There is one women’s hockey award that year after year goes to the most outstanding player in the clutch. Its honorees have included Olympians, schools’ all-time leader scorers, and all-star goaltenders who have delighted fans one March after another.
Does this description refer to the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award? Actually, this is the Women’s Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player, and its list of winners is just as distinguished as the Kazmaier’s. Some would argue more so.
The latest honoree is Minnesota Duluth sophomore Kim Martin. Her 41-save performance in Friday’s 3-2 win over New Hampshire allowed the Bulldogs to triumph in what Miller called her team’s worst game of the season, while going up against the best team they played all season. Martin had a less dramatic yet solid role in Saturday’s 28-save shutout of Wisconsin.
Martin, a Final Three candidate for the Kazmaier, showed few signs of disappointment when Harvard junior Sarah Vaillancourt took home that honor. The epitome of grace, she was smiling all evening.
“Of course I’d be very honored to win the [Kazmaier] award, but it felt good [not to win] because I was so nervous for the speech,” Martin said. “Then I started to think about this game instead, and I’d rather have a national championship than the award.”
Martin’s teammates took a mature attitude towards the Kazmaier decision.
“I think that she didn’t win, it doesn’t mean anything,” said senior Karine Demeule. “I think she deserved it. But Sarah Vaillancourt did too. In our heart, she got it. She’s our Patty.”
There is a fair amount of wisdom in Demeule’s words. The reality is any award selection process is arbitrary. The selection decision involved choosing Vaillancourt, a forward who totally dominated the ECAC play, and Martin, a goalie who totally dominated WCHA play. There is no fundamental way to decide between the two, especially since there are so few games between the two regions.
The Frozen Four MOP award, however, is one decided on the ice, in the most important games of the season. While its winners are those who shine in two games, never has the award gone to a player who was a one-weekend wonder.
This was the latest season in which the Frozen Four results left some fans wanting a Kazmaier recount, given Martin’s dominance and Vaillancourt’s scoreless night Thursday. However, there is no March in the Kazmaier selection process. It is somewhat ironic that one of the criterion for the Kazmaier Award is “performance in the clutch,” even though voting is decided in February before any postseason tournaments are played, and a week before either the CHA or Hockey East finish their regular seasons.
The idea that a player snubbed in the Kazmaier selection goes on to win the Frozen Four MOP has a history as long as NCAA sponsorship of women’s hockey. In 2001, many thought WCHA’s top per-game scorer Maria Rooth surely deserved a final three selection, if not the award, and she responded with a four-goal, two assist performance in the inaugural Frozen Four. In 2002, Brown senior Kristy Zamora led a remarkable resurgence by the Bears in the second half of the season. She was one of the nation’s top scorers by season’s end, but she did not even make the Final 10 because that cut was decided in January. The 2003 MOP Caroline Ouellette was one of the nation’s top five scorers in each year of her three-year career, but she only made the Kazmaier final three once and never won the award.
During Minnesota’s run of two titles, the 2004 MOP Krissy Wendell was the nation’s leading scorer but did not make the final three that season, though she did win the Kazmaier in 2005. The 2005 MOP Natalie Darwitz set an NCAA scoring record that season but never did better in the Kazmaier process than the final three in 2005.
During Wisconsin’s pair of titles, 2006 MOP Jessie Vetter record as a postseason goalie was unmatched, but she has yet to make the Kaz final 10. The 2007 MOP Sara Bauer won the Kazmaier in 2006, though many felt was worthy of a second straight Kazmaier in 2007.
Bauer and Wendell are the only players to win both a Frozen Four MOP and a Kazmaier, though Botterill was the most outstanding player of the 1999 national championship tournament prior to the NCAA era.
Awards with an exclusive regular season focus are characteristic of all major college and professional sports. But the lack of elite interconference games in women’s hockey prior to March leads to a particularly tough task for the Kazmaier selection committee. Members must choose between players like Martin, Vaillancourt, and Mercyhurst’s Meghan Agosta with wide geographic separation. The purely objective committee member who has seen every one of the Kazmaier 10 Finalists in more than a handful of games during the regular season simply does not exist.
That all said, no award selection process is perfect, and the Kazmaier has served well as an icon for the sport of women’s hockey. That the list of Frozen Four MOP’s complements the list of Kazmaier winners so well only adds to the richness of the sport.