The End of a Joyous Era

The final weekend of the season is always bittersweet, but it is especially so when it marks the end of the hockey careers of two of the most distinguished ever to play the college game-2007 Patty Kazmaier Winner Julie Chu of Harvard and 2006 Patty Kazmaier Winner and 2007 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Sara Bauer of Wisconsin.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine the college game without these two.

Chu played in three straight NCAA finals, and while her team came up short of the Frozen Four this season, she played more minutes of postseason hockey than many past Frozen Four participants. Her stamp was on three of the greatest postseason games ever – the 2003 double overtime NCAA final against UMD, the 2005 triple overtime NCAA quarterfinal against Mercyhurst, and this year’s quadruple overtime NCAA quarterfinal against Wisconsin.

Sara Bauer receives her scholar-athlete award from the WCHA. Her 3.96 GPA among elite players is unprecedented.<br />John E. Van Barriger / <a href=''></a>” /></p>
<div class=Sara Bauer receives her scholar-athlete award from the WCHA. Her 3.96 GPA among elite players is unprecedented.
John E. Van Barriger /

Bauer has won consecutive national titles, and perhaps just played the best all-around national championship of anyone in college history. Bauer certainly continued the tradition that the best player in the country not winning the Kazmaier takes home the postseason’s top honor — think Maria Rooth in 2001, Kristy Zamora in 2002, Caroline Ouellette in 2003, Krissy Wendell in 2004, and Natalie Darwitz in 2005.

What strikes me most about both players is how much they love every minute of their college hockey experience. You see it on the ice every minute they compete in every aspect of their play.

“I’m biased, but I think Julie Chu is the best [defensive player] in the country, and her offensive statistics speak for themselves,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “She logged a lot of minutes at Harvard. She does everything. I’ve never coached a player of that caliber and that personality. She’s incredibly humble and selfless.”

Bauer’s talents all over the ice were never more obvious than in the Frozen Four semifinal against St. Lawrence when she had three assists, and on a key five-on-three disadvantage, she blocked one shot and cleared the zone, and later intercepted a pass and ran out the clock.

“Those of you who watch a lot of hockey know how important those plays are,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “They don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

Chu is renowned for her ability to express her love of hockey verbally. While Bauer has a deserved reputation for being quiet, she can say a lot with a few words. She showed that on Sunday when she talked about how her broken ribs suffered the last weekend of the regular season never slowed her down.

“There is something special about playing hockey,” Bauer said. “You might have an injury, but once you’re out there, you don’t feel it. You just get out there and push through it.”

Some of my favorite memories from Chu are from Harvard’s 2005 run to the championship – how high she jumped in the air after scoring the game-winner in triple overtime against Mercyhurst, how the adrenaline was still flowing during the press conference afterwards.

Julie Chu speaks in her final press conference after her quadruple overtime loss against the Wisconsin. The size of her smile after such a defeat is unprecedented.<br />John E. Van Barriger / <a href=''></a>” /></p>
<div class=Julie Chu speaks in her final press conference after her quadruple overtime loss against the Wisconsin. The size of her smile after such a defeat is unprecedented.
John E. Van Barriger /

She said after that game, “You realize how important that team dynamic and support is when you come off and you’re dripping with sweat and you don’t think you’re going to be able to push any harder, and they’re like, ‘Hey you can do it.’ And they look you in the eyes, and you’re like, ‘We can do it.'”

I also remember well the Harvard press conference the day before the Harvard vs. Minnesota final in 2005. Most of the time, that pre-final press conference is brief. The media does not have as much to ask, and players do not have much to say. But that press conference was twice as long as any pre-final press conference I had ever witnessed, and it was all because of Chu’s joy at talking about the adversity Harvard faced reaching the final that season, and then the challenge of facing longtime U.S. teammates Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell. I did not get to see her final press conference, but my sources tell me they have never seen a player so dignified in defeat.

Few players have earned greater respect from their teammates than Bauer and Chu.

“[Bauer’s] modesty, no matter what anybody says about her, you just can’t say enough,” said classmate Meagan Mikkelson after Sunday’s final. “I didn’t know until a week or two after that she had broken her ribs. Normally if players are hurt you can tell, but she just comes to practice the next and throws her gear on, and practices like she would any other day. To have someone like that be a leader on this team has been huge for us.”

“[Chu] is incredible in how much she contributes on the ice in all the little things and how much she contributes off the ice in the dynamics of the team,” said former linemate Nicole Corriero.

Harvard teammates tried to make the trip to Lake Placid on Saturday morning to be there with Chu during the Kazmaier ceremony, but the snow had other ideas.

“That was the toughest thing for Julie, that they’re not here, because she recognizes it takes every player to get the job done, and they wanted to be here because of the impression she’s made on their lives,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone.

Now that both players’ college careers are over, it’s no surprise both have expressed interest in coaching — both Stone and Johnson have used the phrase “like having another coach on the ice” when describing their impact. There is no doubt that their success in college has prepared them well for what lies ahead.