An award of The USA Hockey Foundation, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey. The 2020 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner will be announced on March 21 in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Frozen Four in Boston, Mass.
Wisconsin standout forward Sophie Shirley enjoyed a dominant freshman campaign that resulted in a NCAA Division I National Championship. Now she has her sights set on a repeat, and more.
Shirley’s dynamic second season has Wisconsin ranked No. 1 in the country and in the mix for a second straight national championship. The high-scoring sophomore is also in the conversation for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award, presented annually to the top women’s college hockey player in the nation.
“You see the players who won it before and they’re all terrific hockey players,” Shirley said. “To even be in the conversation for such a prestigious award is a pretty cool feeling.”
Wisconsin has five former Patty Kazmaier Award winners, second-most in NCAA history since the award was first presented in 1998. Ann-Renee Desbiens is the most recent Patty Kazmaier Award winner from Wisconsin, claiming the honor in 2017.
“Walking down our hallway at Wisconsin and seeing players who have won it, it means a lot, and it’s humbling,” Shirley said. “It’s a super cool feeling to be in the conversation with those players, many who were Olympians, too.”
Shirley was named Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Rookie of the Year last season after posting 20 goals and 38 points in 41 games. Her 38 points rank No. 10 in school history among rookie scorers, while her plus-36 plus-minus rating was tops among any rookie skater in the NCAA.
“Last year, I came in, played the year and saw what college hockey was all about,” Shirley said. “I think this year, I’m taking a little more of a mature role. It’s made it a lot easier for me. I’ve learned a lot since last year and I’ve matured a little more on and off the ice.”
Shirley has already established a new career high with 22 goals and 45 points in just 25 games. That’s also good enough for No. 2 in goals and a fourth-place tie in scoring, nationally.
Shirley attributes the breakout season to another year of experience, additional confidence and her teammates.
“Confidence is huge, especially in hockey, and I think being able to have that freshman year already under my belt, I came in as a sophomore more comfortable,” Shirley said. “The people I’m playing with is a big part of that, too.”
Shirley plays on a top line with alternate captain Abby Roque and Daryl Watts, winner of the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award when she played for Boston College. The Badgers’ top line has combined to score 63 goals this year, which is more than 17 other teams in the NCAA.
“The chemistry we’ve been able to build this season has been pretty special,” Shirley said. “For me, it’s easy to play with Abby and Daryl because they’re amazing hockey players. When you’re playing with players like that, it makes it pretty easy. We’ve been lucky to play the whole season and gain some special chemistry between us.”
Shirley, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, also has special chemistry with younger sister Grace Shirley, who is a freshman at Wisconsin. They are the third set of sisters to play with the Wisconsin women’s hockey team.
“Obviously, it’s super special,” Sophie Shirley said. “I know it’s not something that happens a lot, to be able to play with your sister, so we’re really loving it.”
Sophie Shirley also wants her younger sister to experience the elation of capturing a national championship. She would like a second straight title for herself, too.
“Once you get to experience it once, you want it to keep happening,” Shirley said. “Being able to win the national championship, it gives you more fuel to do it again. This year, with the team we have, and how we’re playing, we have a good shot. But we have to keep going in the direction we’re going now and hopefully things will fall into place.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin Athletics.