While there were many intriguing storylines at the 2015 edition of the IIHF Women’s Worlds, two members of Team USA each had something to prove. Forward Annie Pankowski and goatlender Alex Rigsby, both played for Miracle on Ice member Mark Johnson at the University of Wisconsin. While they may be from different parts of the country, with different paths to Team USA, both wanted to confirm their status as the future for USA Hockey.
Rigsby, the first goaltender in the history of the Wisconsin Badgers program to post 100 career wins (complemented by a 2011 Frozen Four title) was suiting up for the USA at the Worlds for the second time. As a third-string goalie in 2013, she not only earned the gold medal, but made history as the first goatlender to play for Team USA’s U18, U22 and Senior programs.
As the 2015 WCHA Rookie of the Year, Annie Pankowski lived up to her billing as one of the top recruits in the nation. Raised in Laguna Beach, California (which was once the setting to a famous reality show enjoyed by young adults), Pankowski’s initial exposure to the game was through inline hockey.
Emulating her older sister, Ali, who competed for the Princeton Tigers, Pankowski would eventually graduate to ice hockey. In a state where many female athletes are stereotyped as playing sports such as beach volleyball, swimming and surfing, Pankowski is an ambassador for the growth of women’s ice hockey in California.
Pankowski’s prominence on the ice would lead to her first experience with the US team in the autumn of 2014. Part of Team USA’s Bring on the World Tour, Pankowski and Jincy Dunne were two of the younger players on the team, a glimpse into a pair of hockey playing prodigies with great potential. Just like Rigsby, Pankowski was not named to the US roster that would compete in Sochi.
For both players, the gold medal game at the 2015 IIHF Worlds would allow each of them to provide heroics in a 7-5 win, proudly proclaiming that the future is now. Of note, Pankowski would score the first goal of the game at 2:51 setting the momentum for the US to grab a 3-0 lead.
Not only was it Pankowski’s first career goal in the IIHF championships, she would score the goal against Ann-Renee Desbiens, her teammate at Wisconsin. As a side note, the two would contribute to Wisconsin winning the 2015 WCHA postseason title, along with an appearance in the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four.
On the opposite end of the ice, Desbiens was confronted by another talented goalie with proud ties to Wisconsin. Jessie Vetter, who led Wisconsin to three national titles, started the game for the US. Emotionally, it was a treasured event for Badgers fans, a symbolic passing of the torch. Vetter stood between the pipes for the Badgers from 2005-09.
Followed by Alex Rigsby, who rewrote many Badgers records from 2010-14, Desbiens inherited the starting job in the autumn of 2014, continuing their proud legacies. As Rigsby replaced Vetter in the second period, several generations of Badgers goaltending excellence collided in one game.
After Canada fought back from a 5-2 deficit to tie the game 5-5 after two periods of play, Rigsby would emerge as the victorious Badgers goalie in this contest, with the US prevailing by a 7-5 tally. Coincidentally, the game winning goal was scored by Brianna Decker, another legendary alum from the Badgers program.
As the sun has likely set on the great career of Brianne McLaughlin, Rigsby’s gutsy performance in Malmo, Sweden assures Team USA that she is worthy of being part of its future plans. While that future holds at least three more seasons of Badgers hockey for Pankowski, her performance only adds to her confidence that Pyeongchang 2018 is within reach.
Photo of Annie Pankowski obtained from Twitter https://twitter.com/anniepank
Photo of Alex Rigsby obtained from: http://www.usawomenshockey.com/news_article/show/422654