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.
A significant injury forced Clarkson standout Caitrin Lonergan out of action for an extended period of time last season.
Lonergan wasn’t sure if she’d be able to return to the form that previously earned her conference and national recognition before her injury. But she rebounded in a big way this season at Clarkson, as Lonergan was named a top-10 finalist for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.
“It’s the highest award in women’s hockey,” Lonergan said. “I’m super thrilled and just really excited to be recognized. The players who have won that award are some of the best players in the world, so to have my name recognized with those players is super special and humbling. I had an injury last year and I really wasn’t sure if I would ever come back as the same player. This year, I was in the mindset that I’d do whatever I could for my team and try to find ways to contribute, so I think I’ve grown a lot as a hockey player and a person.”
Lonergan suffered a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery last season. She was injured in a season-opening victory of the 2019-20 season and missed the remaining 36 games.
“I was out for 14 months, so it was definitely a hard process,” Lonergan said. “It was the first time I was ever injured like that, and for me, hockey is everything, so not being able to skate, or practice, or anything was really hard for me.”
Lonergan played her first three seasons of college hockey at Boston College, before she transferred to Clarkson and suffered her shoulder injury in her first game with her new team. Lonergan credited her new teammates and coaches for motivating and instilling confidence throughout her recovery.
“I think the mindset was that I didn’t want the injury to take away my career,” Lonergan said. “I wanted to come back and I wanted to be better because of it. The first couple games, I was getting my feet wet, changing my style playing for Clarkson and also trying to reassure myself that I was healed. After the first couple games, I felt better than ever, which is a credit to my trainers.”
Lonergan said the time away from the game helped, as she was able to focus and refine other areas of her game like her defensive zone play, watching video, shooting and post-game rehabilitation and recovery among additional measures.
“It’s crazy to say this, but I do feel better, and this is the best I’ve ever felt on the ice,” Lonergan said. “I just improved in different areas that I needed to change and get better at and I feel like that helped a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m a little older now, but this is definitely the best I’ve felt in the past four years, and it’s crazy to say because I never would’ve thought that being out the last 14 months.”
Lonergan also had to balance returning from an injury that required a 14-month rehabilitation process with the rigors and challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the team and schedule during the season.
“We dealt with quarantines and not being able to play, but I was out for 14 months, so I think I was just so excited to play again,” Lonergan said. “That was a big drive for me, knowing what it was like to be out. It was important to do something every day and find a way to take back what I lost because for 14 months, I couldn’t do anything.”
Lonergan also discovered additional passions within the game during that 14-month recovery. Lonergan, a native of Roslindale, Massachusetts, coached younger kids in the Boston area during the summer while she recovered.
“I still got to be part of hockey and that was really special for me even though I wasn’t able to play,” Lonergan said. “Sometimes when you’re injured you forget what it was like to skate every day, or be part of a team. Being injured wasn’t ideal, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I was able to grow in other aspects and find other things that I love and one of those was coaching.”
Lonergan also rediscovered her shot. Lonergan scored 14 goals and 20 points in 17 games this season at Clarkson. She ranked just outside the top 10 in the country with a 1.25 points per game average, but her 14 goals ranked third nationally.
“I wouldn’t have really considered myself much of a goal scorer in the past,” Lonergan said. “I scored goals, but this year, I feel like I’m finding the net a lot more. In the past, I might have passed up an opportunity to shoot.”
Lonergan credited her linemates, Gabrielle David and Florence Lessard, for a significant part of her success this season in her comeback and return as a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.
She also has a renewed emphasis on shooting that has provided a boost in production.
“The coaches really harped on me to shoot the puck more, and that’s something I’ve been doing a lot off the ice that I really didn’t do for three years prior,” Lonergan said. “I didn’t shoot as many pucks as I wished I did and now I’m shooting every day.”
Lonergan was a standout at Boston College for three seasons before transferring to Clarkson. She scored 59 goals and amassed 147 points in 112 career games, while earning numerous Hockey East Conference honors and a Second-Team All-American selection. Lonergan also spent time with USA Hockey, winning an Under-18 Women’s World Championship gold medal and appearing on the U.S. Women’s National Team during the 2018 Four Nations Cup.
Lonergan was also nominated as a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in 2018.
“This season, I had no expectations to be a Patty Kaz top-10 finalist,” Lonergan said. “Individual goals are great, but I was just trying to help my team win a national championship. I’m just excited to play here and I’m really honored to be part of the top 10.”
Lonergan has the distinction of playing with two former winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award. Lonergan played with Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts when she won the Patty Kazmaier Award at Boston College in 2018 and she currently plays with Elizabeth Giguere, who captured the award last season with Clarkson.
“Playing with Daryl and Elizabeth has been such a great experience because I’ve learned so much from both of them,” Lonergan said. “They’re such great hockey players, but more importantly, they’re better people and being able to be their friend for the rest of my life is something I look forward to.”
Lonergan isn’t finished at Clarkson just yet. Lonergan, a psychology major, plans to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA and return to Clarkson next season.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Gary Mikel.