Sara Bustad isn't a dirty player, but she certainly won't shy away from contact. That's the way she was brought up.

"I played boys' hockey all the way up until high school; maybe that's where I got that from," said the Stillwater senior with a laugh.

Her coach, Tony Scheid, sees it on every shift.

"She plays with an edge. She's very willing to take a hit to make a play,'' Scheid said. "She's definitely a physical presence on the ice and likes to go to those tough areas. "She doesn't mind incidental contact, that's for sure."

It's that aggressive play, combined with Bustad's keen hockey sense, competitive level and raw talent that led to her receiving -- and signing -- a national letter of intent to play for Minnesota State Mankato next season.

Her commitment fulfills a goal she's had since she started attending college hockey games in 1999.

"This has definitely been a dream of mine for a lot of years," said Bustad, who had other college offers but ultimately liked the location, the coaches and the Mavericks' status as a member of the WCHA.

Before her college dream becomes a reality, Bustad reflected on another vivid hockey memory: In her first varsity season as an eighth-grader, she was part of the Ponies' Class 2A state championship team in 2009.

As an alternate, she didn't dress for the state tournament games but that didn't diminish how incredible those moments were for her.

"Probably one of the greatest experiences of my hockey career so far," Bustad said. "The whole team aspect.

"I think being an eighth-grader I took a lot of things for granted that year, but how would anybody know that being so young? It was a pretty neat experience that I'll definitely remember forever."

Bustad and the Ponies will have plenty of opportunities this season to make more lasting memories. Bustad was recruited to play defense in college, but for now, Stillwater needs her on offense. She's that versatile.

"She can add that scoring punch. We definitely need her up front right now," Scheid said of Bustad, who had 27 points in 27 games last season. "She's a real selfless kid. She'll do anything to help out the team. I think it's going to enhance her as a defenseman."

Bustad is one of eight seniors playing for Scheid this season. Many are multi-sport athletes who shine for Stillwater at all times of the school year.

Hannah Heacox threw a no-hitter in the softball state tournament last spring and led the Ponies to a state title. Dana Almquist is being recruited by colleges in lacrosse and hockey. She and Katie Casto brought Stillwater to the lacrosse state tournament last spring. Hannah Okerstrom was part of a solid soccer team.

Most of all, they share a keen desire to win in their last winter of hockey together. That could pay dividends for Stillwater in the wide-open Suburban East Conference.

"There's an urgency there," Scheid said. "I think there are some girls that definitely want to make this their best year in high school hockey."