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Women’s College Hockey Dazzles Even in Olympic Year 

03/19/2018, 2:45pm MDT
By Ryan Williamson

With Olympians away, the sport’s increased parity and skill level continue to be put on display

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 February, Boston College women’s hockey head coach Katie Crowley watched Team USA, led by five Eagles Crowley has coached, win gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

And while those players — Cayla Barnes, Megan Keller, Kali Flanagan, Emily Pfalzer and Haley Skarupa — were succeeding on the international stage, a current player was dazzling for Boston College. That was freshman forward Daryl Watts. The first-year Eagle had a nation-best 82 points this season, culminating in becoming the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner.

This past weekend, the women’s college hockey world descended upon Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Women’s Frozen Four and the Patty Kazmaier Award Ceremony and Brunch. It was a chance to not only celebrate the continued success of women’s college hockey, it was chance to see the exciting future that is ahead for the sport.

When looking at the success of women’s college hockey, there are many places you can start. This year, Ohio State and Colgate each made their Frozen Four debuts. There was also Robert Morris standout Brittany Howard, who was the first Colonial to ever be a named a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award. Watts also made history as the first freshman to ever win the award.

The sport’s perennial powers also continued to see success this season. Wisconsin returned to the NCAA tournament, while Clarkson continued to bolster its standing as the Golden Knights won their second consecutive national title in 2018.

All of this year’s success in the sport came while many of its top players were off playing in PyeongChang. Five players on this year’s Olympic team are currently playing in the NCAA.

“It used to be that in an Olympic year, you were unsure of what was going to happen,” said Crowley, who won gold with the U.S. women at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. “Now, it continues to be great hockey. It just goes to show the parity.”

Looking at the players competing in the Olympics, college hockey’s impact can be seen on just about every team that hit the ice. All 23 players on the U.S. played at the collegiate level.

“I think college hockey is the feeder system for so many programs internationally,” Crowley said. “College is a tremendous growth experience and it gets them ready for the national teams.”

Among the 23 players on Team USA this year, four have won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, including Brianna Decker. The Wisconsin alum won the award back in 2012.

“After the college season, we would come to train for the world championships, and if one of the girls on our team won the award that year, they’d be called Patty for the entire tournament,” Decker said. “College allows you an opportunity to show what you’re made of. You get put in those pressure situations and you can get used to what that’s like.”

Those pressure situations were evident in the Frozen Four. For the first time in either men’s or women’s Frozen Four history, both semifinals and the final were decided in overtime. It was also the second consecutive year that all three games were televised.

“These events inspire more and more kids to play,” said USA Hockey Executive Director Pat Kelleher. “College hockey plays a role in the growth of the sport. Hopefully some of the players here will be representing their countries four years from now.”

Next season, this year’s Olympians will return to their schools — including those at Boston College. It will be a special moment for Crowley.

“I’m really excited to have them back and hear their stories and how their year was,” Crowley said. “To be able to sit and listen to their experiences and how it was different from ours 20 years ago. It was awesome watching them and it was the best to have them take home the gold.”

Team USA’s gold medal has already put an increased spotlight on women’s hockey in the U.S. Many in the sport anticipate that all levels of the sport, including college hockey, will see their spotlight shine brighter thanks to the gold medal in PyeongChang.

“The women’s game is already growing and for us to win, there will be a bigger spotlight, more recognition and more fan support for everyone,” Decker said. “At the college level, girls are going to only strive more to play for their country.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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