As the Oakville Hornets boast one of the finest records in the PWHL, there is no question that the strong play of goaltender Daniela Paniccia has made a key contribution. An honor roll student and multi-sport star that has excelled in long jump and soccer, she has also volunteered for causes such as Girl Effect and Relay for Life.
In a season that has the Hornets win over 75 percent of their games, the club has also logged significant miles. The team has traveled to Massachusetts and Vermont, competing against the likes of teams from cities such as Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh, plus regions including Alaska, Minnesota and New York State.
In addition, Paniccia and fellow goaltender Nikki Cece would combine for seven shutouts before the holiday season. The two would make strong contributions to a Hornets club that went 20-0-2 in the first 22 games of the 2014-15 PWHL season. While the club has enjoyed a remarkable season (including a shutout streak of over 170 minutes), Paniccia is quick to acknowledge that it is attributed to a team effort.
“I would say the biggest highlight would be how my team works together. Everyone plays for one another and we have such a great bond off the ice that carries into games and practices which helps us a lot. Our team is filled with a group of hardworking, driven girls who are truly interested in team success.”
For a goaltender like Paniccia, a positive influence comes from the impact of two remarkable women that have coached her this season. Goaltender coach Christina Kessler and head coach Bradi Cochrane have reinforced the strong winning attitude of the Hornets. Cochrane, who coached Team Ontario Red to gold at the 2013 U18 National Championships, brings an encyclopedic knowledge of the game to every team that she leads. There is no question that Cochrane has proven to bring a remarkable presence, which translates into confidence,
“Having both Christina Kessler and Bradi as my coaches is an amazing opportunity. They are people who have experienced the game of hockey at very high levels. They worked very hard to reach those goals and the thing that makes them different to me is that they both never stop working and wanting to learn. It is such a privilege to be under their wings as they are able to provide insight to the game where not many other people can.
Bradi in particular has a way of breaking down parts of the game to make them very easy to understand. She is calm and very understanding while coaching us, yet she expects our hardest efforts every time we step on the ice, which our team respects. She makes the game of hockey so much fun.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the part of the game that is purely focused on wins and statistics but Bradi teaches us to have fun with what we’re doing and to never stop learning new things. When you try to approach every practice and game with this mindset we’ve been taught, while carrying that inner competitiveness that each individual player on the team has, it is amazing to see the improvement that carries out.”
Having an accomplished player like Christina Kessler as her goalie coach is another factor in her strong season. A former national team member that rewrote many goaltending records at Harvard University, Kessler currently juggles coaching obligations with a great career as a member of the Toronto Furies. With the Furies, Kessler not only earned a shutout in the 2014 Clarkson Cup championship game, she competed in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, contested at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
“Kessler is able to give great advice. She has been in so many different amazing experiences, which are also very nerve wracking. She helps a lot sharing her personal experiences and how she handled them. She has showed me that hard work and dedication is a big part of what got her to where she is and has been. Kessler, along with my long term goalie coach, Bill Hoover, have helped me immensely over the years.”
In addition to the positive influence of coaches such as Cochrane, Kessler and Hoover, there is another individual that has helped shape Paniccia’s career. Of note, her older sister Nicole has competed at the NCAA level with the Connecticut Huskies and as the starting goaltender with Penn State in their first two seasons of Division I play in the College Hockey America conference.
For both sisters, hockey is definitely a family affair. Competing for head coach Dave Chambers at York University, their father would also go on to a pro hockey career in Europe. As Daniela shall eventually pursue her own hockey ambitions as the university level, there is no question that she was one of her sister’s biggest fans.
“Throughout my sister Nicole’s career, even before Penn State, she has showed me a lot. She has constantly showed me what it takes to get to the next level. There were always obstacles for her to overcome, especially when she got to university. It is amazing to see how much someone can go through and how hard work can really pay off.
Once she transferred to Penn State, she continued to display what it takes, both on and off the ice. She had a very young team in front of her and it was their inaugural season which loaded on the pressure. She handled herself very well and was able to overcome all of this by being a great leader and performing very well. She received the first "Most Valuable Player" award and was very deserving of it.
Nicole has taught me many things but mostly, she has taught me that even when things get rough and aren’t as pretty as they could be, to never stop. You always have to look past that and be able to focus on your goal and what is going to get you there despite everything.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Eric Riehl, Oakville Beaver