Patty Kaz nominees meet in WCHA Final Face-off

Minnesota has four finalists for the trophy that awards the season’s best player.

Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel moves down the ice against Bemidji State on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel moves down the ice against Bemidji State on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Megan Ryan

The Final Face-off for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this weekend at Ridder Arena will pit not only the conference’s best teams against each other but also six of the nation’s top-10 players.

Gophers junior forward Amanda Kessel, senior goaltender Noora Räty, senior defender Megan Bozek and freshman forward Hannah Brandt are all top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.

The award is given out every year to the best Division I player. Wisconsin’s senior forward Brianna Decker won last year. She and North Dakota senior forward Jocelyne Lamoureux make up the rest of the WCHA nominees.

Räty said it’s an accomplishment for Minnesota to have four finalists.

“It tells how much depth we have on this team,” Räty said. “Usually, other teams have this one star player, and we have four or five of them.”

Every player on the Gophers is elite, Brandt said.

“I think our whole team, top to bottom, there’s not really any weaknesses.”

Lamoureux said it speaks to the strength of the conference that most of the finalists are from the WCHA.

“I think history shows that we play in the most competitive conference,” she said.

Decker said while every top-10 finalist was deserving of the award, she felt there were still many WCHA players left off the list, such as Lamoureux’s sister Monique, who also plays for North Dakota.

But Decker said if she had to bet, she’d put her money on Kessel to win.

“I think Amanda Kessel is the one on that team that’s really stood out to me,” Decker said. “I have a lot of respect for her, and I think it’d be awesome … to see her win it.”

Räty said if the award was based on a player’s shooting ability alone, Lamoureux would win easily.

“Jocelyne has the fastest release in this league and the best shot in this league,” Räty said. “I have never seen a quicker release than she has, and that shot is absolutely a bullet. Sometimes even I know where she’s going to shoot — I just can’t get there because it’s just so fast and quick.”

With the whirlwind of postseason action, Kessel said she sometimes forgets how incredible it is to be nominated for such a prestigious award with three of her teammates.

“That’s actually kind of crazy to think about,” she said.