Sara Bustad may have just finished her rookie season in the NWHL, but being from the state of Minnesota she has been playing hockey for the majority of her life. If you’ve ever wondered how professional hockey players prepared for a game that is the second of a back-to-back you opened the right article and you’re in the right place. But first let’s get to know the Stillwater, MN native.
Bustad played four seasons in her home state for Minnesota State University (2014-18) where she put up 16 points (5g-11a) and blocked 114 shots over 138 career games for the Mavericks. At the end of her collegiate career, she became the Community Hockey Coordinator for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
This past summer the NWHL collaborated with the Lightning on a Jr. Summer Clinic in August and Bustad ended up crossing paths with a future teammate, Taylor Accursi. It wasn’t until a month later that the 25-year-old signed with the Beauts, but after the clinic, the idea of playing again lingered.
“After that clinic, it opened up my eyes to the fact that I still have a lot to offer on the playing side,” Bustad recalled. “I believe in this league and I wanted to help support it. I thought it was important to play while I still have the ability to.”
Bolts to Beauts
In her first pro season, the defender played in 23 games for Buffalo, putting up 11 points (2g-9a) and was a key part of the reassembled blue line for the Beauts. “I really came into this season with no expectations and my main focus was just having the most fun that I could while playing hockey because you never know what the future holds. That was where I was at,” she explained.
“This season has been great and I love playing for the Beauts. It’s a great organization and we have an amazing staff that really cares about us. They put a lot of time and effort into making this a great experience and helping us to the best of their abilities.”
In speaking with her on the last day of the regular season Bustad’s main focus was on the game that day and the upcoming Isobel Cup playoffs, but she could be a regular on the Buffalo blueline again next season. “I have no complaints, this has been a great season,” she added. “I would definitely play again next season.”
But there’s still a game to be played. The previous night the Beauts lost to the Metropolitan Riveters 5-2 and then headed back to their hotel because the second game of the trip to New Jersey was going down less than 24 hours later.
It’s Game Day
Whether she is waking up at home or in a hotel there is one thing Bustad needs when she starts her day. “First things first, I have to figure out how to get some coffee in my system,” she told us. “Food comes second, first coffee. Whether it’s a home or road the routine is the same or very similar.”
They are on the road though and all together under one roof as a team so there are few team-based things that they will do before heading back to the rink. “Whenever we’ve played the Riveters (this season) they have been tough games. So we did do a little team yoga this morning at the hotel for about a half-hour and that helped loosen things up for us,” Bustad explained. “It felt good to get a stretch in before we headed to the rink for that second game.”
The Beauts also watched some video and had position meetings as well, and for those players aching from the night before and at the end of a long season, the players prepare themselves mentally and have the option for some rehab if necessary.
They all jump on the bus and head over to the rink about two hours before puck drop, giving them enough time to get in some quick warmups off and on the ice. “We always have a big game of spike-ball before warmups, that’s always a must no matter where we are,” said Bustad.
After changing into their workout clothes once they get to the rink spike ball is always first before they head back to the locker room to get their equipment and uniforms on. “(In the room) I hype up the girls for some spike ball, it gets pretty competitive!”
After spike ball, Bustad grabs a Gatorade, tapes her twig, and then starts to get in uniform. Is she superstitious like most athletes or is she a little-stitious and unwilling to admit she’s superstitious?
“Maybe a little,” the 25-year-old replied with a smile. “I put my gear on left to right. So like left shin pad first, left elbow pad, left skate. But other than that not too much.” And once they hit the ice?
“I definitely like to do the same thing every time. I’ll go to the same spot on the ice when I stretch before we get our drills going. Then I’ll be in the same place in line whenever we do the slap shots or come out of the corner, or during 2-on-1s. I always have to be in the same spot.”
Sounds superstitious to me! Just teasing, maybe.
So the Beauts are done with their on-ice drills and head back to the locker room for 15 minutes before the game is scheduled to start. “We have the tunes going, and we’re cracking some jokes. We’re talking about different things that we want to do on the ice. Just keeping it light and having fun,” says Bustad. “That’s my main thing – I just want to have the best time always.”
As a defender, she’ll have some conversation with her partner but at this point in the season, everyone knows what they need to do so there isn’t too much as far as exclusive conversations with her D-partner that day, everyone on the team talks with each other.
When they come back to the locker room for intermission, everyone has their routines. For Bustad, she goes for some Gatorade and isn’t much of a snacker, but she’ll help keep the mood light in the room.
“We have some very funny girls on our team, definitely a handful of them,” she revealed. “Becki Bowering is probably right up there as one of the funnier ones. She always has some comment or joke that gets everyone laughing in our locker room.”
Once the game is over the Beauts have to pack up their gear and head to the bus that will take them back home with a very early morning arrival time. “If there are fans to talk with or family I’ll talk with them for a little bit before leaving the rink or heading back to the bus/hotel room/home and watch some Netflix.”
“I don’t do too much stretching after the game myself, I just like to grab food right after and I’m usually pretty tired at that point,” Bustad said. “Getting back to the bus or hotel room (or home) and getting some rest as quick as possible is usually how I operate.”
The Beauts ended up winning the second game of the weekend, earning a split with the Rivs before the NWHL playoffs start. Bustad earned an assist in each game. She and Buffalo will host Connecticut on March 6 (8:30 pm) for the right to advance to Semifinal Sunday and a date with the Boston Pride on March 8.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.