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 2021 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner will be announced on March 27 on NHL Network.
A renewed focus on goal scoring has helped Minnesota standout forward Grace Zumwinkle find the back of the net with increased regularity this season.
That has allowed Zumwinkle to perform as one of the premier talents in the country, and the Excelsior, Minnesota, native was recognized as such when she was voted a top-3 finalist for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, presented annually to the top women’s college hockey player in the nation. She was then named a top-three finalist on March 18.
“Ever since I came to college, you see other great names associated with this award and it’s super special,” Zumwinkle said. “It’s something I don’t think really hit me until the top-10 came out, so I look back on my college experience and it’s definitely a cool way to finish off my senior year.”
Zumwinkle is the eighth-ranked point getter in the NCAA with 24, and ranked second for the top spot in the national goal-scoring race with 17. Throughout the majority of the summer, Zumwinkle said she sought to improve her goal scoring.
“This season, I started focusing more on getting to the net front,” Zumwinkle said. “In year’s past, I would rely more on shot volume in terms of generating goals, but the statistics don’t lie in the sense that when you look at high-level hockey, most goals happen in front of the net. Over time, getting there consistently has really paid off for me.”
Zumwinkle’s career best mark is 25 goals in 39 and 36 games as a sophomore and junior, respectively. She was eight goals off her personal high during this abbreviated season. Zumwinkle led the WCHA this season with four game-winning goals.
Minnesota coach Brad Frost has taken notice.
“She’s always been somebody that has had a great shot and great speed, but she’s worked incredibly hard on getting to the net and a little more into those greasy areas, and she’s been really successful,” Frost said. “Because of her size and strength, she’s hard to move once she gets there and she has the stick skills to make teams pay. She’s incredibly deserving of the top-3 and potentially more. She’s been tremendous for us for four years, but this year in particular, she has taken her game to another level.”
Zumwinkle ranks fifth all-time in Minnesota history with 613 shots on goal, while her 84 career goals are 10th in the school record books. She also has 148 career points in 133 games, putting her 20th on a list that’s topped by Olympic gold medalists Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel.
“To be mentioned with some of those names is truly something special,” Zumwinkle said. “It feels like I was just a freshman, coming onto campus. The people I’ve played alongside my four years have helped me get here today.”
Zumwinkle, a finance major, said she may take advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA and potentially play with her younger sister Emily, who will be an incoming freshman next season.
“It’s definitely an option for me,” Zumwinkle said. “But hopefully, I’m in contention with the U.S. Olympic Team for 2022. I’m just taking it one day at a time and seeing what happens next.”
Zumwinkle has received national recognition in the last year.
For the first time, Zumwinkle was named to the 2020 U.S. Women’s National Team roster for the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship. The event was ultimately canceled because of the global pandemic, but the honor of making the roster wasn’t lost on Zumwinkle, who previously won a pair of gold medals with the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team.
“Growing up on the under-18 teams, you always envision yourself one day being named to the national team roster,” Zumwinkle said. “Amidst [COVID-19] and everything, just to be in contention and on the roster is something I’ve always dreamed of. Seeing it come to fruition was a special moment for me.”
Recently, Zumwinkle was invited to the U.S. Women’s National Team evaluation camp this past October in Blaine, Minnesota, an event that’s part of the process for selecting the roster for the 2021 Women’s World Championship, set for May in Halifax and Nova Scotia.
“It was definitely cool and unique to come back together, especially during such a volatile year,” Zumwinkle said. “Every time you get an invite to a camp, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to take for granted because leading into the 2022 Olympics, each camp is crucial.”
Zumwinkle said that each time she attends a national team camp, she tries to take several areas of her game where she can improve, which has helped her game at Minnesota.
It also helps to play alongside teammates who won an Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“The biggest thing I take away is how they carry themselves on and off the ice, and what they’ve done to be successful,” Zumwinkle said. “Those little things compounded over time and ended up making a big difference. By training and playing alongside of them, you definitely pick up on the little things that have helped them get to where they are today.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/Gopher Athletics.