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.
In the beginning of the season, University of Minnesota standouts Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak didn’t expect to be in position to capture the top award in college women’s hockey.
Both players were announced as top-10 finalists for the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s hockey.
Pannek, a junior from Plymouth, Minnesota, is the scoring leader in women’s college hockey with 17 goals and 58 points, four better than second place. Potomak, a sophomore from Aldergrove, British Columbia, is tied for sixth in scoring with 17 goals and 47 points.
“It’s a huge honor, just being in consideration,” Pannek said. “You see the names of people who are up for it and you see the names of girls who won and it’s surreal. It’s an honor and something I don’t take lightly. It honestly makes me want to work harder to live up to that expectation and it’s not possible without a great team behind you.”
Or a linemate like Potomak. The Minnesota sophomore is second in the NCAA at plus-39 and ranks top-10 in assists, assists-per-game and points per game. Potomak is also third in the NCAA with six game-winning goals.
“It means everything just to be recognized or to be in consideration,” Potomak said. “But I guess with the team I play for, and the linemates and teammates I have, they make it pretty easy to succeed and do well.”
It has been an exciting season for Pannek, who leads the nation in scoring and assists, power-play helpers and power-play points. She is also third in the NCAA with six game-winning goals and ranks fourth with a plus-minus rating of 37. Pannek has at least one point in 28 of Minnesota’s 33 games with 15 multi-point games and 44 points during a 20-game point streak from October to January.
“I think from an expectation standpoint, I don’t think I expected this, but I was prepared for it, I was ready and up for the challenge,” Pannek said. “I didn’t do much different in terms of preparation. I just tried to play the game faster and make quicker decisions. The only different thing is going against other teams’ first lines and consistently having to shut them down and score. But when you’re playing with great players like Sarah, it makes it easy.”
Pannek has enjoyed seeing Potomak’s growth as the sophomore has taken on additional responsibility, not just on the scoresheet, but also defensively, including a role as a key penalty killer for the Gophers.
“I just think my complete game has improved, being able to play both ends of the ice and just having more pressure to produce compared to last year,” Potomak said. “That’s the biggest thing, my game is just more complete now.”
Potomak is coming off a season in which she was named National Rookie of the year, coming on strong at the end of the season when she earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the Frozen Four. Potomak, who scored five game-winning goals in the first 10 games of this season, netted the overtime winner during a Frozen Four semifinal win against Wisconsin. She also had an assist on the game-winning goal in the national championship game against Boston College.
“I definitely have really high expectations for myself,” Potomak said. “After last year, I wanted to do the same, but do it even better. That’s been a focus for me, just pushing myself and setting high goals and expectations, which helps me as a player.”
Those high goals and lofty expectations have helped Pannek and Potomak become players who have been named top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
“What’s really great about our team is whether it’s in current years or past, there is usually someone who has been in your shoes,” Pannek said. “Having that support system has been huge when individual accolades come out because we all know our individual success is because of the team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo Credit: Brad Rempel/Gopher Athletics