(Searching for a real top hockey players list? I have you covered!)
This list is pretty much arbitrary. I tried to give it some sense of fairness and accountability, but ultimately I do what I want. I’m pretty clearly college-biased but I tried to include players from pro leagues as well.
10. Marie Philip-Poulin
It seems absurd to have a player like Poulin so low on any list, and if this was an overall best players list she might be higher. After all, what hasn’t Poulin done in her career? But the question is: what has she done in 2016?
Poulin won a silver medal at the 2016 world championships for starters where she had two goals and four assists in five games played. This had her tied for second on Canada’s scoring leaderboard. She’s also second in the CWHL in points having racked up 9 goals and 10 assists in 13 games.
9. Hilary Knight
Is Knight the American Marie-Philip Poulin or is Poulin the Canadian Hilary Knight? In a lot of ways the two are similar. Both are tall, athletic skaters who can beat you several different ways. Knight is probably the better all-around player and Poulin the better shooter.
Knight’s 2016 only saw her win the first Isobel Cup in the NWHL’s inaugural season. She tallied a league-leading 33 points (15g, 18a) en route to the trophy. She also tied for the lead in points in the Women’s World Championships with nine, a whopping seven goals among them.
8. Alex Carpenter
Carpenter ended the 2015-2016 season the NCAA’s leading scorer with 88 points (43g, 45a) and a runner-up for the Patty Kazmaier award which she won the year previous. She also happened to score the championship-winning goal for Team USA in the Women’s World Championships after getting bagged on all game by pretty much everyone.
Since then Carpenter is taking over the NWHL, sitting in second place in scoring with five goals and six assists.
7. Kelley Steadman
From the practice squad to the top line. Steadman started off as a practice player for the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts so she could balance playing with her role as a part of the Robert Morris Colonials staff. (She is currently the Director of Hockey Operations for the 12-1-5 Colonials.) Several of the Beauts players had Visa issues early on in the season so Steadman got the call up and promptly made it impossible to send her away.
Steadman finished fifth in scoring in the NWHL’s inaugural season with 13g and 7a in just 10 games and first on the Beauts. Check out this snipe from earlier this season:
6. Kendall Coyne
Coyne was this year’s Patty Kazmaier award winner as college hockey’s best player where she totaled a whopping 50 goals and 34 assists and an even more impressive 359 shots on goal. That’s almost 10 shots a game and a full 222 more shots than her closest teammate.
Coyne went on to play for the Minnesota Whitecaps, who don’t keep team stats. Luckily USCHO.com does keep box scores so I can tell you that Coyne sits third on the team in points with six (2g, 4a). (NOTE: I could not find the box score to one game.)
Kendall Coyne is the most absurdly athletic player I’ve ever seen in any sport. She is a walking highlight reel and even more breathtaking to watch in person. I mean the goal in this video at :59. What even. What is that. Who does that.
5. Kelsey Koelzer
Koelzer led the Princeton Tigers to a third-place finish in the ECAC and their first NCAA tournament appearance in ten years. She tied for the team lead in goals with 17, which also led all defenders in the NCAA.
Koelzer also became the first African-American player to be selected first in any professional women’s hockey draft in North America. In addition to being one of the most dynamic defenders in hockey, Koelzer is also a wonderful person and an excellent role model.
“I definitely take pride in it [being a role model]. I’m happy to have that on my shoulders, and I’m happy to kind of carry that weight. It means that I’ve made something. It means that I’ve done something.”
4. Ann-Renee Desbiens
Desbiens had such an incredible 2016 it’s almost a crime she ranks this low. This year she broke approximately all the records for goaltenders. She currently owns the NCAA records for most career shutouts (48 and counting), most shutouts in a season (21), longest shutout streak (543:53), single-season save percentage (.960), and single-season goals-against average (0.76).
T-2. Lee Stecklein and Amanda Leveille
Boston College scored 212 goals in 40 games in the 2015-2016 NCAA season before squaring off against Minnesota in the National Championship. They then proceeded to not score for 54 minutes and 7 seconds. Only with the game already largely decided at 3-0 Minnesota did BC finally pot their one and only goal of the game.
Watching that game, Leveille played stellar in net (side note, is also hilarious on Twitter), but so too did the Minnesota defense, and chief among them Lee Stecklein. At 6-0 Stecklein is a towering defender capable of going toe to toe with even the most powerful forwards. As good as she was for the University of Minnesota, she was just as good helping Team USA win a gold medal at the Women’s World Championships this year, and a key player in the a 1-0 defeat of Team Canada in the finals.
1. Harrison Browne
The top hockey player of 2016 is unequivocally Harrison Browne of the Buffalo Beauts and the top hockey story of 2016 is Harrison Browne becoming the first out transgender player in professional sports.
I had known about this about a week prior to the announcement, having noticed the name change on the Beauts’ roster page and talked to a few people that cover the NWHL. I kept quiet for one reason: it was (and is) vital that Harrison Browne be allowed to tell his story, to write his narrative, on his terms and his timeline. It’s not up to me, or anyone else but Browne himself, to tell anyone what it means to be the first out trans player in professional sports.
Browne inevitably became a role model solely for being the first person brave enough to be himself in a potentially unwelcoming (though by all accounts, actually very welcoming) community. But not every trailblazer wants to be a role model and that burden can often be unfair. Luckily for us all, Browne seems comfortable with that weight.