Could the best female hockey player in the U.S. be European? Three out of 30 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award nominees are from Europe, all goaltenders. One of them is even among the finalists, Swiss netminder Florence Schelling.
While many names among the nominees published in February are familiar to fans of women’s college hockey, three stood out because they are even more familiar to European fans of the Women’s World Championship. And, they are all goalies.
Finnish Noora Räty, Swiss Florence Schelling, and Slovak Zuzana Tomcikova find themselves among the elite players of NCAA for their great 2011-12 seasons.
Räty is in her second year with the University of Minnesota while Schelling is in her final year with Northeastern and Tomcikova is also in her final season with Bemidji State.
No European has ever won the Kazmaier Award, given annually to the top player in Division I women’s hockey in the NCAA. As well, only two goalies have ever won since the award’s introduction in 1998 to honour a college player who passed away in 1990 from a rare blood disorder.
Internationally, these three have had outstanding careers. Tomcikova is perhaps the most impressive of the three because she plays for a country that has had limited international success. Yet at the 2011 World Women’s Championship in Switzerland, it was her incredible play that almost single-handedly kept her nation in the top division and earned her a Directorate Award as the best goalie.
Räty, the youngest of the three at 21, has played at every top level event for Finland since 2005 and was named WW MVP in 2008. She has also been named to three all-star teams and played in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Finland has won bronze each of the last three years in large part thanks to her stellar play.
Schelling has played in five World Women’s and two Olympics for Switzerland and has been the top goalie for the team since 2007. She took the team to the bronze-medal game in 2008 before falling to Finland, 4-1.
In the U.S. the three have had superb seasons. Tomcikova has played in 33 of 37 games for the Beavers this season with a 2.23 goals-against average, a 93.2 save percentage and 13-17-3 record (W-L-T). Only Räty and Alex Rigsby have played more this year in the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association).
Räty has played all but one game for Minnesota, compiling an impressive 30-5-2 record and a sparkling GAA of 1.35 (just slightly behind Rigsby’s leading 1.34). The team is ranked second in NCAA play. Räty’s save percentage of 94.0 is also second to Rigsby in the WCHA. She’s up for the Kazmaier with a teammates, Amanda Kessel, who has played for the U.S. internationally.
Schelling plays in HE (Hockey East) where she has recorded a season of 20-6-4, 1.42 GAA and a 95.0 save percentage playing for seventh-ranked Northeastern, the best marks among all HE goalies.
The winner will be announced March 17 at a dinner in Duluth, Minnesota during the Frozen Four weekend when the national championship will be contested.
The ten finalists are:
Bailey Bram, CAN, F, Mercyhurst College
Brianna Decker, USA, F, University of Wisconsin
Laura Fortino, CAN, D, Cornell University
Rebecca Johnston, CAN, F, Cornell University
Amanda Kessel, USA, F, University of Minnesota
Hilary Knight, USA, F, University of Wisconsin
Jocelyne Lamoureux, USA, F, University of North Dakota
Monique Lamoureux-Kolls, USA, F/D, University of North Dakota
Florence Schelling, SUI, G, Northeastern University
Natalie Spooner, CAN, F, Ohio State University