2017 Patty Kaz preview: Strong defensive crop bolsters class depth

A dozen early candidates for women's hockey's top individual honor

A Look at the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Race

When the women’s college hockey season opened a few weeks ago, the journey towards the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award began. Team titles may rule the roost, but being nominated and winning the “Patty Kaz” is also an honor any player would love to have on their resume.

The Patty Kazmaier Award was first awarded in 1998, with the University of New Hampshire’s Brandy Fisher taking home the first honor. In the nearly 20 years that have followed, a who’s who of women’s hockey have taken home the honor, including A.J. Mleczko, Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero, and Meghan Duggan.

The honor is awarded to legends of the game, and it’s named after a legend of Princeton University athletics. Patty Kazmaier was not just a three-sport athlete for the Tigers, but a stellar student and a member of campus drama groups. A defenseman from 1981-1986, she helped the Princeton’s women’s hockey team win three straight Ivy League Championships. After multiple league honors, she was named the Ivy League’s Most Valuable Player in 1986. Kazmaier’s success was while Princeton’s program was in its infancy and women’s college hockey did not have a national championship.

Kazmaier suffered from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disorder, and passed away in 1990 at age 28. When Kazmaier suffered from the disease, the treatments for the disease were few. In the years following her death, steroid medications and plasma exchange greatly improved the survival rate.

Kazmaier’s family remains very involved in the award, speaking at the presentation breakfast annually. They are passionate about recognizing women in sport, especially those with a variety of talents and interests like Kazmaier.

To be considered for the Patty Kaz, a player needs to be nominated by two or more current Division I head coaches. That list of nominees is distributed back to those coaches, who vote the list down to a Top 10. A selection committee made up of 13 coaches, media members and USA Hockey staff then select a top three and the eventual winner.

What is unclear is if a team’s postseason performance has any bearing on the final winner. “Sometimes you wonder if your team is not in the Frozen Four if your player is going to win or not,” said Northeastern head coach Dave Flint after the Huskies’ Kendall Coyne won the 2016 award. It is believed that the winner of the award is selected at the same time as the top three, which would mean the award is already decided by the time the NCAA Quarterfinals come around. But besides Coyne in 2016, the winner tends to be from a team who has made it to the Frozen Four.

Who will they be honoring in St. Louis next March? It could be a more wide-open race than it has been in the past few years. Three of the award’s last four honorees were all from the Class of 2016 - Amanda Kessel (2013), Alex Carpenter (2015) and Kendall Coyne (2016.) For longtime college hockey followers, that graduating class was one of the most talented in recent memory, and half of last year’s top 10 finalists drew from that group.

There is a good chance that the 2017 award could go to a player from the defensive side of the game, with several goalies and blueliners who are more than deserving of recognition. Why should forwards have all the fun? But then again, there are some talented forwards who won’t go quietly into the night.

Here are a dozen players who could be hearing their name called for the Patty Kaz come March:

Dani Cameranesi — Minnesota, Senior, F

Now a two-time Top 10 finalist, she had 33 goals and 35 assists last season on her way to a second national championship.

Taylar Cianfarano — Quinnipiac, Junior, F

Already making a run at the career numbers of Bobcats great Kelly Babstock, the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year causes fits for opponents when she has the puck on the end of her stick and when she’s jumping back on defense.

Ann-Renée Desbiens — Wisconsin, Senior, G

This calm and collected goaltender was a member of last year’s Patty Kaz Top 3. She broke three NCAA goaltending records last season, and with her capabilities, she could match those numbers again this year.

Megan Keller — Boston College, Junior, D

One of last year’s Patty Kaz Top 10, she became the fastest defenseman in BC history to reach 75 career points - a lofty feat considering the blue liners who have come through the Heights. She will serve as an assistant captain for the Eagles this season.

Kelsey Koelzer — Princeton, Senior, D

Koelzer has led a resurgence of the Princeton’s women’s hockey program, and a win of the award by a Tigers player would be especially meaningful.

Kennedy Marchment — St. Lawrence, Junior, F

The Saints have a trio who could easily make this list, and Marchment is one. She has tallied 29 points in each of the last two seasons, and is one of the top scorers in the country already this season.

Cayley Mercer — Clarkson, Senior, F

An ECAC Hockey Academic Team member, Mercer could become the second Golden Knight to win the award. She scored 50 points last season (25 goals and 25 assists) and was a steady presence in Clarkson’s 2016 Frozen Four appearance.

Annie Pankowski — Wisconsin, Junior, F

She darts across the ice better than anyone in the nation, and is a lock to make the Patty Kaz Top 3 at least once during her last two years of college hockey.

Sarah Potomak — Minnesota, Sophomore, F

MVP of last year’s Frozen Four, the sophomore comes up big in the clutch, which is often rewarded come Patty Kaz deliberation time.

Lexie Shaw — North Dakota, Senior, G

She may have spent her last few years behind Patty Kaz nominee Shelby Amsley-Benzie, but Shaw has quality Team USA experience and has jumped out to a quick start already this season.

Lara Stalder — Minnesota-Duluth, Senior, F

This superstar of the Swiss National Team is multi-talented, having played both forward and defense for the Bulldogs over her career. She scored 41 points last year while earning the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award.

Lee Stecklein — Minnesota, Senior, D

A member of the Frozen Four All-Tournament, this nuanced defender has a leg up on the academic prowess expected of the winner. She has won WCHA and Big Ten Scholar honors multiple times throughout her career while pursuing a Management degree.