The paths of hockey players Jamie Lee Rattray and Jillian Saulnier keep crossing.
Ottawa’s Rattray and Saulnier of Halifax are among three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is given annually to the top female in NCAA Division 1 hockey.
Hannah Brandt of Vadnais Heights, Minn., is the other finalist for the trophy which will be handed out Saturday during the women’s Frozen Four tournament in Hamden, Conn.
Rattray, a senior at Clarkson University, and Saulnier, a junior at Cornell, were teammates on the Canadian women’s under-18 hockey team in both 2009 and 2010, followed by three years together on the national under-22 squad.
The two forwards won silver in 2009 and gold in 2010 at the world under-18 championships.
“We’ve been travelling the same road for a long time now,” Saulnier said. “We’re really, really close.
“It’s an honour, especially being there with one of my best friends from the national program, it’s even nicer to see that. I’m excited for her as well.”
The award was established in 1998 in memory of Kazmaier, a Princeton defenceman who died of a blood disease at the age of 28.
Brandt, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, led Division 1 scoring with 22 goals and 41 assists for 63 points in 39 games. Rattray, 21, was second with 62 points — 28 goals and 34 assists in 39 games.
Saulnier, 22, ranked fourth with 28 goals and 28 assists in 34 games.
Both Brandt and Rattray will compete in the women’s Frozen Four as Minnesota as Clarkson won their quarter-final games Saturday. Cornell lost 3-2 to Mercyhurst and did not advance.
Clarkson takes on Mercyhurst and Minnesota faces Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinals with the winner advancing to Sunday’s championship game.
Clarkson, located in Potsdam, N.Y., reached the women’s Frozen Four for the first time in their 11-year history.
“It’s pretty crazy to think about,” Rattray said. “To have the opportunity to cap off my season and play on the final weekend of the season and play in the Frozen Four is huge.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to get to that Frozen Four. The Patty Kaz, I’m very honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as some of those players.”
Previous Canadian winners of the award were Mercyhurst’s Vicki Bendus of Wasaga Beach, Ont., (2010); Harvard’s Sarah Vaillancourt of Sherbrooke, Que., (2008); Wisconsin’s Sara Bauer of St. Catharines, Ont., (2006); and Harvard’s Jennifer Botterill of Winnipeg (2001, 2003).
Bendus was invited to try out for the 2014 Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team, but she was among the players released from the team in December.
Vaillancourt won Olympic gold with Canada in 2006 and 2010. Botterill was a four-time Olympian and three-time gold medallist.
The last three winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award — Amanda Kessel, Brianna Decker and Meghan Duggan — all played for the U.S. Olympic team in last month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Cornell University is located in Ithaca, N.Y. Saulnier’s Big Red linemate last season was Brianne Jenner, who sparked Canada’s thrilling comeback in the gold-medal game by scoring at 16:34 of the third period.
Canada defended the gold with a 3-2 win over the U.S. in overtime.
“When they won I started to cry,” Saulnier said. “I saw their faces. When we won the world championships four years ago, I remember how I felt when we won that and I couldn’t even imagine the feeling that was going through their heads in Sochi.”
Saulnier, five foot five and 144 pounds, studies business and communications at Cornell. Rattray, five foot six and 172 pounds, will graduate with a degree in business from Clarkson.
Rattray says she chose Clarkson because it was a small, hockey-mad school where the only Division 1 sport is hockey.
“We’re really close as a team and I think that shows on the ice,” Rattray said. “When you have a special season like this, you don’t want it to end.
“Individually, it’s my senior year so you want to put everything you have into it. There’s nothing quite like college hockey.”
Rattray and Saulnier are in Canada’s pool of players for the national team. They participated in intrasquad games with Olympic team prospects last August before returning to their respective schools.
Hockey Canada will hold a large female camp in September and Canada will play in November’s Four Nations Cup against the U.S., Sweden and Finland.
Hockey Canada head scout Melody Davidson says both Rattray and Saulnier possess natural offensive ability and have rounded out their games defensively during their college careers.
“Jillian is small but plays a power-forward type role. Jamie is bigger,” Davidson said. “She’s more of a skill, finesse type player.
“Jillian is skilled, but she gets a lot of her chances and opportunities and creates things because of her intensity and her power. Jamie can beat you with a net drive or a nice shot.”