There was a good explanation for the heightened senses of both happiness and tension at this year’s Patty Kazmaier Memorial Dinner.
For the first time in the history of the award, the finalists were all competing in Sunday’s NCAA championship game. This was in stark contrast to the previous two years when none of the finalists advanced to the title contest.
No one can understand that distinction better than Harvard captain Jennifer Botterill. She went through different emotional experiences in winning the award in 2001 and 2003 because of differing semifinal results.
When reminded of the contrasting backgrounds of the two Kazmaier Awards, she jumped into another affirmation of her team’s goals.
“[The NCAA championship] is the main focus,” Botterill said. “Being a part of the team all year, that has been the goal.”
She did not mention the mixed emotions of winning the Kazmaier in 2001. The awards dinner was the only public appearance that weekend where Botterill was able to maintain her composure. She broke into tears when speaking to the press following both the semifinal loss to Minnesota-Duluth and the consolation game to Dartmouth.
“The Kazmaier is a huge honor, but I’d trade it away any day for a team championship,” Botterill said following the Kazmaier dinner. “That was our goal coming into Minnesota.”
Two years later, Botterill has been confident, consistent and composed throughout the season in ensuring that her final Crimson team does not fall short of its goals like two years ago. While Botterill has been a great individual talent — she stood out by leading the nation in scoring and setting a collegiate career scoring record — the team has always been the focus.
Her sense of urgency in winning this year showed in the more reflective tone in her second Kazmaier acceptance speech. She noted that this year was her parents’ last of eight years as U.S. college hockey parents between herself and her brother Jason, a former Michigan star.
Botterill has often cited her basement games with Jason as the beginning of her hockey career. Her father, a noted sports psychologist, and her mother, a former champion speed skater, received well-deserved thanks.
“They’ve seen how valuable the college hockey experience has been for their kids and how much it has meant for me,” Botterill said.
With her team now on the cusp of a national championship, Botterill was better able to color her acceptance speech with humorous anecdotes about her teammates — one referring to freshman Abra Kinkopf’s professional dance moves, another to sophomore Kat Sweet’s oversized jersey.
“Little moments like that make everything special,” Botterill said.
While Botterill has won a national championship herself in 1999, Ruggiero is her only teammate left from that squad. Botterill is set on bringing that shared achievement to all of her current teammates, one that she also felt in the 2002 Olympics.
“I hope I can articulate how much you have meant to me,” said Botterill, addressing her team. “Everyone on this team has put the team first. Your attitudes and passion for life are absolutely contagious.”
Botterill characterized her speech as impromptu and said it was inspired by the evening’s previous speakers, including Women’s Sports Foundation Executive Director Donna Lopiano and Patty’s father Dick Kazmaier.
“It’s those reflections that trigger in your mind the things throughout the season that have been meaningful and have gotten you to this point,” Botterill said.
Botterill has matured over the course of her career. She says she has better appreciated the experience of women’s college hockey every year as the competition level has risen.
Winning her final collegiate game for the NCAA championship would be the most appreciated of all.