Vaillancourt Wins 2008 Kazmaier Award

Harvard junior Sarah Vaillancourt became the 11th winner of the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Saturday night at the Radisson Hotel Duluth Harborview.

Vaillancourt beat out sophomore forward Meghan Agosta of Mercyhurst and sophomore goalie Kim Martin of Minnesota-Duluth to claim the honor. Six of the 11 Kazmaier Awards have gone to five Harvard players. Former Crimson teammate and current UMD assistant Julie Chu won the award in 2007.

Vaillancourt led Harvard with 26 goals and 62 points this season. She was particularly dominant in ECAC play, as her 40 points beat out the next-closest player by 11. She helped Harvard to its second-best season in school history with a 32-2 overall record that ended with Thursday’s NCAA semifinal loss to Wisconsin.

Vaillancourt’s acceptance speech was packed with both laughter and sadness. A native of Sherbrooke, Que., her English has improved tremendously since she came to Harvard.

“For anyone who listened to Julie Chu’s speech last year, don’t expect anything from me,” she said to open her speech. At the close, she noted she would have to translate afterwards for her parents.

She grew tearful when thanking her teammates and reflection on her season. She became the second Kazmaier winner to experience the bittersweet emotions of winning the award a day after elimination in the NCAA semifinals. The other was Jennifer Botterill in 2001.

“I reacted like I react to everything in my life,” Vaillancourt said after the speech. “I’m intense and emotional, because I know I would not be here if it weren’t for my team, my parents, and my coaches.”

Vaillancourt confessed she has looked at the banner of Kazmaier winners in Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center and hoped her name might be there one day. It was a long journey for her to get there.

“She’s learned to play in all three zones,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “She’s become a very comprehensive player. When she came here she was very offensive, and she’s learned how to play without the puck which is critical at this level and the international level.”

Vaillancourt choose an aspect of her play with the puck to highlight in her development.

“Definitely I’ve learned so much since I’ve come to Harvard,” she said. “Most of it would be changing my play, and my creativity have been where I learned the most in my past three years. Other players learn quickly how you play, and you have to change your shots, passes, and use everyone on the ice really well. That’s what I’ve learned the most.”

Vallancourt’s constant desire to improve helped set her apart.

“When you’re the kind of competitor that she is, her personal standards are so high, if doesn’t meet them, she gets disgusted with herself, and you have to help her work through that,” Stone said. “You want kids who are competitive and have that fire in their belly.”

The race for the Kazmaier was surely tight between Vaillancourt, Martin, and Agosta who were all top players who led their teams to conference championships. UMD coach Shannon Miller started off her press conference with a “Martin for Patty Kaz,” comment following Martin’s heroic 41-save effort against New Hampshire on Thursday. The performance was irrelevant for the award’s voting, which was decided at the end of February.

The award is named in honor of the late Patty Kazmaier, who was a four-year varsity letter-winner and All-Ivy League defenseman for Princeton from 1981-86. An accomplished athlete who helped lead the Tigers to the Ivy League championship in three consecutive seasons (1981-84), Patty Kazmaier-Sandt died on Feb. 15, 1990, at the age of 28 following a long struggle with a rare blood disease.