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Pankowski goes from high school to national team

10/15/2013, 1:45pm MDT
By Justin A. Rice - Special to USAHockey.com

Annie Pankowski went straight from the North America Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt. to the U.S. Women’s National Team before the ink on her national letter of intent with the University of Wisconsin barely had time to dry.

And while the Laguna Hills, Calif. native isn’t complaining, she said playing at least one season for Wisconsin — a team that went to the Frozen Four last spring — would have been a good “intermediate step” between going from high school to the senior national team.

“[Practices] have definitely been a challenge, but I feel like I’m definitely getting better every day,” the 18-year-old, who was one of the nation’s top recruits last year, said of the first month of practice with Team USA in Bedford, Mass. “It’s like a whole new level to play at because the entire team is extremely talented. So it’s just pushing me to get better.

“I think the speed is extremely fast and the game is moving at a way faster rate than it was when I was in high school, so it’s a big jump. And the talent too; every single person is insanely talented.”

But Pankowski wouldn’t be vying for one of the final 21 spots on the roster that will go to the 2014 Olympic Winter games this February in Sochi, Russia, if she too wasn’t insanely talented.

“Annie Pankowski is the newest member of this group, but when Annie’s got the puck on her stick in the zone you’re in trouble,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said. “She’s working on becoming a really solid player all around.

“She’s working on becoming a really solid player in all three zones.”

Besides scoring boatloads of goals during her high school career, Pankowski has done it at the international level too. In just 11 international games she has already netted six goals and eight assists for a total of 14 points, including four goals in five games at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championships. She had six assists in that tournament, too, as the U.S. took silver.

In August she also played with the senior women's National Festival in Blaine, Minn., which she says is light years ahead in terms of intensity from playing at the U18 level.

“It does give me a sense of security,” she said of her success at the U18 level, “but playing with the senior team is a whole new level. The speed, talent, just love of the game — it’s like taking U18 and multiplying it by 10.

“[U18] kind of showed me the base level of what it is to wear the jersey and represent [Team USA] at a young age, but being on a big scale is a lot different.”  

Despite the shift in gears, Pankowski has settled in nicely. She scored goals during back-to-back scrimmages against a local boys’ club team in Bedford recently.

“I’d say that I got better between the two games just getting more comfortable,” she said. “The [goal] on the first night was from in between the dot and hash on the circle. The assist was from Brianna Decker. On the second night it was the same shot except for Kate Buesser was screening the goalie.

“I think it kind of took me back to the reason I love hockey, just playing games sometimes. When you do so many practices with elite level of girls kind you of get down on yourself.”

Luckily, whenever she feels down on herself there are plenty of mentors around to pick her up. Pankowski said Kendall Coyne, Alex Carpenter and Josephine Pucci are her go-to teammates when she has a question. 

“I try to make it so I don’t ask the same person repeatedly the same question,” she said. “Those are the people I usually ask weird questions [and say], ‘Is this dumb?’”

It also helps to have four other players with Wisconsin connections on the team: Decker, Meghan Duggan, Jessie Vetter and Hilary Knight.

While Pankowski hasn’t pulled on that Wisconsin jersey yet, she knows when she finally does she will be a much better player thanks to her experience with the senior national team.

“It definitely is bringing my game to whole new level,” she said. “In Wisconsin I’ll be a more well-rounded playing moving at a faster pace.”

Now that she’s already reached her goal of a college scholarship, she can look to an even farther horizon.

“It’s something I been dreaming since I started playing,” she said of playing in the Olympic Winter Games. “Before I just want to go to college and get a scholarship and then maybe see what happened.

“But when I was younger you see girls come back with medals and say ‘I want to do that, I want to be on the Olympic team.’ That it’s so close, it’s unbelievable.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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