After winning Olympic gold, Kelly Pannek returns to Minnesota

The redshirt senior has not played a game for Minnesota since March 2017.

Forward Kelly Pannek watches the puck drop during a game against Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2016.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Forward Kelly Pannek watches the puck drop during a game against Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2016.

Erik Nelson

Kelly Pannek didn’t play for the Gophers last season —  but for good reason. She was on the United States women’s Olympic team and came back to Minnesota with a new piece of hardware.

The United States Olympic team won gold for the first time since 1998, ending Canada’s streak of four consecutive gold medals at the Winter Olympics.

Team USA defeated Canada in the gold medal game on Feb. 22 in 3-2 in a shootout. U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney made the winning save, setting off a celebration two decades in the making.

Pannek said her reaction to Rooney’s save was pure excitement.

“You’re jumping over the boards as fast as you can and trying to hug whoever you can,” Pannek said. “It was a powerful and emotional moment.”

Canada had won gold at each Winter Olympics since 2002. Canada defeated the U.S. in the previous two gold medal games, including a come-from-behind overtime win in the 2014 gold medal game.

Pannek said participating at the Winter Olympics in South Korea was a powerful experience.

“To be able to experience everything with our team, especially the opening ceremonies, was special,” Pannek said. “It’s something that I can’t even describe because there are so many feelings going through you.”

After winning gold in South Korea, Pannek is preparing to play her first game for the Gophers in over a year. Pannek hasn’t played a game for the Gophers since March 2017, when the team lost to Clarkson in the semifinal of the NCAA Frozen Four.

Pannek said re-adjusting to the NCAA ice won’t be an issue.

“We played on a lot of NHL-sized rinks [at the Olympics],” she said. “There’s some adjustments, but it’s easier going back to smaller ice than it is going to [Olympic-sized] ice.”

In 2016-17, Pannek played 39 games. She scored 19 goals and had 62 points that season.

Forward Nicole Schammel said Pannek’s success at the international level will motivate the team this upcoming season.

“It’s great to see a teammate doing so well,” Schammel said. “We were all [Pannek’s] biggest supporters last year. Having [her] back is great.”

In addition to winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics this year, Pannek was a member of Minnesota’s NCAA Frozen Four winning teams in 2015 and 2016. She was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2017. The Award was established in 1998 and is given to the most outstanding player of each NCAA season.

Head coach Brad Frost said Pannek instantly earns respect with younger players when she steps into the locker room.

“They know that they’re going to have an opportunity with and against her each day in practice,” Frost said. “It keeps them motivated to improve and she’s helping them along the way.”

After taking off a year to play in the Olympics, Pannek is excited to be back with the Gophers.

“This team is full of [experience] at different levels in various ways,” she said. “I’m excited to be back with the team.”