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Kaz Watch: A More Selfish Approach Has Paid Dividends for Kiara Zanon

03/06/2023, 10:00am MST
By Bob Reinert

The CHA Player of the Year has her eyes set on leading Penn State to a championship

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 2023 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner will be announced on March 18 in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Frozen Four in Duluth, Minnesota.

The top-three finalists are expected to be announced on Wednesday, March 8.

When she was preparing last summer for this hockey season, Penn State’s Kiara Zanon finally decided to take everyone’s advice and become more selfish with the puck.

“I’m very much known as a playmaker,” Zanon said. “I’m told a lot to shoot more and become more of a shooting threat and a goal-scoring threat more consistently.”

“I think this summer I kind of tried to focus on that, putting myself in a position to shoot the puck more. I’m obviously still trying to work on that, changing my angle on shots and just finding ways to get more shots and get better-quality shots off.”

As a result, the 5-foot-5 junior forward and team captain from Fairport, New York, led the CHA with 48 points — 25 goals and 23 assists — through 37 games. She topped the CHA (College Hockey America conference) and was fourth in the NCAA in goals.

“It’s incredibly difficult,” Zanon said of her new approach. “I definitely have been trying to focus on it over the past few years, but I think this year it was like, it’s time to really tune in on that and really think shoot first.”

Zanon was named 2023 CHA Player of the Year after leading Penn State to a 14-1-1 mark to clinch the league’s regular-season title.

“Kiara is a dynamic player who is having her third phenomenal season at Penn State,” said Penn State coach Jeff Kampersal. “She consistently produces because she has a relentless drive to improve. Her skill, her ability to change speeds, and vision are elite.”

Zanon’s improvement takes place during the offseason.

“I think I take my summers extremely seriously,” Zanon said. “I am actually often told to kind of take some time off because I spend so much time around the rink. I skated every single day, pretty much.”

Coming into the season, Zanon had high expectations for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions have lived up to them thus far.

“We played a very difficult schedule,” she said. “I think that’s something that we’re very proud of. And then when it came time for in-conference games, we wanted to obviously win the regular season, which we’ve accomplished.”

Penn State opened with a win against Wisconsin but then slipped to 2-4 against tough competition.

Zanon said she’s proud of how far Penn State women’s hockey has come since that start, and also since she first stepped on campus.

“Ultimately, my decision in coming to Penn State was trying to turn this into a championship program,” she said. “They were on the rise, and I just wanted to come be a part of that. And I think that’s what’s most special to see, the team coming together, the culture shift, and how well we’ve done in the past three years.”

Zanon admitted to feeling pressure this year as a team leader. While that’s presented some challenges, she knows that being in pressure-packed situations is something you earn and should relish. 

“It’s almost like you’ve put yourself in a position to have that pressure, so now what are you going to do with it?” she said. “You can obviously rise or you can fall.”

As she finds herself among the top players in women’s college hockey, Zanon said she feels gratitude.

“It’s unbelievable,” Zanon said. “Your dream as a kid is to play college hockey, and to be doing that, living out my dream and being in a position where I’ve had some successful years is just so special.” 

“Looking back at how I’ve gotten to this point and all of the people that have helped me along the way … without them, I wouldn’t be able to be in this position and be so successful where I am right now.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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