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Kaz Watch: Pia Dukaric Played with Poise of a Veteran in Her Sophomore Year

03/06/2023, 12:30pm MST
By Bob Reinert

The ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year helped Yale win 28 games this season

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.

Considering that it was her first full college season in the net, Yale sophomore goaltender Pia Dukaric looked like a veteran this year when it came to anchoring the Bulldogs’ defense.

Dukaric of Ljubljana, Slovenia, posted a Yale season record eight shutouts — fourth in the NCAA this year — on her way to being the ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year. Her 28 victories in 32 games recently ranked second in the NCAA in win percentage, while her goals-against average of 1.36 and save percentage of .936 stand atop the ECAC. Those marks were second and third, respectively, in the NCAA.

Dukaric was named ECAC goaltender of the month in November and collected six ECAC goaltender of the week honors this year.

Despite all of the numbers and accolades, Dukaric was humble about her performance this season. She quickly shifted the credit to her teammates playing in front of her. 

“The defensive corps of our team is so good that, honestly, sometimes my job is so easy that I get bored,” Dukaric said. “It’s been great. It’s like all the individual success is possible because of my teammates.”

“We’re such a good team from the top to bottom, I think even when I don’t have the best game … my teammates always have my back. I don’t think there’s pressure on any one of us more than the other. I don’t feel any pressure.”

Dukaric backstopped Yale to the Ivy League championship and ECAC regular-season title. The Bulldogs, at 28-3-1, recently were ranked No. 3 in the nation. Yale lost a 4-3 double-overtime decision to Clarkson in the ECAC tournament semifinals.

“We had a really good team last year, and I think everyone’s expectations were pretty high,” Dukaric said. “Obviously, we have a great freshman class this year. We had a big sophomore class. So, I think we were all aiming for [the top].”

“Last year we were good, but we didn’t end up with any of the trophies. So, this year it’s been really great getting the Ivy League championship and ECAC regular-season championship under our wing. I think everybody was kind of expecting it.”

Dukaric saw significant playing time in her first year at Yale, appearing in 15 games.

“I played a lot of games as a freshman, but I still had a lot of stuff to work on,” Dukaric said. “I worked a lot on my mental preparation before games. Not getting in my head too much about playing and performing really well, but just enjoying the game.”

Dukaric had played men’s and boys’ hockey in Slovenia, so she had to acclimate herself to the women’s college game.

“I had to kind of adjust my game because I had my timing off at the beginning,” she said. “I started working more on reading the plays better, reading where the shot is going when it leaves the stick and obviously also movements.” 

“But speed-wise, I think I was pretty good, even in my freshman year. The reading of the plays was something I’d really worked on this summer.”

According to Dukaric, nobody had too big a burden this year for Yale.

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“There wasn’t one player that had to do it all by themselves,” she said. “I think that’s what helps us be such a good team and just continue to every single game bring our best.” 

Dukaric is pleased to be among the 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, being the lone sophomore among them.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “I don’t really think it’s sunk in yet. It’s something I would look up to when I was little and aspire to even play in NCAA. So, it’s been great, and honestly, it’s such an honor.”

Will achieving so much in just her second year change the trajectory of her college career?

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about it that much,” Dukaric said. “I’m more going game by game. It’s good to be recognized. I feel like it does have some effect on your mental game. It’s obviously really nice.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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