Meghan Duggan, UW women's hockey, WCHA trophy
Senior Meghan Duggan holds up the WCHA trophy after the UW women's hockey team defeated North Dakota 8-4 on Feb. 13, 2011, at the Kohl Center in Madison. Greg Dixon

ERIE, Pa. — The last time Meghan Duggan was as emotional as she was Saturday morning, tears of anguish stung her cheeks.

She was a member of the U.S. women's hockey team last February when it lost to Canada in the gold medal game at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

But the senior right winger and captain for the University of Wisconsin cried this day in the throes of intense joy after was she named the winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top college player in NCAA Division I.

"It's incredible to be on a level equated with her," Duggan said of Kazmaier, the late Princeton defenseman and women's hockey pioneer who died of a rare blood disorder in 1990 at the age of 28.

Duggan broke down and sobbed when her name was finally called after some theatrics by Ron DeGregiro, the president of USA Hockey. Many assumed Mercyhurst winger Meghan Agosta would win mainly because of her body of work as a four-time finalist and two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada. Boston College center Kelli Stack was the other finalist.

DeGregorio opened the envelope, pronounced the first name and waited several seconds before filling in the defining blank. When Duggan's name was called, her teammates and members of the UW entourage at the sold-out reception erupted in celebration.

Duggan is the third UW athlete to win the award since its inception in 1998, joining center Sara Bauer in 2006 and goaltender Jessie Vetter in '09. Both claimed their prize the day before guiding their clubs to NCAA titles.

Duggan has an opportunity to do that today when UW faces Boston University in the championship game at Tullio Arena. She verified her worthiness for the Patty Kazmaier Award by scoring a goal and assisting on the other two Friday night when the Badgers outlasted Boston College 3-2 in the semifinals.

"Obviously we'd love to take that home," Duggan said of the fourth national championship in program history.

A biology major with aspirations to go to medical school, Duggan will leave UW as its all-time leading scorer. In 158 games, she has 108 goals, 129 assists and 237 points. She currently shows 39-47-86 in 40 games, a record for points in a single season.

Duggan returned to school after taking a year off to play for Team USA. She immediately took the reins of a club that struggled last year and gave it unity, direction and a purpose.

UW coach Mark Johnson has played for many teams at the college, pro and international levels. He's also coached them. Has he ever been around a better captain?

"Just off the top of my head, probably not," he said. "She's certainly a difference-maker from a leadership standpoint.

"She seems to say the right things at the right time. She certainly leads by example. One of the main reasons this team has had great chemistry is because of Meghan."

Amid sobs, Duggan offered a touching acceptance speech, one she put together Thursday night because she "knew the weekend would get busy" and she didn't want to be unprepared.

Duggan thanked Johnson and his staff for "taking a chance on me" and the support staff headed by director of hockey operations Paul Hickman and athletic trainer Denny Helwig.

When it came to thanking those closest to her - her teammates and family - Duggan had a difficult time staying composed.

"It's impossible for me to describe how much you all mean to me," she said while looking out at her teammates. "The genuine love and care we have for each other is something I've never experienced on a team I've been a part of. It's been so easy for me to lead you guys this year. There's been no drama, no nothing.

"Honestly, the success we've had this year up to this point, everyone has been a piece in that puzzle. I was so fortunate and lucky to be a part of it.

"You guys are an incredible group of girls and I love every single one of you so much."

Bob and Mary Duggan, from Danvers, Mass., sat with Erika Lawler, who not only grew up with their daughter, but also was her teammate at UW and with Team USA.

"My backbone through everything," is how Meghan Duggan described them. "The support and the love I felt from you guys through everything I've been through to put me in this position to be up here today. I can't say thank you enough."

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2011: Meghan Duggan, Wisconsin

2010: Vicki Bendus, Mercyhurst

2009: Jessie Vetter, Wisconsin

2008: Sarah Vaillancourt, Harvard

2007: Julie Chu, Harvard

2006: Sara Bauer, Wisconsin

2005: Krissy Wendell, Minnesota

2004: Angela Ruggiero, Harvard

2003: Jennifer Botterill, Harvard

2002: Brooke Whitney, Northeastern

2001: Jennifer Botterill, Harvard

2000: Ali Brewer, Brown

1999: A.J. Mleczko, Harvard

1998: Brandy Fisher, New Hampshire