Kessel emerges from group of Minnesota teammate finalists as Patty Kazmaier Award winner

Amanda Kessel was honored Saturday as the winner of the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.

The award is given annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey by the USA Hockey Foundation, recognizing outstanding and individual team skills. Selection is also made based on sportsmanship, clutch performance and a competitiveness and love of the game. Academic achievement and community service are considered as well.

To see the list of all 16 winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award, go to our awards page.

Kessel emerged as the winner from a group of 10 finalists that included Minnesota teammates senior Megan Bozek, senior Noora Räty and freshman Hannah Brandt. Other finalists were Boston College’s Alex Carpenter, Kendall Coyne of Northeastern, Brianna Decker of Wisconsin, Harvard’s Jillian Dempsey, Brianne Jenner of Cornell, and Jocelyne Lamoureux of North Dakota. The list was later narrowed down to Bozek, Räty and Kessel as the top three finalists.

“This is truly an honor,” Kessel said. “I never really imagined myself being up here today. It’s far beyond anything I’d hoped and dreamed of.”

She thanked USA Hockey for sponsoring the banquet and Minnesota for hosting it and the Frozen Four.

“I was surprised to find out that there has only been one other Gopher to win this award, Krissy Wendell. To be able to bring Patty back to Minnesota is great. I do have to say that to have three girls from our team as finalists is astonishing, and I truly think it is an award that should be shared.”

She went on to share some thoughts about the other two finalists.

“Megan, you’re an amazing player with so many great parts to your game,” she said. “Not only a steady defenseman but a huge offensive contributor. I remember playing boys [youth hockey] against you, and your team would beat us probably 15-0, and you had like 20 hat tricks. It’s been awesome to see how you developed as a player, and I just think you keep getting better all the time. You’re also a great friend, and I’m happy that we had the opportunity to be teammates.”

“Noora, I can’t say enough about you as a player, but clearly, you’re a game changer. You do not have one weakness, and you can always keep our team in a game. I can’t even name the amount of records you have broken, but it is unbelievable. I’m still waiting for you to score a goal, which I’m sure you will some day.”

Patty Kazmaier was a star player for Princeton in the early 1980s. Her spirit, character and excellence both on and off the ice are the ideals upon which the award named in her memory are based. She lost her life in 1990 to a rare blood disease, survived by husband Mark J. Sandt and daughter Serena.

“I’m proud to be recognized as someone who tries to live on and off the ice according to the same values that Patty and her family represent,” Kessel said. “I am grateful for all that the Kazmaier and Sandt family has done for women’s hockey. It’s an honor to be in the same category.”

She thanked the staff and coaches at Minnesota, whom she called role models and teachers of life, and especially her teammates.

“Each one of you brings something special to the locker room and ice every day that makes all of us better,” Kessel said. “You guys continually make me a better person, on and off the ice, so I feel as though I’m accepting another award on your behalf. I can’t thank you enough for all the support and confidence you have given me. You guys make it easy to come to the rink every day. And as we say, ‘Love you all.’

“A huge thank you to my family who has supported me throughout my career and is really the reason that I’m here today. Although neither one of my parents played hockey, they were both extremely athletic.”

She described acts her parents did to assist her in playing the game, and stories from her youth that highlighted the competitiveness that she and hockey-playing brothers Phil and Blake shared.

In the days before the winner was named, all three of the finalists agreed that picking a winner from people that play entirely different positions was nearly impossible.

“That’s what’s hard and difficult about this award is you’re comparing completely different things; it’s like apples and oranges,” Kessel said. “That’s what is kind of unique about it. I don’t know, like if I was in the situation, who I would vote for. So I don’t know how people are going to.”

“I think it’s impossible,” Räty said. “You can’t really compare a goalie, forward, or a ‘D’. It’s a whole different position. I have no idea how they’re going to decide who is going to win.”

Once the winner was known, Minnesota coach Brad Frost agreed that the voters had made a good choice for a question that likely had more than one correct answer.

“You look at everything that Noora has done, setting every record, and a couple of those shutouts came after the voting and as playoffs were starting,” he said. “She could easily have won it. Megan being the best defenseman in the country, and you look at her numbers and what she means to our program, and her community service is incredible. Amanda is the best forward in the country with the most points and a huge factor for our team. We’re just happy for all three of them, quite honestly, and I know that they are happy for Amanda, and Amanda is excited for them to be up in the top three with her.”

After a close call the day before, needing overtime versus Boston College in the semifinal in order to advance, the Gophers were also happy that they could attend the Kazmaier banquet with a date with Boston University on the horizon for Sunday.

“It still would have been a neat experience to be here, and it still would have been great for our program, but when you can come in knowing that you still have a game tomorrow and the opportunity to win a national championship, it sure makes it that much more special,” Frost said.

That Kessel was able to put together her Kazmaier-winning season was remarkable enough on its own, but that she did it while plagued all season by an assortment of injuries makes the feat all the more impressive. Her 97 points are the most in the country, and she was on a record-setting pace until injury forced her out of the lineup for several games. It makes one wonder what she could do if she could play a season while healthy.

“It would be a little bit nicer and easier, but I think everyone goes through — whether they have a major injury or something little that you go through — nicks throughout the season,” Kessel said. “Just keep it in mind that other people are probably never 100 percent either, but it does get frustrating.”

“If we lost either [Bozek or Räty], obviously, it would affect our team hugely, and it’s hard to say which one would affect it more,” Kessel said. “At the same time, you could say that taking out someone, since we do have so many great players, it shouldn’t make a difference. Even when I was out, people would think that it would hurt our team, but personally, I think our team would be fine.”

The Minnesota team is so close that no matter which player was chosen, in addition to being happy for herself, the winner would also be disappointed for her teammates.

“I think that’s more of a female thing, quite honestly,” Frost said. “These three embody what the award is about.”

Now the Kazmaier trophy will be added to the one won by Wendell at Minnesota. The jersey displayed in the showcase in the Ridder Arena concourse will have the number 8 and a KESSEL nameplate. Most importantly to the winner and her teammates, it will be a Minnesota jersey.