Erin Brown and Ian Kennedy begin their weekly Friday Face-off discussions, and occasionally debate, on women’s hockey topics. This week’s Friday Face-off begins with a special edition of “Monday Musings.” This week, Patty Kazmaier, potential national championship winners, and other topics are discussed as the two talk about the second half of the NCAA season.
Ian Kennedy: I am aware that this season you have been traveling to see some of the best programs in the NCAA in person, including a recent trip to Minnesota. Throughout the first half of the NCAA season, the Golden Gophers were on the rise, even surpassing Wisconsin, who was ranked #1 for a longer period of time than Ohio State. The WCHA has a pretty good trio there. Which of these teams would you choose as the front-runner to win the national championship?
Erin Brown: I have mixed feelings about WCHA prediction. Since the strengths and weaknesses of the top three teams are so dissimilar, I believe that the winner is determined by who is in the zone on game day. In the 2023 Frozen Four, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota and Ohio State, which is something I don’t think anyone would have predicted. Even though the Badgers have a 1-3 record this season against the Gophers and Buckeyes, I still find it difficult to write them off. There’s just too much exceptional, raw talent. However, inexperience can also be evident, especially when skating. With so much of its offensive from the previous season gone, Minnesota is focusing on fortifying its defense. Additionally, the Gophers have a ton of luxury talent, and in their two-win series against a Minnesota-Duluth team that was on a roll, you could see the system beginning to click. However, I believe Minnesota was so outmatched in their second meeting with Wisconsin because they threw so much mental energy into their Frozen Four rematch. Here’s where Ohio State’s maturity sets them apart as the favorites to win their second championship in three years. At all costs, the Buckeyes are committed to the current system. Though given their talent, fifth-years Jennifer Gardiner and Hannah Bilka haven’t exactly turned in show-stopping performances, they have excelled in crucial circumstances. It’s very indicative, in my opinion, of a seasoned team that values cooperation.
Ian Kennedy: You just mentioned Bilka and Gardiner as two elite players, which makes me consider the Patty Kazmaier Award. As excellent as they are, I don’t believe either takes home the prize. Caroline Harvey would be my choice if she hadn’t missed six weeks of action, but as of right now, Abbey Murphy has the advantage because of her skill, speed, and—most importantly—physicality. In this debate, Danielle Serdachny and Kristína Kaltounková of Colgate are the other names I’m leaning toward. Given how this Award is typically given out, I believe Serdachny has the advantage because she placed among the top three finalists for it the previous year and is still among the top five in the country in scoring this season, and could end up on top like she was last year.
Erin Brown: I think Harvey has a great chance to have a huge second half and top the Kaz list because there is still a lot of hockey left to play. Her only obstacle is her stature, and it doesn’t help that Sophie Jacques, the victor from the previous year, raised the bar for defenders. Top prospects Britta Curl and Kirsten Simms are also from Wisconsin, but they’ve strangely missed crucial games against Ohio State and Minnesota. In the east, Gwyneth Philips of Northeastern has impressed me with her strong performance despite her heavy workload. The same is true for Michelle Pasiechnyk in Clarkson. Izzy Daniel of Cornell University should also be on your list of names. But at this point, I give Abbey Murphy a grit-my-teeth nod. The skill and offensive Penalties and production are present. But she’s a Brad Marchand type, and you can see how her team suffers when she doesn’t play with a competitive edge. However, you can see she has a switch by watching her behavior when she is not under the pressure of competition. As an illustration: After slashing Britta Curl during the Wisconsin-Minnesota series, Murphy was given a serious infraction. However, the Olympian had a decent conversation with Badgers forward Laila Edwards during a break in the action during the series. Edwards had recently made her debut with the U.S. women’s team. Murphy patted her on the crest, encouraging her. If Murphy continues to score and avoid the penalty area in the second half, I believe , she’ll be hard to beat.
Ian Kennedy: I won’t stop talking about Murphy just yet; it’s difficult to stop now. She is a truly special player in the NCAA right now, and even though she still has college eligibility, I have no doubt that at this point in time, she could play on any top line in the PWHL. She thrives walking that line, and at the next level where players are faster and stronger, I believe it will keep her on the right side of that ledge, as you mentioned regarding the penalty box and Murphy’s two sides. Few players have Murphy’s combination of quickness, puck skills, scoring prowess, and perseverance. Right now, she’s the most complete forward in NCAA hockey, possessing special abilities that other players in this level lack. She may occasionally spend a few minutes in the box, but as of right now, I believe she deserves more than a brief period in the Patty Kazmaier Award and is among the best professional ready forwards available.