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 2022 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner presentation is scheduled for Saturday, March 26.
As good as she already is, her coach will tell you that University of Wisconsin forward Casey O’Brien is only getting started.
“With Casey, she’s just tapping the surface of her potential and her ability to be an elite player,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “She didn’t get a full freshman year in last year, but she did very well the second half of the year. Her line last year was one of the reasons why we were in a position to win a national championship. They played extremely well during the final month of the year.”
The sophomore from Milton, Massachusetts, used that as the foundation upon which to build an outstanding second season in 2021-22.
O’Brien leads the nation in game-winning goals with nine, the third-highest total in Wisconsin history. She was eighth in the nation in individual scoring with 55 points on 27 goals and 28 assists. The All-WCHA third-team selection finished second to Daryl Watts in team scoring.
With O’Brien’s help, fifth-ranked, two-time defending national champion Wisconsin (26-8-4) reached the national quarterfinals, where the Badgers lost a 4-2 decision to host and No. 3 Northeastern University.
Her play earned O’Brien a spot among the 10 finalists for the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, annually given to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s hockey. All the other finalists are either seniors, fifth-year seniors or graduate students.
Given all that, it makes one wonder how much more O’Brien might unleash from beneath that surface Johnson mentioned.
“Again, she’s only a sophomore, but she has aspirations to play at a higher level,” said Johnson, “and if she continues to work at her game, which I know she will, I know she will get opportunities at the international level and hopefully will fulfill her dreams of playing at the Olympics.
“Hopefully, she helps us win another NCAA title or two here in Madison and she continues to become one of the best players in women’s college hockey.”
O’Brien took a moment to share what this first Kazmaier nomination means to her.
“I try to compare myself to the best version of myself and not to other players, but I am very honored to be counted among these other nine amazing players,” O’Brien said. “The fact that this award aims to honor players as a whole, including personal and competitive character, makes it all the more meaningful to me.”
O’Brien could become the sixth Wisconsin player to take home the Kazmaier Award. The last Badger to do it was goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens in 2017. O’Brien was nominated along with teammate and linemate Daryl Watts, a fifth-year player who in 2018 became the first freshman to win the award while still at Boston College.
This is the third year in a row that Wisconsin has multiple players in the top 10 and the seventh straight year the Badgers have a top-10 finalist.
O’Brien could become the first sophomore to ever receive the award. Watts was the youngest ever to win, doing so as an 18-year-old at Boston College.
The top three nominees will be named March 17, while the award will be presented March 26.
“Being nominated alongside my teammate and linemate validates so much of what we tried to achieve this year,” O’Brien said. “Daryl, Makenna [Webster] and I each had different roles but recognized that if we could develop the right chemistry and balance, we could truly become more than the sum of our parts.
“When we were at our best this year, we had so much fun being creative and experimenting. In some ways, I consider my and Daryl’s nominations to be a nomination of our line.”
In fact, O’Brien credited everyone around the Wisconsin program for getting her here.
“I can’t speak to past winners or other nominees, but my nomination is absolutely a team honor,” O’Brien said. “Our coaches, trainers, medical staff, equipment managers, academic advisors, families and Badger fans are all huge parts of our success. Our long season requires contributions from so many people to help keep us all healthy, happy and performing at our best.”
O’Brien is as productive away from the rink as she is on the ice.
“Service and the importance of it has been part of my life since I was very young,” O’Brien said. “My family and schools I’ve attended have consistently stressed the importance of appreciating how fortunate I am and helping those with less.
“I love working with kids more than anything. It means a lot to me knowing that many kids look up to collegiate athletes, and I think it's important to use my platform to make a positive impact on others because those kids sure do make an impact on me.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.