Women’s Division I College Hockey: It’s time to make a separate Goaltender of the Year award

The Cornell Big Red women's ice hockey team competes against Robert Morris on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 in Lynah Rink in Ithaca, NY. (Ned Dykes)
Cornell’s Lindsey Browning’s season makes a great case for why women’s college hockey needs it’s own Goaltender of the Year award. (Photo: Ned Dykes)

In yesterday’s Wednesday Women, while discussing the Patty Kazmaier Top-3 finalists, I said there is a very high threshold for goalies to win the award. I didn’t think much of it at the time I wrote it, but in the days since, I’ve been thinking about how the Patty Kaz has become a de facto Offensive Player of the Year award. Three goaltenders have won the Patty – Ann-Renee Desbiens in 2017, Jessie Vetter in 2009 and Ali Brewer in 2000. One defender – Angela Ruggiero – has won the award. 

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time women’s Division I college hockey starts talking about adding more awards, particularly a Goalie of the Year award. 

The men’s game added the Mike Richter Award in the 2013-14 season after just two goalies had ever won the Hobey Baker Award over the course of its-then 34-year history. As the women’s game continues to expand, we probably should start talking about doing the same. 

Even making the top-10 is something of a rarity for defenders and goaltenders. Generally, there will be one of each. A small handful of recent years have seen two defenders make the finalist pool and 2018 was a high point, with three defenders and two goalies making the top 10, though none made the final three. 

Defenders are rarely considered for the award. Statistics tend to play a big part in the Patty Kaz decision-making process, which is one of the major reasons it is so exclusionary to blueliners. And why the ones that are recognized tend to receive attention for their offensive output. 

That being said, the men’s side has done a much better job of recognizing and awarding blue line players and the women’s game has to catch up. Two of the last three Hobey Baker winners are defenders and overall, eight blue-line players have been given the national MVP award. 

Here’s what I said about the nearly impossible threshold goalies seem to have to reach in order to realistically be considered as a Patty Kazmaier winner. 

“Forwards need to merely separate themselves within that year. Goalies seem to have to measure up to everyone historically and come out ahead… I think one of the reasons Ann-Renee Desbiens felt like a clear-cut choice for the top-3 that year is that a lot of the records she broke belonged to the last goalie that had won it before her, Jessie Vetter. Any future goalie candidates for the award will be measured against Desbiens.”

When Desbiens won, she pointed out that beyond the historical bar that goalies seem to be held to, in the game of hockey, goalies are the only ones who have a stat line that can go down, or get worse. Skaters don’t lose points. But every period of every game is a chance for a goaltender’s numbers to rise or fall. One bad game does not disqualify a forward, but it could make or break a goalie’s chances to even be considered. 

Not to downplay Aerin Frankel or any other goalies, but I’m going to use Cornell’s Lindsey Browning as an example of why women’s DI hockey needs to rethink its methodology for the Patty or start the process of adding a second award. 

Browning has had one of the best seasons a goalie has ever had in the history of women’s hockey. Her .953 save percentage would tie her for fifth-best season in NCAA Division I history – behind seasons by Desbiens, Noora Raty, Christine Dufour and Vetter. Her 0.88 goals against average is tied for fourth-best in history – behind two seasons by Desbiens and one by Vetter. Her win percentage is seventh best ever. She is literally in the same conversation as the previous goalie winners of the award.

She didn’t finish in the top three of Patty Kazmaier voting and she never really seemed to be talked about as a serious option as the winner, including by me. 

By comparison, this year’s best scorers wouldn’t rank in the top 20 of points, goals or goals per game. 

Browning is having a season that compares to the very best goalies in the game and because her numbers weren’t the gaudy ones that Desbiens put up three years ago, she wasn’t a serious candidate for the award. 

We hold goalie candidates for the award to the standard of the previous goalie winners instead of against their contemporaries. If that continues to be the case, we may never see another goalie win, as Desbiens had to rewrite the record book in nearly every category to earn the distinction herself. 

Those that know the game the best struggle with assessing goaltenders and properly placing analyzing their skill and impact. Any coach would tell you that when building a team, if they had to choose between an elite scorer and an elite goaltender, they’d choose the goalie. 

So why are we undervaluing the impact and importance of the position?

The game has changed and it’s time for the awards to adapt, as well. We have to talk about reframing the guidelines for the Patty to ensure that the best player in the country – not just the best scorer or forward – wins the award. And we have to add a women’s goaltender award.