When Daryl Watts had the puck on her stick behind the net in overtime of the Women’s Frozen Four championship game Saturday, she wasn’t thinking about those times Canada’s program had left her off its roster. She wasn’t contemplating how lucky she was to be in that spot at that time, considering she tested positive for COVID-19 in December. She wasn’t even contemplating the exciting path that lies ahead for her.
Nope. Daryl Watts, like all elite goalscorers was thinking of one thing and one thing only – how to get the puck from there into the back of Northeastern’s net and past the best goaltender in U.S. college women’s hockey. And, like all the best ones, the star center for University of Wisconsin found a way, banking the puck off Northeastern defender Megan Carter past goalie Aerin Frankel at 3:16 of OT to give the Badgers a 2-1 victory and their second straight NCAA championship.
But it was Watts’ first. That’s because after two spectacular seasons at Boston College, Watts transferred to Wisconsin prior to last season. And after scoring 25 goals and 76 points in 34 games, Watts and her teammates were robbed of the chance to compete for a national title because of the pandemic. So not only did Watts win her first NCAA championship, it was actually her first title of any kind since her days of playing boys’ hockey with the Mississauga Braves AA peewee team.
“Just pure joy,” Watts said of her state of mind since the goal. “There aren’t enough words to describe in the moment…celebrating with my teammates. Like, we did it, we won the national championship. Just the best feeling in the world. It feels like we’ve been working for this for our whole hockey careers.”
And now that Watts has checked that accomplishment off her to-do list, a number of intriguing possibilities await. First, Watts will find out this weekend whether or not she has won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which goes to the top player in women’s college hockey. If she does win the award over Northeastern goalie Frankel – on whom she scored the overtime winner – and Grace Zumwinkle of the University of Minnesota, she’ll join Jennifer Botterill as the only two-time winner in the award’s history. Watts also won as a freshman with Boston College in 2018.
Then she’ll go home to Toronto to quarantine for two weeks before departing to join the Canadian women’s national team in Halifax. She’ll then train with the team leading up to the Women’s World Championship starting May 6. Because of COVID, she could not take part in any of the camps, but if she can prove herself and make the team, she’ll be in the lineup for Canada in this year’s tournament. And that leads us to next season when she hopes to be part of the group that is sequestered in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Not only will she have the momentum of this year behind her, Watts has a chance to establish herself as one of the team’s talented newcomers. And Canada needs that, to be frank. As difficult as it may be to believe, Canada has won only one World Championship in the previous nine. Under former GM Mel Davidson, some observers thought there was an inordinate amount of importance placed on size and fitness and not enough on offensive talent. With two-time gold medalist Gina Kingsbury now directing the team, this is an opportunity for that philosophy to change. “They’ve really been dominated by the U.S., unfortunately, in the past 10 years,” Watts said. “It would be nice to see more young players get an opportunity to help Canada get back on top and win the next World Championship and Olympics. And hopefully, I can be a part of that. It’s up to them, but I feel confident in my scoring ability.”
As she should. In 134 career games with Boston College and Wisconsin, Watts has scored 108 goals and 240 points. Those totals definitely would have been higher had the Badgers not endured a COVID outbreak this season that forced them to the sidelines for two weeks. Among the eight players who contracted the virus was Watts, even though she was asymptomatic. In fact, she only found out she was positive when she returned home for Christmas break. “I was kind of a weird case because I tested negative, negative, negative, so they let me go home,” Watts said. “I had a private test set up at home and it was positive. Thankfully, I was able to quarantine in my house, rather than be alone in Madison over Christmas. I felt 100 percent. I felt totally fine. And every girl who got it during that outbreak got really sick.”
The only thing “really sick” about Watts is her silky mitts. That’s what the kids say, right? And now she’s set herself up to have a chance to use them on the world stage.