Kazmaier trio a difficult choice

The hardest job in hockey? Seems it might be a seat on the Kazmaier selection committee.

Each year, the task of anointing just one woman as the best player in women’s hockey seems to get more daunting, with no slam dunk Patty Kazmaier Award winner to merely hand the honor to.

That said, we do remember the difficulty the Kaz Committee had back in 2000 trying to pick just three finalists out of a strong semifinal field. It turns out they couldn’t stop at three and opted for four finalists instead, before finally settling on Brown goalie Ally Brewer as the PKA winner.

More to the point, it would be darned hard to quibble with the choice of any of this year’s Final Three — Meghan Duggan of Wisconsin, Meghan Agosta of Mercyhurst, and Kelli Stack of Boston College — when the 14th annual Patty Kaz is handed out this Saturday in Erie, Pa.

The opportunity to sway the committee has long since past. Still, given a chance to make one last stand, coaches of each of the finalists would make a strong closing argument on behalf of their player.

If he could, Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti would sell the panel on the fact that not only has Agosta amassed points in unprecedented numbers, but that she’s also a terrific human being.

“It’s been an awesome process,” said Sisti, who helped nurture another Laker, Vicki Bendus, to Kaz status last year, “working with her and watching her. As a person, as a player, and a leader. She’s a phenomenal person, her and her family. They’re very close knit. And obviously that’s a big part of the Award.”

Agosta has been a Kazmaier finalist each of her four years at Mercyhurst, but has yet to win it (Susan Lucci, anyone?).
Sisti feels that if Agosta did walk off with the Kazmaier, especially at home in Erie, it would be a fitting cap to her college career.

“Each of her years, she’s arguably been the best college hockey player,” said Sisti. “She’s had a phenomenal career. We couldn’t send her out with a national championship, but it’s her fourth time up for this award. I really, really hope for her and her family that she’s able to win it.”

Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson isn’t bashful about trumpeting the credentials of Duggan, who like Agosta, piled up 38 goals (and counting) this year. That’s second in the nation to her Badgers teammate, Hilary Knight.

“Meghan is probably the best two-way player, not only in the country, but in the world,” said Johnson. “It’s been a breakout year for her from a statistics standpoint as far as goal-scoring and assists. I think what happened last year at the Olympics really continued her development.”

Johnson said that even when compared to Badgers luminaries who came before her — a group that includes previous Kaz winners Sara Bauer and Jesse Vetter — that Duggan stands out.

“When you look at the captains that we’ve had here and the leadership we’ve had from different players over the course of time, and she is probably the best one we’ve had in all those categories,” Johnson said. “One of the reasons we’re in the position we’re in right now is because of her leadership and what she does on the ice, and probably more importantly, what she does off the ice.”

The last coach to approach the committee is Katie King, the former Olympian under whose stewardship the Eagles have soared to new heights.

Still, Stack’s selection to the final three is a first for the King regime.

“She’s worked really hard,” said King, “to get to this point. It’s fitting for her to be in the top three, and to be recognized in that way is an honor for her and for our program. I think it’s great thing for her.”

Stack has piled up goals unlike anyone else in WHEA history, and with each goal or assist, extends her own Boston College career scoring mark.

“I think coming off the Olympic year,” said King, “she wanted to go to knew heights, so to speak. She came in on a mission for our program, and relayed that to our team. For a while, Kelli was providing most of our offense. I think she wanted to bring new things to Boston College women’s hockey. For (herself) and for her team. She’s developed into a great leader.”

So then, what’s a committee to do? Declare a three-way tie? They couldn’t do that, could they? Or could they?

NOTES: Sisti confirmed that rehabbing assistant coach Kristen Cameron, who was struck down while cycling by an impaired driver last September, will be able to attend the Frozen Four festivities in Erie this weekend. Cameron suffered a broken back and neck, and since then has been undergoing physical therepy at Toronto’s Lyndhurst Centre.

“She’s excited to see the girls,” said Sisti, “and obviously we’re all excited to see her. She is moving forward, but it’s been a very traumatic event and long process for her. It’s just been heartbreaking, seeing what happened to her and having her go through (this). But she’s so mentally tough and such a great person.”

While the road back for Cameron is a long one, Sisti said that there is hope that she will someday be able to resume her duties at Mercyhurst.

“That’s probably something for later on,” he said. “I know she’d love it if she could get back to coaching and finish up the Master’s degree she was working on. But right now, there are more important issues she’s working on.”

On another front, the Yale women’s golf team has just completed the “100 Holes for Mandi” fundraiser, in support of stricken Bulldogs hockey player Mandi Schwartz. The event is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at collecting funds and promoting cancer research on behalf of Schwartz, who has been waging a two-year battle with leukemia. Donations for “100 Holes for Mandi” are still being accepted. Checks should be made out to “Yale University Relief Fund” with “Mandi Schwartz” in the memo line and sent to: Chawwadee Rompothong, Yale Athletic Department, P.O. Box 208216, New Haven, CT 06520-8216.

Finally, a personal note. This will be my final Women’s Division I column for USCHO.com. It has truly been a privilege to tell the story (and stories) of women’s hockey during my four year stewardship, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity. Thank you, readers, for your interest throughout this time. And a special thank you to all the women who make hockey such a great game.

Kristen and Mandi, you’re always in my prayers.