Accolades rolling in for Lady Ducks graduate Pankowski, including 2019 national championship
First the WCHA, then the NCAA.
That’s overstating things a bit, but Annie Pankowski put together a season for the ages in 2018-19.
The former Anaheim Lady Ducks forward captained Wisconsin to the WCHA playoff championship, knocking of then-No. 1 Minnesota in the Land of 10,000 Lakes to complete a weekend in which she was selected the WCHA’s Player of the Year and surpassed 200 career points. She became just the sixth Badgers women’s player to pass that milestone.
Pankowski, who tied for the WCHA’s scoring lead with 30 points, had 50 overall in 39 games as the Badgers won the NCAA Tournament last month for the first time since 2011.
Her efforts this season vaulted her into the conversation for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award (the Heisman Trophy of NCAA women’s hockey), which she is a top-three finalist for. She was a top-10 finalist for the “Kaz” twice before.
Yet Pankowski doesn’t spend a lot of mental capital on points or individual honors.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in those numbers, and I try not to look at that because the more you want it, the harder it becomes,” she said. “I’m trying to focus on the team goals. When I focus on the team and other people, that’s when I play my best.”
She’s led by example as she heads toward the conclusion of her illustrious college career, scoring six goals in the four games leading up to the NCAAs. She wants her younger teammates to see what winning it all requires.
“It’s intensity. Every game, every practice matters. Every goal matters,” Pankowski said. “When you get to play in three NCAA quarterfinals and three Frozen Fours you know the intensity, you know the pressure.
“For some people who haven’t been there, you can get wrapped up in it and shaken and moved off your game. I try to keep up the intensity, and keep up the fun, keep pushing people to get better because we need to be at our best in those moments.”
Pankowski’s postseason push was impressive, but shouldn’t overshadow her off-ice work.
In early February, Pankowski was selected as one of five finalists for the 2019 Hockey Humanitarian Award, which is presented to college hockey’s finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team but also to the community at-large through their leadership in volunteer work.
She’s an active volunteer with OccuPaws, an organization that trains and pairs service dogs with the visually impaired in the Upper Midwest.
“I spent my childhood years with a bunch of pets. My parents are vets so we always had a ton of animals,” Pankowski said. “I looked into service dogs … and found OccuPaws, which is a charity in Madison that gives seeing-eye dogs to people who need them.”
The more she immersed herself in it, she grasped how much of an impact it could have.
“When you meet people who are affected by the dogs and their lives change it’s really powerful. It hooks you in,” she said. “You realize things I can offer can be so important to help one person just by taking care of a dog for a while, teaching him how to ride the bus, how to act in public, how to not freak out when they hear a goal horn.”
Her four-legged friends have accompanied her everywhere on campus, and her responsibilities have grown with OccuPaws, to the point she’s helped organize fundraisers for the organization and has mentored other Wisconsin students. She’s also participated in several other elementary school-based outreaches.
Pankowski’s play has continued to draw the attention of USA Hockey, which selected her to play for the Women’s World Championships in early April. She will team with fellow Lady Ducks alum Cayla Barnes at the top non-Olympics tournament in women’s hockey, which will be held in Finland. Pankowski previously played in World Championships in 2015 and ’16.
That adds to an international resume that also includes two stints on pre-Olympic tours, five Four Nations Cup teams and numerous age-group Select teams.
After that she has plenty more options. In December, she was the first overall draft pick in the NWHL Draft by the Metropolitan Riveters.
However, the zoology major – and three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete – has her sights set on graduate school and pursuing becoming a veterinarian.
“I’m in the middle of hearing back from applications,” Pankowski said. “I’ve gotten into UC Davis and Cornell for veterinary school, and I’m waiting to hear back from Madison and Tufts. Certainly, vet school is in my future.
“It kind of depends on if I’m going to keep playing hockey. I know I can’t play forever.”
— Chris Bayee
(April 1, 2019)