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​Kaz Watch: Pankowski Thrives in Second Year at Wisconsin

01/19/2016, 1:30pm MST
By Doug Williams - Special to USAHockey.com

Badgers’ star is on track to easily surpass her freshman numbers.

An award of The USA Hockey Foundation, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.

​On the ice, Annie Pankowski made a nice transition to University of Wisconsin as a freshman last season.

Off the ice — or rather, on the slippery wintry sidewalks and streets of Madison — the transplanted Southern Californian had a few more issues.

“The ice and snow outside really gives me a hard time,” she said with a laugh. “I’m one of those people that’s liable to fall and hurt herself.”

Fortunately, she didn’t, and the Badgers hockey program is grateful.

In 2014-15, Pankowski led Wisconsin with 21 goals and 43 points and was selected as the National Rookie of the Year by the Women’s Hockey Commissioners Association and by U.S. College Hockey Online. She led all freshmen in Division I in goals and points per game (1.10) and was second nationally in points.

This season she’s en route to shattering those marks. Through 24 games she has 16 goals, 22 assists and ranks eighth nationally with 38 points. She’s also tied nationally for the lead in shorthanded goals with three.

The 5-foot-9 sophomore forward from Laguna Hills, California, is one of the top players on a talented Badgers team that is 22-1-1, ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Boston College and had an 18-game win streak to start the season.

Already this season, Pankowski has tallied her third career hat trick (against Providence College in early October), had three goals and three assists in a two-game sweep of Ohio State and scored twice in a 3-1 victory over the University of Minnesota on Dec. 5. That victory gave the Badgers a sweep of the Gophers for the first time since 2009-10. Her overtime goal the day before helped snap an 18-game losing streak to Minnesota dating to October 14, 2011.

“Sweeping Minnesota was huge for our team,” Pankowski said of the Golden Gophers, NCAA champs in three of the past four seasons. “The seniors on our team hadn’t beaten Minnesota since they’ve been here. So that was a huge moment for them and for me.”

Pankowski said the victories sent a message to their WCHA rivals that “we’re here, and we mean business.”

Pankowski is playing with the same linemates she had last season, Baylee Wellhausen and Emily Clark. She says the chemistry they developed in her first season “made my job a lot easier, for sure.”

Pankowski’s transition from high school to college hockey also got a boost from her experience with the U.S. national team as it prepared for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Pankowski, who had played for the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt., delayed her freshman season at Wisconsin for a chance to make the Olympic team.

Though she wasn’t selected, the experience helped prepare her for a talent-laden Wisconsin program that is expected to compete for a national championship every season.

“It was kind of a wake-up call that hey, there is a completely next-level game that you’re going to have to step up to,” she said of that national team experience. “So I kind of had that in the back of my mind as I came to Wisconsin that I’m going to be pushed harder than I’ve ever been pushed, and there’s going to be players around me that are going to be just as good or even better, so I really need to give it my all every practice. That was my mindset coming into Wisconsin.”

Pankowski is a fine scorer, but she says her best asset is her vision. She loves scanning the ice, assessing defenders and finding her teammates. Though she believes she needs to work on her speed and be a bit more aggressive — “I kind of sit back a little more than I would like to,” she said — she sees her role on the Badgers as being versatile. Because every game is different, what’s needed changes every day — and often during every game.

“If they need someone to score a goal I can do that,” she said. “If we need someone to keep the morale on the bench up, and play defensively — maybe match the other team’s top line and play some defense — I can do that, too.”

Though Pankowski may not be skilled in negotiating icy sidewalks, she has far more experience on rinks. She grew up in Southern California the daughter of hardcore hockey fans from the East Coast. She was playing roller hockey by age 4 and ice hockey by 8, following her older brother and sister (who played at Princeton University). They often went to Ducks games in Anaheim. She has deep hockey roots.

Though she also was a terrific youth soccer player, she chose hockey. In high school, she’d transfer to Vermont for hockey season, then spend the rest of the year in Southern California. She says hockey’s challenges were more enticing.

Sometimes she has to match up against a “loose cannon,” an attacking, aggressive, speedy player; at other times, she has to deal with players who lay back, strategize and outthink their opponents.

Says Pankowski: “There’s so many different approaches to the game it makes playing every player on each and every team a unique game.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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