Lady Ducks grad Pankowski makes U.S. Women’s Olympic team
What if there hadn’t been the opportunity to play girls hockey in California for Annie Pankowski?
Her athleticism, intelligence and work ethic no doubt would have opened doors in other sports, but once she got a taste of hockey, she was hooked.
And the sport will take the longtime Anaheim Lady Duck all the way to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Pankowski learned on May 5 that she was selected to the U.S. Women’s National Team, which will begin training together this summer in suburban Tampa, Fla., and participate in various competitions during the build-up to the Games. She becomes the first Lady Ducks player to make a U.S. Olympic team and only the third Californian ever – Hall of Famer Angela Ruggeiro and Chanda Gunn are the others.
“It’s crazy to think about where we started,” Pankowski said. “The Lady Ducks played a huge role in me sticking with hockey. It was cool to play a sport it seemed like nobody else played.
“The Lady Ducks gave me the opportunity to see there was more to hockey than just playing in California as a kid.”
Pankowski knows the Team USA drill well, having represented America in numerous international competitions before, including World Championships the past two years (winning gold and silver) and in 2013, but this is different.
Upon finding out during a meeting with Team USA coaches that she’d made the Olympic team, Pankowski called her parents, Rich and Diane, back in California at 4:30 a.m. to tell them the good news.
“My dad was ready for the call, I told him (the night before) my meeting was at 7:30 a.m. (Eastern time),” Pankowski said. “He and my mom both woke up in about a half second when I told them the news. I was crying, my mom was crying and my dad was crying.”
The news reverberated through the California hockey scene, and it could serve as another driver of growth in youth hockey, particularly girls hockey.
“As a club we’re very excited,” said Art Trottier, president of the Anaheim Amateur Hockey Association, the parent organization of the Lady Ducks and Jr. Ducks. “It’s a big boost for the program. This is why we do what we do. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer person or a nicer family.
“Annie is a great representative of the club and its values, like character, dedication and hard work.”
Pankowski, 22, recently completed her junior year at the University of Wisconsin (WCHA), helping the Badgers reach the NCAA championship game. She will defer her senior year of college until the fall of 2018.
The Badgers’ loss will be Team USA’s gain. Pankowski was a Second-Team All-American, First-Team All-WCHA pick and a top 10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award for the second season in a row. She was second in Division I in goals (25) and sixth in points (55).
“It’s super for the Lady Ducks and for California hockey in general,” Lady Ducks director of coaches Kathy McGarrigle said. “Watching a kid grow up from seven or eight all the way through, it’s amazing. She’s one of those kids who you see it in early, but we never know what someone’s going to do with their potential.
“Annie was so focused, she was so humble. She kept working, and she had that ability to make other teammates around her succeed. She has the size (5-foot-9), the hand-eye coordination, the athleticism, the drive.”
Along the way, Pankowski contributed to the Lady Ducks winning a host of medals at USA Hockey Youth Nationals tournaments. In 2007, she helped the Lady Ducks capture a Tier I gold medal at 12U, one year after a bronze. She also was a part of bronze-medal-winning teams at 14U in 2008-09 and 16U in 2010.
She’ll have another opportunity to add to her collection come next February.
— Chris Bayee