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.
Jennifer Gardiner has been something of a late-bloomer at Ohio State.
After totaling 15 points in each of her first two seasons in Columbus, she scored that many goals her junior year and has become even more prolific in her senior season.
Coach Nadine Muzerall said the forward from Surrey, British Columbia, was unrecruited by NCAA schools and was planning to attend a Canadian university before the Buckeyes approached Gardiner and convinced her that Ohio State was the right place for her.
That was the first step to improving Gardiner’s game, but the second was a little harder to come by. Despite earning more playing time and becoming an integral part of the offense on the team that would go on to win the national championship last season, Gardiner admits that she struggled with confidence and was second-guessing herself at almost every turn.
Coming into her senior season, Gardiner knew she had to try and shake herself of the doubt. She’s worked closely with Ohio State assistant coach Peter Elander by picking apart video and working on small details. That has helped reinforce in her that she has done the work, has the hockey IQ and belongs on the Buckeyes. There hasn’t been one moment or turning point, but her confidence has grown and that has shown up in her stats.
“There's a certain different kind of confidence coming into the season knowing that you won the title last season,” Gardiner said. “Growing confidence in general is something that has helped me to grow as a player. I questioned myself, but this year I’ve been confident in my decisions and going with what I believe.”
“I have more swagger and try to elevate my game in any way I can and help our team be successful. I love making plays and getting pucks to the net. I’ve been working on shooting more. Pucks have been going in, but I think that's just one thing that comes with all the hard work behind the scenes.”
Her career-high 54 points this season are third-best in program history for points in a single season. That output made Gardiner the Buckeyes’ leading scorer and the sixth-highest scorer in the nation. A finalist for the WCHA Forward of the Year Award, Gardiner had 18 multi-point games on the year and led the team with a plus-36.
“She's just a great playmaker. She sees the ice really well,” said teammate and fellow Patty Kazmaier top-10 finalist Sophie Jaques. “She competes and puts in the effort every single day. She's always first one on the ice and the last one off the ice putting in the extra skills work, and I think that's what allows her to have such a great well-rounded game.”
The Buckeyes have the best power play in the country this season, as they have converted 32.3 percent of their advantages. Gardiner is a big reason why, as her 13 points on the power play lead the team. What makes her so dynamic in those situations is her skating, according to Muzerall.
“Her explosiveness is unmatched in her skating,” she said of Gardiner. “She's one of the best skaters, I think, in college hockey. Her speed and her shot and her ability to score is very impressive.”
Away from the rink, Gardiner is set to graduate in May with a degree in sport industry. She is a 2022-23 WCHA All-Academic Team member and WCHA Scholar-Athlete. She also volunteers with the 2nd & 7 Foundation, which provides free books and positive role models to kids in need and has helped the Columbus Blue Jackets with their Hockey For Her initiative.
With her admitted lack of confidence in years past, it’s no surprise that Gardiner said being named a Patty Kazmaier top-10 finalist was a surprise.
“This wasn’t on my radar as something that I personally believed I could accomplish,” she said. “Reaching this point is just a huge honor for me.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.