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Tuesday, December 07, 2021
Brianna Decker

Junior forward Brianna Decker is one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Decker has dominated opponents offensively this season, tallying 80 points in 38 games.

Women's Hockey: Patty Kazmaier Award made for Decker

With a national championship and the highest individual honor in collegiate women’s hockey up for grabs, this coming weekend has the potential to be the high-water mark for Brianna Decker’s career. As the junior forward gets ready to lead her team into the NCAA semifinal Friday afternoon against Boston College, she is also one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award given to the most outstanding player in the game.

It is a long way from where Decker’s career at Wisconsin started.

Back in October of 2009, Decker took the ice for the first time as a Badger in Wisconsin’s season-opening loss to North Dakota. The next day, she scored the first and second goals of her college career, but on the second—perhaps taking the concept of “crashing the net” too literally—careened into the goal and broke her wrist.

She missed the Badgers’ next nine games, spending practices stickhandling a plastic ball off the ice and watching her teammates on it. On her first shift back from injury, though, she showed a glimpse of what she was capable of.

Decker hopped over the boards less than a minute into the game against Wayne State, and after a few seconds on the ice, forced a turnover and set up then-sophomore forward Brooke Ammerman for a goal. It was a small indication of what was to come, and although the Badgers and Decker struggled through the 2009-’10 season, head coach Mark Johnson said it did not discourage her from doing anything “other than coming out the next [season] and having a phenomenal year.”

Johnson often praises Decker for her hard work and competitiveness; attributes that are common in every athlete but seem especially fitting for Decker. That drive could yield a couple of big payoffs this weekend.

“Kids that work hard and are committed and are doing that for a long time, it’s nice to see them get rewarded. Other kids that want to become good, they’re not willing to [make] the sacrifice,” Johnson said.

“Talk’s relatively inexpensive. It’s the work and the perspiration that goes into being a better player … Brianna’s no different. She’s earned everything that’s come her way.”

Ask Decker about the award, however, and her attitude borders on indifference.

“Individually, it doesn’t mean anything,” she said. Sure, the Patty Kazmaier Award is nice, but it is not the trophy Decker wants to have most on the bus ride back to Madison after this Frozen Four weekend.

Decker is joined by two other finalists for the award: North Dakota forward Jocelyne Lamoureaux and Northeastern goaltender Florence Schelling.

The competition is likely between Decker and Lamoureaux, who have played together in the USA Hockey program at any number of international tournaments, most recently winning gold at the 4 Nations Cup in November. With 34 goals and 48 assists, Lamoureaux leads Decker (37 goals and 23 assists) in points by two, and Decker complemented her rival’s offensive skill.

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“She has a tremendous shot,” Decker said. “She sets up people all the time, so when I played with her, we moved the puck very well.”

Northeastern’s Schelling raised eyebrows as an award finalist, since her .950 save percentage and 1.42 goals against average, which, while impressive, still trail Wisconsin’s Alex Rigsby, who posted a .952 save percentage and 1.35 GAA. When asked if he thought Schelling benefited from some regional bias—she is the only finalist from an east-coast team—Johnson said, “Ya think?”

But if Decker tops Lamoureaux and Schelling on Saturday she will join an elite club of Patty Kazmaier winners, a group already well-stocked with Badgers. Three Wisconsin players have won the award—named for the former Princeton hockey player Patty Kazmaier-Sandt who died at 28 from a rare blood disease—since it was created in 1998.

Forward Sara Bauer won it in 2006, Jessie Vetter in 2009 and, most recently, forward Meghan Duggan last year. All three winners also led their teams to national titles.

Decker said Duggan’s leadership last year as team captain, not to mention the way she handled winning the award, inspired her this year.

“[Duggan winning] was such a team experience, more so than an individual, and that’s the way Meghan looked at it,” Decker said. “She was so humble about the award, too, which made us realize she was in it just for the team.”

Johnson said that team-first attitude, and the way Decker emulates it, helped her and the other award finalists get to their position.

“That’s who they are and that’s why they’re up for the award,” Johnson said. “You look at past recipients and they’re well-rounded kids, they’ve got great character, they’ve got great integrity, they all have had good seasons – so Brianna fits right into that award.”

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