The Buffalo Beauts open their season in Connecticut this weekend after an offseason that brought many changes. Over 200 women players are boycotting North American hockey this year leading to a mostly new roster and the Beauts are no longer calling Harborcenter their home. But players like Corinne Buie and Sara Bustad are optimistic the team and the brand of professional women’s hockey will continue to grow. They spoke with WBFO’s Nick Lippa.
A lot of changes have come to the NWHL. What are your general feelings heading in to his year?
CB: "I think we're both super excited. We had a great scrimmage this past weekend against Brock University. I think the team is looking really good. Definitively got better as we went. And we won. We got some momentum. Excited to head to Connecticut and have the first road trip with the team this weekend."
Sara this is your rookie season. You excited as well?
SB: “Yeah I completely agree. I’m pumped to get on the road with the girls and see what we can do here at the start of the season.”
Big change for the Beauts this year. They are no longer playing at the Harborcenter in downtown Buffalo. They’re going to be at Northtown Center in Amherst. How are you feeling about that change this year?
CB: “It’s different then the Harborcenter. But we’re really excited. They’ve really been making a home for us at Northtown Center. We have a nice locker room. We’ve got the Beauts crown (painted) outside of the locker room. They have an awesome weight room in there with a great strength coach for us and we had an awesome meal after the game and it’s been a good change so far.”
SB: “Yeah this past weekend when we played Brock, it was our first scrimmage game there. For not even being a regular season game it was packed. So I’m really excited for that intimate feeling with being a little bit closer to the fans. And hopefully being out on the outskirts of the city, I think that’s going to open up to even more people coming out to our games.”
Do you think there's a benefit to being in Amherst?
SB: “Yeah definitively. I think that’s kind of been the idea and talk so far. I think parking is going to be a little bit easier. If I was going to bring my family to the game it’s something I’d be thinking about.”
One of the biggest stories surrounding the NWHL this year is over 200 women hockey players boycotting North American hockey this year in hopes for better working conditions. It’s a complex situation with a league that saw growth in many areas last year. As players, how do you feel heading in to the year with that situation looming?
CB: It’s definitively a different year and it’s going to be a different year, but I’m just looking forward to playing in a league that’s given so much to us, an opportunity to play professionally and to be able to still be here for our fans and everything. We’ve grown a fanbase over the past few years and we want to be there for them. We’re excited to keep playing hockey and do what we love to do.”
SB: “The more opportunities for women and girls to be able to play hockey the better. I’m just super excited to be a part of this community and get to know our fan base this season and hopefully grow it. I think that’s really where our focus is on and that’s kind of what we’re thinking.”
You both highlight opportunity as an important factor here. In Buffalo we have the Beauts, but outside of that there’s no WNBA team or other large professional women’s sports team. Both of you grew up in Minnesota so I know you had access to watch professional women’s sports. How important was exposure for you?
CB: “I know when I was growing up, to have the opportunity I remember going to a WNBA and going to the Gophers women’s hockey games and being able to see those girls, they were my idols. To meet with them and talk to them and get their autographs and everything. We’re so lucky we get the opportunity to be role models for these girls and be a face. We’re so available to them. We’ll be out there after the games and everything. I would just love for people to bring their families out. Whether their kids play sports or not, just bring the family out for a day and come watch us play. You won’t regret it.”
SB: “Both of us were super fortunate to have those female role models living in Minnesota and growing up and watching women’s college hockey and women’s professional basketball. I didn’t really follow anything else but that. That’s exactly what I wanted to be and to be able to see that and have a dream was so important to my development. That’s all I want to do personally and I know our team wants that as well to be able to be a role model and help grow the game.”
SB: "Going in to college and at the start of my career there wasn't really the opportunity to play professionally in America. It just wasn't really on anybodies radar yet... I'm really excited and really fortunate that I have this opportunity to play professionally now."
There’s more games this year in the schedule.
CB: “I’m really happy about it. The more we can be on the ice as a team, the better we are going to play together. We want to play hockey. We’re playing in this league so the more games the better. It’s good for the fans as well. You get more people coming out to the games and more opportunities to come watch us play so it’s very exciting.”
SB: “Yeah definitively. Kind of like Buie said, just more games the better. We want to play hockey as much as we can and this provides more opportunities for fans and for young girls to watch us play.”
The Beauts hit the road take on the Connecticut Whale Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
You are on the road for a few weeks before you play your first game at home. How important is it to establish yourself on the road before getting home?
CB: “It’s important to set the tone for the season.”
SB: “Like first impressions and setting the tone for the seasons. Showing other teams what we’re about and kind of not going to be messed around with and pushed around. And really being a team that people are not looking forward to playing because we are going to come in and kick their butt,” everybody laughed.
CB: “And we have so many new girls on the team too. It’s like an opportunity for them to make their mark and show the coach what they can do. It should be interested.”
And that’s a big thing. There seems to be a lot of opportunity available this year for a lot of players to step up. Are you seeing that in practice right now?
CB: “Yeah absolutely. I love the work ethic that I’ve seen so far. We’ve all been having a good time, but staying focused and working hard. Coach Pete has been awesome. He’s a fun guy and he brings a lot to the table. A great leader and we’re learning a lot from him so far. I’m excited.”
The Beauts home opener takes place October 19 at Northtown Center in Amherst.