesota Army National Guard. She is currently serving in the roles of Joint Operations Center Officer and G3 Training Technician for Joint Force Headquarters Minnesota. Having enlisted in the Army in 2011, Birdsall is very much accustomed to putting in hard work and continuous effort.
In addition to her military service, Birdsall is an accomplished athlete in a variety of disciplines.
“Throughout my time in the service, I have continued to train and compete in the sports of hockey, ice-cross downhill and biathlon,” she shared in the press release. “I believe my biggest strengths are speed, physicality and versatility on the ice. I’m comfortable at both forward and defense and am happy to play wherever I am needed in the lineup in order to contribute to the success of the Beauts.”
The NWHL has increased the number of regular season games this coming season from 16 to 24. The additional action is going to mean that all teams and their coaching staff will need to be mindful of wear and tear on the players. Birdsall’s great conditioning is going to bode well for both she and the Beauts, particularly during the deeper portions of the season and the playoffs.
Along with her physical dexterity, Birdsall acknowledges that the support she has received from the military has been a positive factor in being able to play professional hockey.
“This chance to play in the NWHL would not be possible without the continued support of my Chain of Command,” she stated, “and for that I am forever grateful.”
Where Does Perram Utilize Her?
Birdsall played 73 total games during her NCAA career with the Yellowjackets. Her scoring totals amounted to five goals and 10 assists during that time. Scrappy despite her diminutive stature, Birdsall’s career penalty minutes totaled to 52. She set a personal high for PIMs during her junior season when she averaged a penalty minute per game.
Birdsall’s top totals for UW-Superior came during her freshman season of 2008-09. She set career bests for games played (26), goals (3), assists (7) and points (10).
Beauts head coach Pete Perram will need to decide where Birdsall can most efficiently be utilized on his gameday roster. She could certainly fulfill a role as an energizing forward, and one who might see work in a fourth-line role.
Having said that though, it might be interesting for Perram to slot her on his blueline in a shutdown pairing. Birdsall has the endurance to log the extra minutes a defender typically eats up, and would make a good fit for Perram’s penalty-kill.
A fun tidbit to ponder over is what number does Birdsall select to wear when she suits up for the Beauts. She changed her number multiple times at UW-Superior, switching from 19 to 23, before going back to 19 again.
As of Aug. 14, here is how the Beauts’ roster currently looks:
Goaltender: Mariah Fujimagari, Kelsey Neumann.
Defender: Meg Delay, Marie-Jo Pelletier.
Forward: Corinne Buie, Brooke Stacey, Kim Brown, Becki Bowering, Cassidy MacPherson, Emma Ruggiero, Ashley Birdsall (forward-defender).
Beginning May 15, NWHL teams can re-sign players from their 2018-19 roster and their draft picks. Additionally, for those players who have completed their college eligibility and want to continue their hockey careers, NWHL Free Agency provides the best opportunity to continue playing at the highest level of professional women’s hockey. The fifth season of the NWHL will begin in October as the Minnesota Whitecaps look to defend their Isobel Cup championship.
My colleague Dan Rice will keep THW readers up-to-date on Metropolitan and Connecticut’s signings throughout the summer, while I post updates on Buffalo and Boston. Together we will be keeping readers informed of all of Minnesota’s signings.