DULUTH, Minn. — One of the first thoughts Brianna Decker had Saturday morning after winning the Patty Kazmaier Award involves a specific burden that comes along with it.
Decker, the junior center from Dousman, Wis., became the fourth Wisconsin player to receive the honor, which is bestowed upon the top college player in the nation for a given season.
The three previous UW winners — center Sara Bauer in 2006, goaltender Jessie Vetter in 2009 and right winger Meghan Duggan in 2011 — followed up their coronations by winning NCAA championships the following day.
Decker is on deck.
The top-ranked Badgers (33-4-2 overall) face WCHA rival and second-ranked Minnesota (33-5-2) for the national title at 3 p.m. Sunday at Amsoil Arena.
“My focus is all on the game [Sunday] and that’s what’s most important,” Decker said.
“We came here to win a national championship, not an individual award. That’s my goal for the season is to win a national championship with the team. That’s what we’re going to plan on doing [Sunday].”
That mind-set didn’t stop Decker from savoring the moment with her family — father John, mother Marilyn and brothers Bryan, Ben and Brody — coaches and teammates in a banquet setting. The entourage included friends from Dousman, a town of roughly 1,500 about 40 miles west of Milwaukee, and Decker tearfully exchanged hugs with them all.
The moment had deep roots to last season, when Decker and Duggan were linemates and almost inseparable by design. Decker wanted to learn all she could from the 2010 U.S. Olympian and Duggan, a charismatic captain and fitness fiend, was more than happy to take Decker under her wing.
“She’s just grown into something amazing,” Duggan said. “She’s an unbelievable player.”
Decker came into the season determined to not only play as Duggan played, but to embrace her role as an assistant captain.
“I’ve always been competitive and I’ve always worked hard and stuff, but what I needed to work on was leadership off the ice,” Decker said. “It’s something I needed to work on, and Meghan really helped me on that.
“I saw her, the leader she was, and I wanted to be like that. I strived to be that this year.”
A year after accounting for 34 goals, 46 assists and 80 points, Decker has 37-45–82 going into a fifth and final meeting with the Gophers this season. The only other UW player with back-to-back 80-point seasons is senior center and captain Hilary Knight, who did it as a sophomore and junior.
“The team makes each player who they really are,” Decker said. “I think that’s exactly what my team did for me this year.”
Knight was one of 10 finalists, but a 13-member committee tabbed Decker from a final pool that included North Dakota winger Jocelyne Lamoureux and Northeastern goaltender Florence Schelling.
Outside of Harvard, which has six Patty Kazmaier winners, no other school has had back-to-back winners.
“It shows a lot,” Decker said. “It shows the depth of our program and the type of players that get recruited to Wisconsin.”
All the Kazmaier recipients who played for the Badgers have something in common.
“Each one, if you look at all four of them, earned it,” UW coach Mark Johnson said.
Three of the four brought home a NCAA title along with their Kazmaier trophy. Decker will try to make it 4-for-4 on Sunday.
“Hopefully, that’s the plan,” she said.