This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Feb. 19, 2010

Hands up, anyone who thinks you can name the top NCAA D-1 goal-getter in the land.

Does it matter that we didn’t specify the gender?

Any hands still up?

You can use it to pat yourself on the back, if you guessed that it’s St. Cloud State senior sniper Felicia Nelson.

The pride of St. Paul, Minn. (and Kazmaier Award nominee) has indeed filled the net this season, 27 times and counting, or four tallies more than the leading men’s goal scorers, Nick Johnson of Sacred Heart and Chase Polacek of RPI. And while Nelson, a broadcast major, had already shown a knack for the net with 15 goals last year, she admits to being a little surprised by her success in the offensive end.

She said she was prepared to take on additional dressing room duties when SCSU coach Jeff Giesen named her team captain. She didn’t think that a bigger scoring load would come along with it.

Still, she soon found she was up to the task.

“The first thing I wanted to do was be a leader off the ice,” Nelson said. “I knew going in, I wanted to be a rock on our team. But on ice was just a bonus. I never expected to lead the Nation in (goals). I just wanted to be a good team leader. To be the goals leader is a special bonus.”

And to be considered Kazmaier worthy? Call that a double bonus.

Yet her name was among 44 others, including teammate Caitlin Hogan, when the nominations for the most coveted individual award in women’s hockey came down this week.

As with the goal scoring lead, this, too, came out of the blue.

“I was kind of blindsided,” she said. “I never held any expectations for such a prestigious award. But now that my name is in the mix, I feel honored. We’ll see how the weeks go and see if I can get into the Top 10.”

Since Nelson was a pre-teen when the Kazmaier was first handed out to UNH’s Brandy Fisher back in 1998, she said she had to do a little boning up on the award to appreciate its significance.

The experience was an eye opener.

“I realized what a big deal it is,” she said. “You look at the names of some who have won it before. Some of the girls are in the Olympics. You look at them on the ice, and you think, ‘I’m up for an award that they’re a part of.’ It kind of makes it real. That my name could be among their names is an unbelievable feeling.”

Even so, Nelson knows that her days of playing competitive hockey are winding down. Yet, she still has plans to stay around the game, as a broadcaster. An Olympic gig like Cammi Granato’s wouldn’t be bad.

“I want to be on the sidelines,” she said. “Sports is my life. I want to be in the action.”

Seems as though she always is.

Another of the “Final 45” is Harvard’s Liza Ryabkina, one of four Crimson nominees. Despite missing nine games with a dislocated knee cap, the Ukraine native has chalked up 11 goals and eight assists, good for third on the Harvard scoring ladder.

Five of those goals came during the Crimson’s recent two-game Beanpot run, including her four-spot in the semifinal.

Ask Harvard coach Katey Stone and she’ll tell you that Ryabkina is among the most elite scoring talents the school has ever seen. That would put her in the rich company of Jen Botterill, Sarah Vaillancourt, Julie Chu, and A.J. Mleczko, everyone of them a Kazmaier winner.

“She has some pretty special hockey gifts,” said Stone. “She can skate like the wind and has strong hands. She shoots as well as any of the Top 5 people in the world. I’ve seen some of them in this rink (the Bright Center) in a Harvard jersey. Her release is that quick.”

Ryabkina has likely missed too much time to wind up as Harvard’s seventh “Patty Kaz” winner.

But hey, you never know.

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