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Jennifer Botterill is women’s college hockey’s best forward. Angela Ruggiero is women’s college hockey’s best defenseman. Thus far, the two have worked together to make Harvard the best team in women’s college hockey.
But when the 2003 Patty Kazmaier Award is announced on March 22, only one of the Harvard captains can win the honor bestowed on the most outstanding player in women’s college hockey this season.
The USA Hockey Foundation announced on Friday that Botterill, Ruggiero and Minnesota-Duluth junior Jenny Potter are the three Kazmaier finalists. The 13-member committee—comprised of several coaches, a handful of journalists and a USA Hockey representative—will decide the winner, who will be announced at a banquet in Duluth during the 2003 NCAA Frozen Four.
Botterill and her former linemate Tammy Shewchuk ’00-’01 were both Kazmaier finalists in 2001. Harvard is both the only school to have two Kazmaier finalists in a single season and the only team to win the award twice. A.J. Mleczko ’97-’99 won in 1999 and Botterill received the honor in 2001.
The two finalists, along with coach Katey Stone, stressed that the Kazmaier is really a team award.
“It says a lot for our team to have two people there because it’s all about the people you’re playing with—they got us there,” Botterill said.
And while both players were honored by their nomination, both stressed that an NCAA championship is more important. Botterill personally experienced the bittersweet emotion of winning the Kazmaier in 2001 a day after being eliminated by Duluth in the national semifinals.
“I’m real excited—it’s definitely an honor to be in the top three in the country,” Ruggiero said. “You hope for the best, but the most important thing here is a national championship.”
Botterill and Ruggiero have each been a force on both ends of the ice this season. With 42 goals and 60 assists in 28 games this season, Botterill is on pace to break A.J. Mleczko’s single season-scoring record of 114 points. Ruggiero has broken her own scoring records for a defenseman with 26 goals and 50 points in 30 games this season. Only teammates Julie Chu and Botterill have scored more points per game this season.
“It’s an honor to be there, especially being a defenseman,” Ruggiero said. “Defensemen don’t get that much recognition unless you’re putting up points.”
Botterill and Ruggiero have both contributed to the team’s defensive success from their respective positions.
“We’re very different players and I think that we really feed off each other,” Botterill said. “We’re really working to make each other better.”
Potter, the third candidate, has posted outstanding numbers with 31 goals and 54 assists in 34 games this season, while her Duluth team has put together a campaign almost as outstanding as Harvard’s.
Potter has had a successful year despite having to care for a two-year old daughter on top of the burdens of a typical student-athlete.
Forwards have won four Kazmaiers in the award’s five-year history, and no defenseman has ever won the honor.
The last two winners, Botterill and Northeastern’s Brooke Whitney, each led the nation in game-winning goals. Botterill leads the nation in that category this season with 10. Ruggiero has five and Potter has three.
The stated selection criteria for the award include skills, sportsmanship, clutch performance, character, competitiveness, love of hockey, academic achievement and civic involvement. The committee will have a difficult task fairly applying those criteria.
“It’s tough,” Stone said. “I think you look for consistency. There’s a lot of politics involved in it too. You’ve got to go into it understanding that it could be a crapshoot, too.”
USA Hockey, the national governing body for hockey in the United States, sponsors the award.
Both Potter and Ruggiero were members of the 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympic teams. Botterill became the first and only Canadian to win the award in 2001.
Although the award is run by USA Hockey, it will have no U.S. bias, provided that the 13-member panel abides by the selection criteria as written.
The selection criteria do not guarantee that USA Hockey is unbiased in its promotion of the award, however. For most of the weekend, the Patty Kazmaier finalist announcement was the lead story on the USA Hockey web site, www.usahockey.com. Next to the announcement, USA Hockey ran a picture of Ruggiero in a U.S. jersey rather than a picture of Botterill in a Canadian sweater or any of the finalists in a collegiate uniform.
While the Kazmaier will be a great honor for whoever wins it, the ultimate decision is not on Botterill and Ruggiero’s mind right now.
“It’s a great thing on the side, but obviously our number one focus is the team and winning the national championship,” Botterill said.
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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