Ashley Birdsall: Buffalo’s Forward-Defender and National Guard Officer
By Nathaniel A. Oliver
In Ashley Birdsall, the Buffalo Beauts have one of the most versatile players in the NWHL. The Duluth, Minnesota native made her way to Western New York last month to begin her professional hockey career. A bit of a trek, but one she was eager to make. Birdsall was the 11th player to be signed to the Beauts roster for the 2019-20 season, but was the first skater to be listed as a defender-forward.
"I have experience playing both, but I would say naturally I'm a forward,” said Birdsall. “That's what I started out as, and where I have had the most experience throughout my career. Center is something I'm very comfortable with, and I think it's very interchangeable with defense when it comes to the defensive zone. I'm comfortable doing both, but if I had to choose one or the other I'd say that I'm a stronger forward."
In addition to being versatile, Birdsall has a unique background and is one of the most physically fit players in the NWHL. She recently completed her ninth year of service in the Minnesota Army National Guard. Birdsall currently holds the roles of Joint Operations Center Officer and G3 Training Technician for Joint Force Headquarters Minnesota.
Birdsall's desire to serve her country is deeply rooted within her family.
"My grandfather passed away when I was 16," said Birdsall. "He was given a military funeral. He's buried at Camp Ripley where I spend a lot of my time doing my military duties. That was the first time I was ever exposed to the military. It was ironic because none of us kids knew he served in the Korean War. He never talked about it and our parents never mentioned it. Perhaps it was something he didn't want to be talked about. It was a very memorable event in my life, just observing and taking in everything at his funeral. I joined in the middle of college to seek better opportunities for myself, and to do something I felt was important."
Birdsall is also committed to helping others. In her current military role, she has a direct impact on the health and well-being of her fellow soldiers.
“I’ve had the honor to serve in the role of Officer in Charge of the MN Comprehensive Soldier Fitness course twice – a course focused on the overall health and wellness aspect of a Soldier,” said Birdsall. “The course was pioneered by one of my fellow peers, CPT Vance, and it teaches soldiers about emotional, spiritual, physical and mental health. I love to stay physically active, and working out in the gym is one of my passions. It’s pretty amazing to be afforded the opportunity to work with the finest Non-Commissioned Officers, Cadre, and health specialists within our ranks and make a positive impact on the Soldiers that attend the course.”
More on Birdsall:
Biathlon (see pictures): As you can see in the pictures, Birdsall also competes in the sport of Biathlon for the MNARNG. She also served as Company Commander for the 46th NOREX - Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange.
Why she wears No. 19: "19 is my favorite number. I grew up watching the Red Wings. My dad was a fan of the Red Wings and Steve Yzerman was one of my favorite players that I watched growing up. I have his jersey. I've always done my best to stick with that number."
Favorite Hobby: "I very much enjoy dirt-biking. I grew up on a dirt bike. I do my best every year to at least get on my bike once or twice, and go back up to northern Minnesota. As a kid I would just ride the trails and ride the iron ore pits. Just take in nature with my cousins, and enjoy my time up there."
On the Beauts’ Opening Weekend: “I’m really proud of how we are coming together as a team and I’m confident the fans will love seeing the new Beauts. This is a team that works hard and plays together, and I know we’re the kind of team Buffalo will be proud of. I hope to see the Beauts’ fans at Northtown Center this weekend, and I look forward to them meeting the team and the post-game autograph session.”
The Buffalo Beauts play Connecticut in their season-opening weekend at Northtown Center at Amherst. Start times are 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are just $20 and are available now at www.NWHL.zone/tickets and at the arena on game days.
Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson
Images Courtesy: Ashley Birdsall