With 25 roster spots potentially available, the Buffalo Beauts are enhancing their depth in these early days of the 2019-20 NWHL regular season. The team just upped their current player total from 20 to 21. Perhaps more importantly for the long season ahead, their most recent signing adds further grit and toughness.
Word was released on the morning of Oct. 14, 2019 that the Beauts had signed Buffalo State College alumna Nikki Kirchberger. A native Buffalonian and a 2016 Buff State graduate, she is the all-time penalty minutes leaders for the Bengals. Additionally, she was a 2016 CWHL draft choice of the Toronto Furies.
“I would just like to thank my family and friends, old teammates, and my coaches who helped me,” Kirchberger told THW about her signing. “Especially my dad. He is the reason I started playing hockey.”
NCAA Career at Buff State
Kirchberger played both forward and defense throughout her collegiate career. She reached double digits in points for all four of her NCAA seasons, and proved that she was a force to be reckoned with.
In Kirchberger’s first season for the Bengals, she potted eight goals in 25 games. Tacking on three assists, her solid freshman performance would see her named to the ECAC West All-Rookie Team. Kirchberger would be named ECAC West Rookie of the Week for Dec. 10, 2012 after she scored a pair of unassisted goals against SUNY Cortland on Dec. 8.
Kirchberger never recorded less than 22 penalty minutes in a season. Her highest out put of 75 came in all of 26 games in 2013-14. Even with the extra time in the box, Kirchberger still compiled one of her finest offensive seasons by going 9-10-19 for scoring that campaign.
Kirchberger’s top scoring performance came as a senior in 2015-16. She recorded 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 26 games. Out of those 10 goals, Kirchberger scored three on the power play and two held up to be game-winners – both career highs for her.
By the time that her career with the Bengals came to a close, she had assembled totals of 31 goals, 31 assists and 62 points in 103 NCAA games. More eye-hopping however are Kirchberger’s 171 PIMs in that time.
What Kirchberger Brings to the Beauts
There are multiple interesting facets to the Beauts signing Kirchberger.
The simplest and perhaps the most “feel good” part of the signing is that Kirchberger becomes the team’s six native Buffalonian to be on the roster. Additionally, she rejoins her former Buffalo State teammates Erin Gehen and Emma Ruggiero.
More functionally, Kirchberger adds some further toughness that the Beauts can utilize. Heading into the team’s home opener on Oct. 19 against the Connecticut Whale, Buffalo sits at a record of 1-2 through their first three games. They are coming off of back-to-back losses to the Boston Pride, including a rough 8-1 defeat the day prior to the Kirchberger signing. Some added energy from a more robust player can be a boost for the Beauts’ upcoming two straight games at home.
Maybe even more importantly is the fact that Kirchberger is a much needed option for the Beauts defense simply due to numbers. Buffalo only has five natural blueliners, though Ashley Birdsall has been utilized solely on defense thus far. Lenka Čurmová was not able to suit up for the 8-1 loss game in Boston, which meant the Beauts only skated five D. With their spare players so far being forwards Ruggiero and Maddie Norton, it would make a great deal of sense to have Kirchberger as the seventh member of the defense corps.
According to Kirchberger, her favorite quote to play by has always been, “The name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back.”
As of Oct. 14, here is how the Beauts’ roster currently looks:
Goaltender: Mariah Fujimagari, Kelsey Neumann.
Defender: Meg Delay, Marie-Jo Pelletier, Ashley Birdsall (forward-defender) Lenka Čurmová, Ana Orzechowski, Richelle Skarbowski, Nikki Kirchberger (forward-defender).
Forward: Corinne Buie, Brooke Stacey, Kim Brown, Becki Bowering, Cassidy MacPherson, Iveta Klimášová, Emma Ruggiero, Maddie Norton, Kandice Sheriff, Taylor Accursi, Sara Bustad (forward-defender), Erin Gehen.
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.