The Bux doesn’t stop here
Post Independent Sports Editor
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Timothy Kwiatowski looks back and laughs at one of his earliest memories of Ariana Buxman.
“From the time that she was 7 to 9 years old, she swore up and down that she was going to grow up to play for the Colorado Avalanche,” said Kwiatowski, the director of hockey for the Glenwood Grizzlies youth hockey club. “I just kind of laughed at her, and even she looks back and laughs at it a bit, too.
“But she was extremely determined,” he continued. “And all of that determination has stuck with her.”
That determination, along with a passion for hockey which has stuck with her since the first time she saw a game, has helped Buxman get to the spot she’s in now. The Glenwood Springs native has signed a letter of intent to play women’s hockey for Providence (R.I.) College after three years of studying and playing hockey for prep hockey power Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Fairbault, Minn.
“It will definitely be a big wake up call for me going up to the level I’m going to now,” Buxman said from her dorm room at Shattuck. “There’s still so much work that has to be done on my game even though it feels like I’ve put hundreds of thousands of hours into it. But there’s so many more ways that I can get better and so much more that I can improve on.”
The improvements she’s made, along with some natural ability to which her coaches attribute her success, has helped give her that chance to improve at one of the highest levels of women’s hockey and join some select company. Coming into the weekend, according to http://www.USCHO.com, Buxman was the only Colorado athlete to be awarded a scholarship to a Division I women’s hockey program for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
There are only 33 schools in the nation that offer women’s hockey at the Division I level, and six of those programs are at Ivy League schools that don’t offer athletic scholarships.
Part of the opportunity to earn the scholarship to Providence came from attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which has earned a reputation as the premier hockey school in North America. An article on http://www.ESPN.com called the school the “Hogwarts of Hockey, where carbon-fiber sticks take the place of magic wands.” One of its most recent and recognizable former students is NHL All-Star Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose little sister, Taylor, was a goalkeeper on the same team as Buxman.
Going against that caliber of competition might be intimidating to some athletes. But not to Buxman.
“She was just a dominant force in the girls game,” said Kwiatowski, who coached her in boys hockey with the Grizzlies program. “Most girls drop out when they get into contact with the boys game. She didn’t.”
If anything, Buxman stepped up her game.
Doug Coombe, who has coached girls hockey in Aspen for the past 20 years and coached Buxman when she was making a transition from only playing boys hockey, remembers her playing for multiple teams — boys teams included — as an 11-year-old. She didn’t, however, play enough games to be eligible for the 12U playoffs. She vowed to Coombe that she’d play enough games the following year to be eligible for the playoffs.
She was, and Coombe’s team won the state championship game with her on the roster. And while she played on the 12U team, she also played on Aspen’s 14U team and others as well. By then, she’d earned the respect of every one of her teammates and coaches.
“In the last minute of the 14-and-under state championship game, we were up by a goal,” Coombe said. “She had already played six games that weekend, but she was still put in during the last minute of that game as a 12-year-old. That’s how much respect and how much confidence people had in her.”
Each of Buxman’s former coaches echoed her attributes. Her skating ability and puck handling skills — both vital parts of being a good defender — were superior to her teammates. Each also noted her personable attitude and ability to get along with her teammates. Kwiatowski also noted some potential pedigree benefits for natural balance ability, as her father, John, was a World Cup skier prior to attaining ownership of the Springs Theater in Glenwood.
Other competing teams also saw her ability, claiming during tournaments in Denver that Buxman should have been playing on a AAA team rather than Single A teams in Glenwood or Aspen. Single A club hockey is the highest level of hockey available in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I just kept saying to them, ‘Well, what is she supposed to do? Have her parents drive her to three hours every day so she can play at a higher level?’” Coombe recalls saying.
Eventually, that higher level came to her.
Coaches from Shattuck, which plays at the AAA level, saw her play during a prospects tournament in Toronto. Their initial sales pitch initially fell on deaf ears to Buxman’s parents, John and Regina, who weren’t thrilled about the prospect of their daughter going to school in another time zone.
Buxman’s coaches, however, convinced her parents to strongly consider the opportunity. The family made a trip to visit the campus, and Buxman was sold on the Episcopal boarding school after seeing the campus, its culture and hearing of her opportunity to play immediately.
“It was extremely hard,” Regina Buxman said. “But we knew this was an opportunity for her we couldn’t pass up.”
She took advantage of it, for sure.
Statistics posted on Shattuck-St. Mary’s website showed Buxman played 158 games in her three seasons at the school, tallying three goals and 19 assists. She never played a full season, yet played through injuries consistently. She recalled a time when she wound up with three broken ribs while Shattuck was playing against a team with bigger players from Canada, yet it wasn’t long before she was back on the ice.
Buxman understands that she’s undersized for her position at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, knowing other players she’ll play against likely will have an extra two to four inches of height on her.
“That was a big wake up call for me,” Buxman said. “It made me realize what kind of level I was moving up to.”
Although Buxman admits she’ll have to hit the weight room to prepare for the faster college game, she did say that Providence, coached by Bob Deraney, became interested thanks to her skating ability, her puck-handling skills and her ability to read and anticipate moves by an oncoming player.
“That was one thing I learned when I was really young,” Buxman said. “I actually kept a hockey book of coach’s quotes, and I just found one that was really good. It was from a coach named Chris Lockram, and I heard it when I was 10.
“He said, ‘If you’re not always moving, you’re doing something wrong,’” she continued. “That’s the biggest problem, is that some people just stand around at the blue line waiting for people to come to them. He told me I should always be moving and following the puck no matter what.”
She’ll have the opportunity to do that more at Providence, which begins its season on Sept. 28. The Friars went 15-16-3 last season but do have a strong history, coming a victory away from reaching the Women’s Frozen Four in 2005.
Buxman would love nothing more than to help Providence return to prominence but also has academics and other goals in mind. She’d like to return to Colorado after graduation but also plans on post-graduate work. She also has hopes of playing in the Olympics, her ultimate goal.
And by attending Providence, even though the NHL is out of reach, that ultimate goal seems like a reality.
“Ever since I was little, my goal has been to be an Olympic athlete,” Buxman said. “Playing Division I hockey is awesome. But to me, it’s a stepping stone to where I want to be.”
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