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’s Daryl Watts knows what it feels like to win the Patty Kazmaier Award as well as anyone.
She’s hoping to learn what it feels like to win it twice.
The junior standout made history when she was awarded the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award, presented annually to the top women’s college hockey player in the nation, while playing as a freshman at Boston College.
Watts transferred to Wisconsin this summer after spending her first two seasons at BC, and now she’s back in the mix for the same award.
“It’s definitely a huge honor, especially this year being at a whole new university and new atmosphere with a new culture and new team,” Watts said. “I’m just honored and excited to be in the Kaz watch again.”
Watts became the first freshman ever to win the award in 2018. She led the nation in scoring with 42 goals and 82 points in just 38 games, recording points in 32 of 34 regular-season games and multiple points in 25 contests.
“It was definitely cool to be part of history and I was fortunate enough to win the award,” Watts said. “Just to be nominated again is really special. There are so many great players in this league and I think every year the talent and depth on teams is getting better and better.”
Watts previously knew former Hockey Canada teammates Sophie Shirley and Brette Pettet before arriving at Wisconsin, but she still had to work through an adjustment period.
“The coaches and my teammates were so welcoming and they made me feel comfortable pretty early on in the season,” Watts said. “There’s obviously so many things that I can improve, but it’s been a great, positive environment and culture that really develops players. I’ve just progressively gotten more comfortable.”
Watts believes she has made great strides since the start of the season, and it has shown.
The junior leads the nation with 66 points and 44 assists through 30 games. Her 66 points rank ninth in single-season school history, while Watts’ 44 assists are tied for fifth at Wisconsin. She’s five from breaking the school single-season record of 48 assists and is the first Badger since 2011-12 to record 60 or more points in a single season.
Watts has a point in 18 straight games at Wisconsin and has at least one point in 28 of Wisconsin’s 30 games this season. The Badgers are 25-2-1 in games where Watts has at least one point. Watts has 22 goals in 30 games and a NCAA-best 2.2 points per contest, better than the 2.16 points per game averaged during her Patty Kazmaier-winning season as a freshman.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a player this year,” Watts said. “That’s one of the reasons I decided to come here, just to grow my game offensively and defensively as a hockey player and overall, most importantly, to compete for a national championship.”
Watts played the first half of the season on a dynamic top line that also featured Shirley and Abby Roque. The grouping combined to score 58 goals, more than 15 other teams in the NCAA until head coach Mark Johnson opted to switch things up and shift Watts with Pettet and Shirley, her former Hockey Canada teammates.
“Playing with Sophie and Abby, when I first got here, they’re both such unbelievable players, and it was so much fun just to play with those two,” Watts said. “Now, playing with Brette and Sophie, they can put the puck in the net and it’s made both lines really successful and dangerous on the ice.”
That makes Wisconsin a dangerous team. The second-ranked Badgers seek their second straight national championship and sixth overall, which would tie them with Minnesota for the most in NCAA history.
Watts wasn’t part of last year’s championship season, the first at Wisconsin since 2011. She would love nothing more than to help Wisconsin win back-to-back national titles for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“It’s so exciting and that’s why we do everything that we do,” Watts said. “We practice all the time, workout in the gym, eat healthy and spend the year training just to win the national championship. I’m just grateful to be part of this team.”
Watts is certainly grateful for her time this season at Wisconsin. Watts is also happy with an on-ice resurgence that has put her in contention to become just the second player to ever win the Patty Kazmaier Award two times (Jennifer Botterill, 2001, 2003).
“Last year was a down year, I guess you can say considering my freshman year, so it’s nice to feel more like myself and kind of find my love for hockey again,” Watts said. “It’s been a really special year and I’m so excited to move into the playoff part of the season and compete for a national championship.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of David Stluka and Kai Martin.