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. This is the first of a series of articles profiling potential Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award nominees.
In this season’s opening game, Chelsea Laden stopped nine shots in goal as Quinnipiac University beat the University of Connecticut 3-0.
In Game No. 2, she made 10 saves in a 3-0 shutout of Penn State. In her third and fourth games, she smothered a combined 20 shots from the University of Maine in 4-0 and 2-0 victories.
Four games, four shutouts.
Almost three months later, Laden’s still rolling along.
In 23 starts, Laden is 20-1-2 with a 0.77 goals-against average and 12 shutouts for the Bobcats, who are 20-1-3 and ranked fourth in the nation. When Laden looks at the national stats, she almost doesn’t believe it. She leads the nation in GAA, victories and shutouts.
“At first it’s kind of amazing, because I used to be the goalie in high school who would always look up stats of college players, and I was like, ‘Wow, it would be so cool just to make it on that list,’ ” she said. “Here I am in my senior year and I’m at the top of that list. That to me is such a cool moment.”
But Laden isn’t letting it go to her head, either. She says all those gaudy stats come from a defensive-minded team effort.
“When I look at the stats and I see those numbers, I immediately think of my team and think of how many blocked shots they make every game and how much effort they put in,” she said. “It really comes down to how tough my teammates are and how much pride they have in blocking shots. I’m just so fortunate to be a goalie for a team like that.”
Laden came to Quinnipiac from her native Minnesota as a freshman but didn’t play much her first two years, backing up Victoria Vigilanti, one of the nation’s best goaltenders and the school’s career leader in saves, shutouts, wins and GAA when she graduated.
But Laden says that time was valuable to her development.
“She set the bar high for me and taught me a lot, like what it took to even be a Division I goaltender,” Laden said. “Work ethic, and just all the hard work it was. I didn’t really understand. I really wasn’t ready at the time and those two years were big growth years.”
Last season she got her chance and made the most of it. She gave up 49 goals in 34 games — a 1.48 average — and had a 19-6-9 record with nine shutouts.
This season she’s even better. She said starting with four straight shutouts was a tremendous confidence-booster.
“[That] streak really gave not only myself confidence, but it gave the team confidence that they know that I’m going to do my job behind them, and I’m confident they’re going to do the job in front of me,” she said. “I think that was a good confidence boost that propelled us to the rest of the season.”
She ticks off all the reasons for her strong season: the defensemen in front of her, the constant emphasis of defense by coach Rick Seeley, the experience from last season and the time she spent in USA Hockey camps in August and December. Getting the chance to face national team shooters in goal, while also watching veterans such as Alex Rigsby and Jessie Vetter — the way they prepare, practice and think about the game — was enormous, she said.
“I’m a lot more aware of what’s going on on the ice and what’s going on in front of me and I can anticipate things a lot better,” she said. “I know the game better. I know what good shooters are looking for.”
Laden says she knows her limitations in goal. She calls herself “a battler” with an intense attitude who may not have the talent some others do.
“What may look like an easy save for another goalie might look like a pretty hard save for me,” she said with a laugh. But the key is, she makes the save.
“I’m more of a physical goalie,” said the 5-foot-8 Laden. “I use more of my athleticism in my saves.”
She came to the game a little bit later than some, especially in Minnesota, at about age 8 or 9. Before that, she was a figure skater.
When Chelsea told her dad she’d like to get into something more competitive, he suggested hockey. She tried it and loved it. Then when the team goalie got sick one day, she put the pads on — and never wanted to take them off.
Her father, a former goaltender at Bethel University in St. Paul, helped get her into hockey clinics. By the seventh grade she was playing on the high school varsity team.
When Quinnipiac first sent Laden a letter of interest, she said she didn’t want to go to Connecticut. But when she made a visit, she knew immediately it was the perfect school for her.
Now, she’s having the season of her life for a program that’s reaching a new level of success. She’s excited about what this season might bring.
“We’re currently in a place we’ve never really been before. There’s a big difference in believing you can do something and then actually doing it. I think our team knew that going into this season, being 18-1 at this point was definitely possible,” she said last week. “But now that we’ve won that many games, our team is beginning to own that image instead of question it. But we’re not too satisfied or comfortable. …
“We want to make it as far as we can, but it’s up to us to take care of all things, every single day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by John Hassett Photography