Rachael Bona stood in the hallway of Ridder Arena across from the Gophers’ locker room Tuesday afternoon when one of her teammates walked past.
“Patty Kaz,” she whispered to the junior forward before vanishing into the locker room.
Bona and sophomore forward Hannah Brandt were both named Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top 10 finalists last week.
The Patty Kazmaier award is given to the top player in Division I women’s hockey each year.
It seems the rest of the college hockey world is recognizing the growth Bona has shown this season.
Bona led the Gophers with four goals and three assists in the team’s first series of the season. She’s continued her success ever since.
She’s currently ranked third in the country with 55 points. She scored 47 in her two previous seasons combined.
“We all wanted her ... [to] take her game to another level,” head coach Brad Frost said. “Rachael has gone … beyond our expectations.”
Frost said it’s “remarkable” Bona reached the 100-point mark for her career with more than half of the points coming this season.
The Gophers lost a bulk of the scoring from last year’s team when forward Amanda Kessel — last year’s Patty Kazmaier winner — left to train and participate in the Olympics.
“I think coming into my junior season, even without losing Kessel, I wanted to be more of a contributor points-wise,” Bona said.
And she has been.
Bona played with Kessel’s former linemates Brandt and sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee at the beginning of the season.
“She kind of filled that spot on the line in the beginning of the year,” senior forward Sarah Davis said. “I think that did a lot for her confidence. She’s just had it rolling ever since then.”
Bona shifted lines early in the season and has skated alongside Davis and freshman Kate Schipper for a bulk of this year.
Davis spent time playing with Bona last season and said she has seen the junior morph into a different player this year.
“Since her freshman year to now, it’s crazy to see how much she has grown,” Davis said. “[She] believes in herself so much more and realizes that she can be a difference maker.”
It’s said that success breeds confidence, and Frost said Bona is confident both on the ice and off it.
“She’s become a more complete leader … and a go-to kid,” Frost said. “[She’s] somebody who has really grown up in the last year or two.”
Bona has also developed into a more complete hockey player this season.
She’s played on the penalty kill, something she hasn’t done much in past seasons, and she’s blocking shots. Bona has blocked 11 shots this season — nearly double the six shots she blocked in the past two seasons.
Bona said she’s tried to step up her game in the defensive zone.
Frost said another point of focus for Bona has been developing a quicker release, which he thinks has enabled her to score more this year.
“Not hanging onto [the puck] as long and making plays quicker … and getting the puck off my stick faster,” Bona said. “I think it helps a lot.”
And her all-around success has put her in a position that wasn’t on her radar at the start of the season.
Bona said she thought she’d have a more productive season, but she said being named a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award didn’t seem possible.
“It was obviously a huge honor,” Bona said. “I was actually happily surprised … [and] just being on the list with some of those players … is an honor.”