The Buffalo Beauts have made their 17th player signing, as the start of the 2019-20 NWHL season is just around the corner. Word was released on the morning of Sept. 18, 2019 that the team had added defender-forward Sara Bustad. This is the second signing the team has made of a player listed in such a category.
Bustad is a native of Stillwater, Minnesota and played her high school hockey for Stillwater High School. A 5-foot-7 right-handed shooter, she would commence her NCAA career beginning with the 2013-14 season at Minnesota State University.
Bustad was listed as a defender during her first two seasons at Minnesota State, but finished out her collegiate career as a forward. Her ability to play both ways gives Beauts head coach Pete Perram a lot of options for orchestrating his lineup. That is even more so the case because Perram already has Ashley Birdsall as a defender-forward as well, and forward Iveta Klimášová has experience on defense too.
NCAA Success With the Mavericks
Bustad had a great deal of success on the ice during her teenage years. She reached 20 points in all but her freshman season at Stillwater. In 87 games for the Ponies, Bustad put forth 33 goals and 35 assists for 68 points. Such a performance garnered the attention USA Hockey’s National Development Camp which included her as an attendee both for U-16 and U-17. Bustad was also named to the All-Pioneer Press First Team as a high school senior, and played for with Minnesota Junior Whitecaps club team.
When it came time to attend college, she remained in her home state to play for MSU. Bustad red-shirted her freshman season of 2013-14, but played four complete seasons there afterward. She played in all 36 Mavericks games in both of her first two seasons.
Bustad was scrappy throughout her college career, but managed to keep her penalty minute totals in check as time went along. After putting up 50 PIMs in 2014-15, those numbers dropped each season – from 50 to 36, down to 12 and ending at 10 in 31 games as a senior in 2017-18. Still, she finished her NCAA career with 108 PIMs in 138 games.
Bustad blocked a high amount of shots as a Maverick too. In those same 138 games, she stepped in front of pucks 114 times. That is even after transitioning from defense to forward in her third season. Bustad’s highest blocked shots total was 47 in 2015-16.
More of a defensive specialist, her final offensive numbers for MSU were five goals and 11 assists for 16 points.
How Bustad Fits in With the Beauts
The question now becomes: where do the Beauts utilize Bustad – up front or back as a rearguard?
At the present time, it would make more sense to place her on defense. The Beauts currently only have three natural defenders on their roster at the moment – Meg Delay, Marie-Jo Pelletier, and Lenka Čurmová.
However, it is worth noting that during Buffalo’s first practice of their 2019-20 training camp, Birdsall was being utilized as a defender. There were also three blueliners in attendance on a tryout basis who could also be possibly end up being signed – Ana Orzechowski (RPI), Megan Reukauf (Buffalo State College), and Richelle Skarbowski (Cortland).
Given Bustad’s shot-blocking skills and since there is still space to fill along Buffalo’s blue line, it would make sense to keep her on the back end. She has good size, and can play physical around the front of the net.
The other thing to keep in consideration is that the NWHL roster maximum is 25 players. Most of the league’s teams are intending to keep their rosters around 20 players, with the intent of potentially adding more players as the season goes along.
The fact that Buffalo has multiple players that are defender-forwards shows great planning on the part of Beauts GM Mandy Cronin and Perram. If the team does add more players once the season is underway, they have the maneuverability to more easily shift players around because certain ones are comfortable at multiple positions. Bustad might very well start in one particular role, and end up playing a different one before the season is through.
As of Sept. 18, here is how the Beauts’ roster currently looks:
Goaltender: Mariah Fujimagari, Kelsey Neumann.
Defender: Meg Delay, Marie-Jo Pelletier, Lenka Čurmová.
Forward: Corinne Buie, Brooke Stacey, Kim Brown, Becki Bowering, Cassidy MacPherson, Iveta Klimášová, Emma Ruggiero, Ashley Birdsall (forward-defender), Maddie Norton, Kandice Sheriff, Taylor Accursi, Sara Bustad (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.