NCAA women’s greatest post-Olympic seasons
For the first time in program history, Boston College women’s hockey welcomes back players brandishing Olympic gold medals. Cayla Barnes, Keli Flanagan and Megan Keller all had remaining NCAA eligibility while helping Team USA in Pyeongchang.
Two other maroon-and-gold powerhouses are returning an international champion of their own for 2018-19. Forward Kelly Pannek will carry out her belated senior year at Minnesota. Shootout-clinching goaltender Maddie Rooney will face none other than BC and the Gophers to start her junior year at Minnesota-Duluth.
Meanwhile, Canadian silver medalist Emily Clark is back at Wisconsin to finish her studies.
It might seem simplistic to expect an exceptional campaign from those six after their rigorous Olympic tune-up and tournament. But history consistently yields dominant forces among recent Olympians in the college ranks.
In each of the first five post-Olympic seasons, a gold or silver medalist has won the Patty Kazmaier Award. All three finalists in 2003 and 2011 were coming off a year-long Olympic interruption. Ditto one finalist apiece in 2007 and 2015.
Based on their output and accolades, the following performances are the most impressive of their kind.
10. Meghan Agosta, Mercyhurst, 2006-07
Agosta was a four-time Kazmaier finalist, including twice in post-Olympic seasons. Of those bids, her freshman campaign after spending 2006 in Torino stands out the most.
Only reigning winner Sara Bauer of Wisconsin and eventual winner Julie Chu of Harvard garnered more votes. And while the Lakers were the embarrassing class of College Hockey America, Agosta was worthy of elite company. Her 74 points surpassed each teammate by at least 20, and only four opponents in 12 conference and 25 interleague games kept her scoreless.
9. Marie-Philip Poulin, Boston University, 2014-15
After tallying her second straight Olympic gold medal-clinching goal, Poulin returned for her senior season at BU. There she found herself in a three-team derby for Hockey East supremacy with BC and Northeastern.
Nine of the nation’s top 25 scorers represented one of the WHEA’s Boston schools. With 54 points, Poulin was third among those and the best among non-BC Eagles. Moreover, she won the league’s tournament MVP award after helping BU top first-place BC for its fourth consecutive title.
8. Kelli Stack, Boston College, 2010-11
While placing third nationally with 36 goals, Stack won a compelling Hockey East scorer’s race with BU’s Jenn Wakefield. In 21 league games, she posted a 22-11-33 log over Wakefield’s 17-10-27. Overall, she posted 58 points, four more than Wakefield’s 54.
Stack also tied Agosta with four shorthanded goals for the NCAA lead. Under the game-winners banner, she tied Wisconsin’s Hilary Knight for fourth with eight clinchers. And she followed her third career Hockey East player-of-the-year prize with tournament MVP honors.
7. Julie Chu, Harvard, 2006-07
Previously, as a freshman coming off Salt Lake City, Chu failed the crack the Kazmaier top three despite scoring 93 points. Over time, though, the national offensive rate tapered, but her dominance became clearer. Coming back from her second Olympics, she nabbed the award after leading the country with 2.2 points per night.
Her 48 assists tied Bauer for the national lead. But Bauer, being in a non-Ivy League program that went deeper into the postseason, logged 11 more games. At 1.6, Chu’s nightly helper average trounced Bauer’s 1.17 median.
6. Meghan Duggan, Wisconsin, 2010-11
Knight, Duggan’s Badgers linemate and fellow 2010 U.S. Olympian, joined her among the top 10 Kazmaier candidates. But in Wisconsin’s run to a national championship, Duggan was the clear catalyst.
With 87 points, she topped the national chart. With 48 assists, she tied Agosta, who competed in a decidedly weaker conference. Only three opponents kept her scoreless in 41 games, and she closed out with an 11-game point streak. During that season-defining stretch, Duggan had a hand in seven game-clinching goals.
5. Jenny Potter, Minnesota-Duluth, 2002-03
Five members of UMD’s third straight national championship team, including three seniors, cracked the 50-point plateau. That quintet constituted half of the nation’s top 10 scorers.
But Potter, by then a junior and two-time Olympian, stood out above the other four. Her 88 points were third in the nation, and eclipsed second-leading Bulldog Caroline Ouelette by 15.
Of those points, 57 were assists, the NCAA’s second-highest total. And with only three scoreless outings out of 36, her consistency was marked.
4. A.J. Mleczko, Harvard, 1998-99
The year after Nagano, four U.S. gold medalists and one Canadian silver medalist made the ECAC’s first all-star team. The Americans all showed up on the Kazmaier ballot, but only of them made the top three in the pool. By season’s end, she was the last contender standing.
As a senior, Mleczko topped her competitors with 114 points in the penultimate season of the pre-NCAA era. The Kazmaier had been inaugurated the year prior, and Mleczko’s output made her an easy choice for its second recipient.
To sweeten the run all the more, she was named the national tournament’s most outstanding player. Her exemplary leadership capped Harvard’s 33-1-0 run with a 5-4 overtime championship triumph over New Hampshire.
3. Alex Carpenter, Boston College, 2014-15
Tellingly, from 2002-03 through 2015-16, at least one NCAA player averaged two-plus points per game every season except Olympic years.
Upon everyone’s return from Sochi, one skater crossed that plateau in 2014-15. In a high-scoring Hockey East, Carpenter topped every national chart with 37 goals, 44 assists and 81 points.
Across the NCAA, Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt finished second with a 34-40-74 log. In terms of points per game, BC’s Haley Skarupa posted 1.92, a relatively distanct second to Carpenter’s 2.19 average.
2. Angela Ruggiero, Harvard, 2002-03
Ruggiero was already a two-time Olympian by the time she was an upperclassman for the Crimson.
On a juggernaut that went 30-3-1, including 15-0-1 in ECAC games, Ruggiero tallied career numbers from the blue line. Her 54 points and 83 assists were each third on the team and fourth in the nation.
With 29 goals, she finished eighth among all NCAA skaters, and nearly doubled the first runner-up among defenders.
1. Jennifer Botterill, Harvard, 2002-03
Ruggiero earned top-three consideration for the 2003 Kazmaier, but one teammate outclassed all candidates. A Canadian gold-medalist, Botterill carried over some Salt Lake magic by topping a host of world-class American collegians.
The only scorer to break triple-digit points on the year, Botterill averaged a whopping 3.5 per game. Cumulatively, she led the nation in every category with 47 goals and 65 assists. Only five other skaters mustered 65 points that season.
As another testament to her dominance, Botterill amassed her 112 points over 32 games. The second-leading producer, the freshman Chu, managed 93 points (including 42 goals) in 34 outings.