The company that Annie Pankowski keeps these days is pretty heady stuff.
Start with the rankings. The senior last weekend became the sixth University of Wisconsin women’s hockey player to reach 200 points for her career. She’s one of an elite hat trick of players to score at least 20 goals in each of her four seasons with the Badgers.
Continue with the trophies. Already the Western Collegiate Hockey Association player of the year, Pankowski took home the most outstanding player award from the Final Faceoff last Sunday after UW won the league title.
And keep going with national awards that could be still to come. Pankowski is only the second player ever to be a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award for off-ice service and a top-three vote-getter for the Patty Kazmaier Award for on-ice accomplishment in the same season.
Not for nothing, but she’s also co-captain of the top-ranked Badgers team that has championship aspirations as it starts the NCAA tournament Saturday against Syracuse at LaBahn Arena.
“I think she’s just a foundation player for this program and for our team the past five years,” said Pankowski’s fellow fifth-year senior and roommate Maddie Rolfes. “She’s kind of the bottom layer, the support. She’s the strongest player on our team by far. And she’s just such a smart, strong, supportive (person). She makes people around her better.”
It’s not just people, either.
Pankowski is a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award because of her volunteer work with OccuPaws, a non-profit organization that helps train future guide dogs.
Bucky is the Badgers’ mascot, but inside the UW locker room, there’s a closer connection to the puppy that Pankowski is acclimating to real-world situations. After training Brandy for most of this school year, Pankowski recently started working with Courage, a yellow Lab who’ll help with mobility.
“There’s times when I come into the locker room and bring the dog and everyone greets the dog first,” Pankowski said. “It’s an excited, the-dog’s-here kind of day.”
With two parents that are veterinarians, Pankowski grew up with cats and dogs and now is on track for a veterinary career of her own. She started working with OccuPaws in the spring of 2015, her first year at UW.
“It was something outside of hockey and outside of school that brought me joy, that wasn’t something I had to do but was something that was bigger than myself,” Pankowski said. “And I felt like I could give a little bit more of myself to that.”
According to UW, she has logged more than 2,000 hours volunteering for OccuPaws and at the UW Comparative Orthopedic Research Laboratory.
In public, Pankowski is the picture of composure. In more personal settings when a dog is around, it’s all different, according to Rolfes, who called Pankowski “a dog whisperer.”
“She is a very nice, great person but she’s not emotional or cuddly or warm, necessarily,” Rolfes said. “But when she’s around a dog, she just melts. And that dog just falls in love with her.
“I have never seen her with a dog that doesn’t just go to her like she’s a magnet. It’s just so cool to see how they react to her because she has something about her that just draws the dogs to her. They listen to her and respect her and love her.”
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Pankowski’s combination of off-ice dedication and on-ice success has few comparisons. Only Chanda Gunn of Northeastern in 2004 has been a Humanitarian finalist — she won the award — and among the final three for the Patty Kazmaier Award. Gunn started her career at UW in 1999 but withdrew because of epileptic seizures.
The Patty Kaz will be awarded at the Frozen Four in Hamden, Connecticut, on March 23. UW as a team can get there for a record-tying sixth straight time with a victory Saturday over Syracuse.
The Humanitarian is presented at the men’s Frozen Four on April 12 in Buffalo, New York. Pankowski will be playing with the U.S. at the World Championship in Finland then.
As a senior, Pankowski’s point total hasn’t reached the level it did in her previous two college seasons. She had 58 as a sophomore in 2015-16 and 55 the next year.
But with 23 goals and 45 points this season, she has been the offensive leader of a Badgers team that has been at or near the top of the polls all season.
Pankowski entered the season with a point to prove after being cut from the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal last year. That decision and not making the 2014 Olympic team before her UW career continue to serve as fuel, she said.
“I’ve never been a person to be complacent in any part of my life, whether it’s school or hockey or family stuff,” Pankowski said. “I always want more. I want to do more. That’s just always been my personality. I don’t think motivation’s ever been a hard thing for me to come by.”
Respect from team
Inside the Badgers locker room, Pankowski has her teammates’ respect, coach Mark Johnson said.
After being released from the U.S. national team residency last season, Pankowski returned to Madison and rejoined the Badgers for practices in the second semester. Johnson credited her for helping the younger players on the team’s run to the Frozen Four.
“Her leadership skills, her heart, her determination to face adversity and come back the next day and continue on speaks volumes for who she is,” Johnson said.
So does her scoring resume. The only other players to score 20 goals in all four seasons with the Badgers are Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan, both UW icons who have played in three Olympics.
At 201 points after scoring a goal in each game at the WCHA Final Faceoff last weekend, Pankowski is sixth in Badgers history behind Knight (262), Brianna Decker (244), Duggan (238), Sara Bauer (218) and Brooke Ammerman (215).
“You know of their success and you hear about their legacies when you come in,” Pankowski said. “For me, I just put my head down and got to work.”
This year, she said, there has been a mention of joining an elite group around a lot of turns.
“That kind of thing’s really cool for me to have put in four hard years of work and of just constantly wanting to get better and push more and do more and get more out of this program,” Pankowski said.