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. More details will follow.
It has been a significant year of growth and development for Wisconsin forward Sophie Shirley.
Shirley enjoyed a dynamic rookie season before a breakout sophomore campaign last year. This season has resulted in deeper growth and development for Shirley, a junior who was voted a top-10 finalist for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, presented annually to the top women’s college hockey player in the nation.
“There have been a lot of people who have helped me develop into a more well-rounded player,” Shirley said. “I think I’ve really matured, and I feel this year was a big year for me just maturity-wise and being able to take a little bit of a leadership role with the younger players on the team, too.”
Shirley, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was also named a top-10 finalist last season as a sophomore.
“Any time you are nominated for an award like this, all of the great players before who have been nominated and have even won the award, it’s obviously a huge honor and something I take a lot of pride in,” Shirley said. “I’ve had amazing opportunities here at Wisconsin, just being put in great positions and also being able to play with really great players who have helped me get to where I am today."
Shirley’s linemate Daryl Watts won the award as a freshman in 2018 while she played at Boston College. The recognition for Watts and Shirley marks the ninth time — and second straight season — that Wisconsin has featured multiple student athletes as top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. It’s also the sixth straight year that there has been a top-10 finalist at Wisconsin, as the school’s most recent winner came in 2017 when goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens captured the award.
Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson has noticed a defensive buy-in from Shirley and Watts, his two top-offensive talents.
“With [Shirley] and [Watts], if they’re willing to commit to the 200-foot game, the end result is they’re going to have the puck more, and they just become better players,” Johnson said. “Whether you’re [Shirley and Watts], or other players on our team, your team becomes stronger if you get those kids to commit to being better 200-foot players.”
Shirley was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Rookie of the Year in 2019 and helped Wisconsin to the program’s fifth-ever national championship. Shirley followed it up with a breakout sophomore campaign, scoring a career-best 29 goals and 61 points — second-most on the team behind Watts — in all 36 games.
Shirley feels she has made significant strides as a junior despite battling the rigors and challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the team and schedule throughout the shortened season.
“Last year was obviously a really good year for me because I had a lot of points, but this year I haven’t tried to look that hard at the points,” Shirley said. “When I think of development, I think more so my defensive game, working on that a little bit more and focusing on the little things that make me into a more well-rounded player.”
Shirley ranks top-10 in the nation with 10 goals and 23 points in 18 games played this season. She is fourth in the nation with 1.28 points per game among skaters who have played at least 18 games.
Shirley has also been consistent at Wisconsin with points in 15 of 18 games played this season, including a season-best nine-game point streak that spanned mid-January until the end of February.
“Another thing I consistently work at is consistency all over the ice, whether it’s scoring goals, making plays or being better in my defensive game,” Shirley said. “I’m starting to kind of get the hang of it this year because I love scoring goals and making plays, but as I get older, I realize that it’s not all about that, and there’s a lot of things within my game that I can continue to improve.”
Shirley, whose younger sister Grace is a sophomore on the team, has certainly made an impact at Wisconsin the last three seasons. She is 14th in school history in goals scored, 20th in points and top-10 in points per game.
Shirley became the 18th in school history to record at least 50 career goals during a November series against Ohio State. She also became the 27th at Wisconsin to post at least 100 career points in the same series against the Buckeyes.
“It was pretty crazy, but obviously a really cool feeling,” Shirley said. “It’s really rewarding and I’m just honored and grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had here at Wisconsin.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Tom Lynn.