Patty Kazmaier remembered
by Andrew Podnieks|15 FEB 2021
Patty Kazmaier (right) with her sister Kathy (left) and their father Dick (middle).
photo: USA Hockey
Life is short but legacies are long, and sometimes it works out that the shorter the life the greater the legacy. Such is the case with Patty Kazmaier, who died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 15 February 1990, at the age of 28, after a battle with a rare blood disease known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. 

She died too young, to be sure, but her name lives on with a trophy that recognizes excellence in women’s hockey in NCAA Division I, a trophy that has been awarded annually since 1998.

Patty Kazmaier’s father, Dick, was an all-around athlete at Princeton University, but he was especially good at football, winning the prestigious Heisman Award in 1951 and being named the AP athlete of the year. Rather than turn pro, however, he attended Harvard Business School and started his own investment firm in Concord, Massachusetts.

Dick and his wife Patricia settled down and had six daughters – Michelle, Kim, Susan, Kathy, Kristin, and Patty. Kathy and Patty showed an early and lasting love for hockey. Kathy was a goalie who attended the University of New Hampshire, while Patty, who was born on 8 January 1962, in Bryn Mawr, Massachusetts, was a rugged defenceman with her father’s alma mater, Princeton. 

Dick playfully called Kathy “Red Light” and Patty “Penalty Box.” Although Patty was a kind and gentle person off ice, she was a fierce competitor on it, and her size and strength often earned her penalties that she incurred more for these reasons than intent.  

Patty emulated her father in that she also was a multi-sports performer at university, a star also in lacrosse and field hockey. But it was ice hockey at which she excelled, leading the Tigers to three successive Ivy League championships (1981-84), after which she took a year off to travel and experience life. She met her husband, Mark, along the way, then returned to Princeton where she graduated with an A.B. in religion in 1986. A year later, they were married. 

In January 1989, Patty was certified in Pennsylvania as a substitute teacher, and that May, Patty gave birth to a daughter, Serena, after a difficult pregnancy. The family had only a little time together, though, as Patty’s illness grew worse. At the time of her death she had been working as a daycare attendant at Nesting Place, in Roseto, Pennsylvania. 

The USA Hockey Foundation worked with Dick to create an honour for Patty, and in 1998 the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award was born. It has been presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey since 1998. “Top player,” however, is a two-part standard. The winner must be a stellar player on ice, but must also be an equally stellar individual off it, reflecting Kazmaier herself. USA Hockey’s wording states that the award goes to a player who “represents the highest standards of personal and team excellence.”

The award is chosen by an 11-member selection committee comprised of women's college ice hockey coaches, members of the media, and a representative of USA Hockey.
The Patty Kazmaier Award.
photo: USA Hockey
The inaugural winner in 1998 was Brandy Fisher of the University of New Hampshire. She received the award on 20 March 1998, at the Madison Square Club in Boston, during the national championships. 

"This is a wonderful award for women's college hockey, and our family is deeply honored to know that Patty will be remembered in this manner," Dick Kazmaier said at the ceremony. "Hockey took on a special meaning for our family when our three youngest daughters, including Patty, all began to play. Throughout her playing career, from the time she first stepped on the ice until she played her final game for Princeton, Patty remained dedicated to a sport that she loved."

The only two-time winner of the award has been Jennifer Botterill of Harvard. The Canadian won in 2001 and again in 2003. Of the 23 winners, 13 have been American and ten Canadian. 

Only three goalies have ever won the award: Ali Brewer (USA, 2000, Brown University), Jessie Vetter (USA, 2009, Wisconsin), and Ann-Renee Desbiens (CAN, 2017, Wisconsin)

Although no European has yet to win, several have been among the final three nominees and runners-up, including Switzerland’s Alina Muller (2020, Northeastern), Lara Stalder (Switzerland, 2017, University of Minnesota-Duluth), Finnish goalie Noora Raty (2010 and 2013, Minnesota), Swiss goalie Florence Schelling (2012, Northeastern), Swedish goalie Kim Martin (2008, Minnesota Duluth), and Riitta Schaulin (Switzerland, 2006, Minnesota Duluth). 

The 2020/21 NCAA season has been operating with Covid measures in effect and not all teams participating, but if things continue to go well the 2021 Kazmaier Award winner will be announced some time next month. 

Laura Halldorson was a teammate of Patty’s at Princeton and remained friends with her the few brief years before her passing. She later coached the University of Minnesota to three national championships and, like Dick Kazmaier, always made a point of attending the award presentations. Dick passed away in 2013, but Halldorson continues to go every year.

“I was definitely excited that through this award, Patty is being honoured and her father was associated with it, because that’s what he wanted,” Halldorson said. “He wanted her name and her legacy to live on, and he was very proud of her. This is a way to really keep her legacy alive.”