The Buffalo Beauts have signed their first goaltender to their 2019-20 roster. Word was released on the morning of Jun. 18 that former CWHL Worcester Blades goalie and University of Maine alum Mariah Fujimagari will join the team for the upcoming NWHL season.
“We are excited to have Mariah join the Beauts family next season,” said Beauts General Manager Mandy Cronin in the press release for the signing. “She is a workhorse on and off the ice, and her passion for life and hockey is infectious. The drive, dedication and experience that Mariah brings is indicative of the culture we are building in Buffalo.”
Fujimagari already has two professional seasons under her belt. Upon graduating from Maine in 2017, she played a season in Slovakia as the starting goalie for HC SKP Bratislava. She followed that up by playing the 2018-19 season with the Blades, where she played the most amount of games among the four goaltenders that Worcester utilized.
“My decision to play for the Buffalo Beauts, one of the NWHL founding teams, means a great deal to me,” said Fujimagari. “It has been a reassuring process with the exceptional management, led by GM Mandy Cronin. The conversations surrounding team culture and aspirations for the organization align with my vision, goals and core values of relentlessness, hard work, and respect.”
Great Size for a Goalie
Goaltenders are typically larger in size these days than they have ever been before, and Fujimagari is no exception. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, she has ideal natural size to help her cover the goal crease in addition to an already solid skill set. Catching left, the 25-year-old Markham, Ontario native is just plain tough to beat.
Fujimagari put up very impressive numbers during her time spent in Slovakia. She played 12 games for Bratislava in Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) competition – a league consisting of several teams from primarily Central Europe. In those dozen games she came away with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .914% save percentage.
Additionally, Fujimagari also played another 12 games for Bratislava in Slovakia’s premier women’s hockey league. Her numbers were by far the best of all goaltenders from each of the league’s eight teams. She posted rather eye-popping numbers of a 0.55 GAA and a .967 SV%.
While in the CWHL, Fujimagari helped a challenged Worcester team keep competitive. Though she was originally drafted by her hometown Markham Thunder with the 46th overall pick in the 2018 CWHL Draft, Fujimagari found a niche in Worcester.
Numbers do not tell the full story, as her statistics with the Blades are less than desirable for a goalie – a 6.74 GAA and a .866 SV% across 16 games. But given the amount of work that Fujimagari faced, her save percentage is actually not bad. She was peppered for 516 shots in 16 games, or an average of over 32 shots a game. In a Jan. 9, 2019 showdown with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, Fujimagari faced 73 shots and stopped all but four of them.
A Fresh Face for Buffalo and a Fresh Start
While Cronin is guaranteed to make at least one more goaltender signing for the upcoming season, she will most likely make two more in order to have the Beauts net fully covered. Three goalies has been the unwritten NWHL standard since the league’s inception.
Fujimagari becomes the ninth goaltender in Buffalo’s history. If she is an indication of things to come, we could see a 10th or 11th new goaltender don the Beauts blue this upcoming season. Perhaps we could even see a familiar face make a return – we hope. Who knows?
One thing for certain is that Cronin appears very well-connected. Most would not have figured beforehand that Fujimagari would become a Beaut. In many ways though, it makes sense. Markham is relatively close to Buffalo.
Additionally, there is that Black Bears connection to consider too. Cronin was a goaltender for Maine in the late-1990s and early-2000s. Fujimagari’s career with the Black Bears stemmed from her freshman campaign in 2013-14 up through the 2016-17 season.
Ironically, both Cronin and Fujimagari are very similarly sized goalies as well.
It would be a logical guess that the two were already familiar with one another. A new face Fujimagari may be, but she is indeed primed for Beauts hockey in Buffalo:
“Buffalo is a wonderful city and community with passionate hockey fans and so many aspiring young hockey players,” she went on to say in the release. “They deserve a championship team and I am looking forward to contributing in the pursuit of another the Isobel Cup for Buffalo.”
As of Jun. 18, here is how the Beauts’ roster currently looks:
Goaltender: Mariah Fujimagari.
Forward: Corinne Buie.
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.