When Boston University forward Sarah Lefort posted 43 points in 37 games as a freshman last season, she caught both the league and nation’s attention, earning a unanimous selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie team and finishing third in the country in points per game by a freshman (1.16).
But Lefort was still a question mark entering her sophomore campaign this year. She played most of last season on a line with Canadian Olympic star Marie-Philip Poulin, and it was only natural to wonder if Poulin was the X factor behind her impressive production.
Lefort answered any doubters with an outstanding sophomore campaign. The Quebec native leads the nation in goals (29) entering the final weekend of the regular season and ranks second in total points (50). Thanks to those numbers, Lefort projects to be one of the favorites among a number of New England collegiate players in contention for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Lefort has the size and strength to fill the role of a power forward, but one of her best assets is her smooth shot. Lefort has the ability to beat goalies anywhere — five-hole, high glove, low left corner — and BU coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.) labeled the delivery on her wrist shot as “pro level.”
“There’s some people who shoot the puck hard, but I think it’s a little bit hit or miss on how accurate they’re going to be,” Durocher said. “She’s a kid who really has great accuracy. The puck and the stick are always in contact. She doesn’t take the stick back four inches or six inches or eight inches and have the margin for error in the delivery.”
And while Lefort might be the best scorer in Hockey East, the region boasts another offensive star out of the ECAC who looks to feature heavily in the Kazmaier discussion in Quinnipiac’s Kelly Babstock, who earned a Patty Kazmaier nomination last year. Babstock has rewritten the Bobcats’ scoring record books throughout her four years at Quinnipiac and has enjoyed a stellar senior season.
Babstock has the fifth-most points of any player in the nation (43) and ranks eighth in goals (17) and fifth in assists (26). She entered the final weekend of the regular season three points shy of becoming the first woman in Quinnipiac hockey history to reach the 200-career-points mark.
The senior is a clear difference-maker for her team, as the Bobcats are 1-5-4 when Babstock does not record a point. Quinnipiac coach Rick Seeley said the key to Babstock’s success is her passion for the game.
“She loves to score,” Seeley said. “In the women’s game, there’s a lot of players that just throw the puck at the net. When Kelly gets an opportunity, she just wants to bury it and she wants more, so she’s got that drive and desire, and then just the natural ability that goes with it.”
One of the steepest challenges to Babstock’s scoring prowess is another regional Patty Kazmaier-caliber player in Harvard goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer. The sophomore from Bruderheim, Alberta, impressed as a freshman, when she became the first goalie since 1995 to win the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. Her performance in net for the Crimson this season cemented her status as one of the best goalies not only in the league, but also in the nation.
Maschmeyer entered the final weekend of the regular season ranked second in the country with a .950 save percentage and third in the nation in shutouts with five. One of Maschmeyer’s best performances of the season came Dec. 7 against a potent Boston College lineup, when Maschmeyer forced the Eagles to settle for a 1-1 tie by stopping 51 of the Eagles’ 52 shots on net. The game marked one of six times this season when Maschmeyer had stopped more than 35 shots in a game.
“I think she’s the best goalie in the conference, and I’ve felt that way since her freshman year,” Seeley said. “She’s just so solid. It’s challenging going into a game against Harvard because you just feel great getting one goal and then you feel desperate to hold them off the scoreboard. If you want to beat Harvard, you generally have to hold them to one or no goals.”
And while Maschmeyer, Babstock and Lefort are easy bets for the Patty Kazmaier short list, the region also boasts a few wildcard players who have a chance of making the award’s watch list.
One of those players is BC sophomore forward Haley Skarupa, who leads the team’s offense in the absence of Olympian and 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.). Skarupa’s point totals are not as flashy as Babstock’s or Lefort’s, but they are nothing to scoff at. The sophomore missed four games due to injury in January and played a few more while injured, but she still entered the final weekend of the season with 34 points (22 goals, 12 assists) in 27 games.
“I think it would be well-deserved,” said BC coach Katie King-Crowley on Skarupa’s chances of a nomination. “Her numbers with those four or five games that she was out or she played hurt, I think they took her away from being on the top of the list, but she’s a really dynamic player. Every time she gets out there, she’s a threat to score and she’s a threat offensively, whether it’s on the penalty kill, power play or a regular shift. She’s a dangerous player and can really change a game.”
Like Skarupa, the University of Vermont’s Amanda Pelkey might fall shy of finalist honors, but the Catamounts forward has been invaluable to her team and could factor in to the award’s watch list conversation. Pelkey (Montpelier, Vt.) has enjoyed a breakthrough season as a junior, more than doubling her career point total by tallying 35 points (19 goals, 16 assists) in 32 games this season. Behind Pelkey’s offensive outbreak, the Catamounts are enjoying their best season in UVM history, setting a program record in wins (15) and clinching their first home-ice playoff berth since joining Hockey East in 2005-06, all before the final weekend of the season.
“I think she’s in the conversation,” said Catamount coach Jim Plumer. “There’s some people who have some impressive statistics that make it difficult for someone like her. I think the thing about Pelkey that’s unreal is that she’s a game-breaker. Any time that she has the puck on her stick, something special can happen, so I think that has to have her in the conversation.”
In the end, while many players have an argument for why they are deserving of the award, only one woman will take it home. And even if Pelkey, Skarupa, Maschmeyer, Babstock and Lefort are only in the Kazmaier conversation and don’t bring the hardware back to New England, they still figure to be key cogs in each of their team’s postseason aspirations.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of New England Hockey Journal.