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Kaz Watch: Elite Goalies Abound in College Hockey

02/10/2016, 10:00am MST
By Doug Williams - Special to USAHockey.com

A goalie could win the Patty Kazmaier Award for only the third time since 1998

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.

At the University of Wisconsin, junior Ann-Renee Desbiens leads all NCAA Division I goaltenders with a minuscule 0.61 goals-against average. In more than 1,667 minutes over 28 Badgers games this season, she’s allowed just 17 goals. She has 15 shutouts.

At Quinnipiac University, junior Sydney Rossman — in her first season as a starter — ranks No. 2 to Desbiens in GAA (0.95) and has 12 shutouts.

At Boston College, sophomore Katie Burt is unbeaten at 24-0 for the top-ranked Eagles and is 54-3 in her college career. She’s fourth in the country in save percentage (.945) and has 10 shutouts.

The list of goaltender excellence goes on and on. University of Minnesota senior Amanda Leveille is 88-8-5 in her career and a two-time national champion. Clarkson University’s Shea Tiley has seven shutouts and is fifth in the nation in GAA. University of North Dakota senior Shelby Amsley-Benzie has been among the nation’s best for four seasons and has a career GAA mark of 1.81 with 82 wins.

Is this the Year of the Goaltender in women’s college hockey? Actually, no. It’s more like this is an era of great goaltending. This group in 2015-16 is just one more example.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of good goaltending over the years,” said Matt Kelly, a former standout goaltender at Wayne State College who is an avid observer of the college game as USA Hockey’s head scout for the U.S. women’s national team. “Every year there’s kind of been a core group of kids that has risen above everyone else, and I think this group … has taken their game to another level.”

Kelly ticks off all the names from the national stat leaders, including Kimberly Newell of Princeton University, Celine Whitlinger of Penn State University and Brittni Mowat of Bemidji State University, noting each is having a great season. It’s hard to separate one from the rest. It’s a deep, talented cast, he says.

“If I was to take, let’s say, the top 10 goalies, how do you get it down to five?” he asks, laughing. “There’s so many. Give me your top five. Well, my top five could be different from five other people’s. … Every one is good, and they’re good for their own reasons.”

The big question is, will any of them stand head and shoulders above the rest to win the Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the best player in women’s college hockey?

Since the award was introduced in 1998, only two goaltenders, Ali Brewer of Brown University and Jessie Vetter of Wisconsin, have won the award, with Vetter the last to do it in 2009. Minnesota’s Noora Raty came close twice, finishing in the top-three finalists in 2010 and 2013. Northeastern University’s Florence Schelling was also a recent finalist in 2012.

“I think sometimes people look at goalies and say, ‘Well, she plays on a really good team, so how good can she be?’ ” Kelly said. “At the same time, she’s logging a ton of minutes, she’s played probably 90 percent or more of the games the team’s played, so there’s a consistency factor there, and more times than not their team’s in the top five; so yeah, maybe the team’s good. But if they didn’t have a goalie of that caliber, would they still be in the top five?”

Burt is among the youngest of the elite goalie crop and is on a record career pace. In January she became the fastest — and youngest, at 18 years, 358 days — ever to get to 50 wins. In big games this season, she’s been a wall. In a 2-0 victory over Harvard University — a game she counts as her best — she stopped 29 shots.

“When we needed a big save, she gave us one,” coach Katie King said afterward, noting in particular that Burt smothered every possible rebound.

That, in fact, has been an emphasis for Burt this season in trying to improve from her sterling first season, when her 1.11 GAA mark led the nation.

“When you don’t give up rebounds, there’s not much chance for that other team to score,” Burt said.

So far, the extra work is paying off.

“I feel like I’m playing some of the best hockey I’ve ever played,” she said. “Confidence is a key for a goaltender. If you have it you can play with anybody, but if you don’t have it, it’s tough to play with anybody.”

Last week, Ann-Renee Desbiens was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Defensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row. Earlier this season Desbiens noted that a lot of her success has to do with preparation, saying “We work hard in practice and focus on every single shot and hopefully that translates to the games.”

To hear Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson explain it, “The puck stops with Ann-Renee. She’s elevated her game in recent weeks, especially when we’ve had breakdowns and allowed breakaways.”

As Kelly noted, talented young goaltenders tend to greatly improve once they get some postseason experience and confidence. Burt’s in that position now after playing in the NCAA tourney as a freshman, and so are Desbiens and Leveille. Leveille had 19 stops in a 4-1 victory over Harvard for the NCAA title in 2014-15.

“Once they get that experience, you see their game go to another level,” Kelly said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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