The 4:30 a.m. call to the Pankowski house in Laguna Hills was expected, and as it turned out, joyfully full of tears.
Longtime Anaheim Lady Ducks forward Annie Pankowski learned during a short meeting with Team USA coaches early Friday morning that she had been selected to the 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team. Her first call – without delay – was to her parents, Rich and Diane.
“My dad was ready for the call, I told him (Thursday night) 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.”
Pankowski will join 22 other players on the U.S. Women’s National Team, which will begin training together late this summer in suburban Tampa, Fla., and participate in various competitions during the build-up to the Winter Games at PyeongChang, South Korea. She becomes the first homegrown Lady Ducks player to make a U.S. Olympic team. She has represented Team USA in numerous international competitions, including World Championships the past two years and in 2013.
“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. The Pankowski family has been with the club for years.
“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, 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. And no wonder, 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 7 or 8 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.”
Pankowski was quick to note the opportunity she had to play hockey as a young girl in Orange County was seminal in her advancement through the game.
“It’s crazy to think about where we started,” she 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.”
McGarrigle said there are two aspects of Pankowski that often get overlooked but have been crucial the success she has had – her work ethic and her giving nature.
“She would be 11 years old and she’d watch a video on YouTube and go home and work on a move a thousand times to add something new to her repertoire,” her long-time coach said. “Kids do that now, but it was unheard of 10-12 years ago.”
Pankowski, who made the national team four years ago, was one of the final cuts before the 2014 Olympics. She was determined to not let that happen again, and the process was streamlined by USA Hockey to select the final Olympic team months earlier than in previous years.
“They are really pushing team chemistry and getting to know your teammates better,” she said. “Instead of having what could be negative competition.
“This year was a lot more intense. It takes a different mindset because there might not be another time to make it.”
Added McGarrigle, “She really pushed herself to make sure the U.S. program knew she was elevating her game.”
In between the demands of playing hockey at a high level and going to college, Pankowski never has forgotten her Orange County roots, something the Lady Ducks are reminded of whenever Pankowski makes it back to Southern California.
“She’s constantly giving back to our program when she is able to be back in California,” McGarrigle said. “Almost every year she’ll ask when she can stop in at a girls camp or clinic. You don’t have to do that, but she shows up and says, ‘I’ll just help.’
“She doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. She’ll immediately go to the little kids or the beginners to help them.”
Pankowski has extensive experience with Team USA, playing in the past two Women’s World Championships, as well as in 2013, and scoring a goal in the gold-medal game for Team USA in 2015. In addition, she helped Team USA win silver in the 2012 Under-18 Worlds.
She also 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 the group won a bronze. She also was a part of bronze-medal-winning teams at 14U in 2008-09 and another bronze winner in 2010 at 16U. The fact that Pankowski primarily played girls hockey growing up also sends an important message, McGarrigle said.
“She wasn’t running around playing boys hockey after Mites and Squirts. Her family took to our girls program, and she made her way through a girls program,” McGarrigle said. “It speaks well for girls hockey in general, and especially in California. It sends a great message to families that are worried about putting their daughter in a Pee Wee or Bantam locker room.”
Annie’s older sister, Ali, was another longtime Lady Duck and played collegiately at Princeton before playing professionally in Europe. Their older brother, John, also played for the Jr. Ducks.
Pankowski and another former Lady Duck and Jr. Duck, Cayla Barnes, participated in the National Team selection camp this week.
“I think (Barnes) put herself in a good spot going forward,” Pankowski said. “She has a lot of years ahead of her in this program.”
Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggeiro and Chanda Gunn are previous California natives who participated in the Olympics. Ruggeiro is one of the most decorated women’s hockey players of all time, participating in the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games. Gunn won a bronze medal as the goaltender for Team USA at the 2006 Games.