Five new players are slated to join the Wisconsin women’s hockey team next season, continuing a Badger history of bringing the best prep players to UW’s rink.
The Badgers (10-4-1, 6-4-2 WCHA) announced last Wednesday forwards Sydney McKibbon, Sarah Nurse and Annie Pankowski, along with defensemen Melissa Channell and Jenny Ryan, have declared their intent to adorn the cardinal and white jersey.
“We think they are good hockey players, other people think they are good players, but they are also good students and they come from good families and have different backgrounds,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “It’s a good class. We’ve got five quality people and five quality players so we’re excited for them to be part of our family.”
As with past recruiting classes, they bring experience, talent and academic success to the program. But what makes this group unique is the chemistry they will already have coming into the unfamiliar world they will soon be calling home.
McKibbon and Nurse will join the Badgers after finishing their current season together with the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League. If working alongside them as teammates was not chemistry enough, the duo is currently linemates and the top two point earners for the Sabres.
A forward from the town of Oakville, Ontario, McKibbon led her team in points last season with 41, 29 of which came from assists. Nurse benefitted from many of McKibbon’s plays, finding the back of the net 21 times, a team-high, and was second to McKibbon in points with 31.
Ryan and Pankowski bring a similar dynamic to the team, both playing at the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt., for the past two seasons. While Pankowski is known for her offensive success, Ryan plays a critical role in maintaining a strong backline for the team.
“In the recruiting world, there is no rhyme or reason, you are looking for players that fit into what you are trying to do,” Johnson said. “It is sort of fun. … They will be able to come, and as freshman go, they will be more comfortable with someone they can bounce things off of immediately.”
Although Channell will not be coming in to the Badger program alongside a current teammate, she was raised in the same town of Oakville as McKibbon and the two competed for Canada’s Under-18 team in the 2011 Canada-USA series together. Channell also played alongside Badger senior Saige Pacholok in the 2012 Meco Cup for Canada’s Under-22 team.
Past recruiting classes for the women’s hockey program have not had the same amount of prior history working together as this incoming group. Yet having a familiar face on the rink as a freshman is not an uncommon trend for Johnson’s team.
Freshmen Courtney Burke and Kim Drake were teammates for four years at Shattuck St. Mary’s Academy before taking their bond to Wisconsin this season. The two join a long line of Badger players that once played at the elite hockey school in St. Paul, Minn., including current players sophomore Blayre Turnbull and senior Brianna Decker.
“Having Blayre [Turnbull] and Decker here and Kim [Drake] coming in with me I felt like I already had friends so it wasn’t as uncomfortable or as unusual,” Burke said of her first weeks with the Badger team.
Johnson recognizes the power of connections his current players may have with potential incoming players, seeing it as a positive addition to his recruiting process.
“It’s all about developing relationships and with Facebook and all that, kids talk to each other. So [recruits] ask ‘What’s it like in Wisconsin’ and [current players] say ‘Oh, we’re having a blast,’” Johnson said. “That kind of stuff gets back to teams and players and it helps.”
The Shattuck clan isn’t the only lineage of players with similar backgrounds. Freshman Molly Doner came to Wisconsin from the same NAHA team as Pankowski and Ryan, playing with them last season. The three also got to experience the joys of a successful recruiting process together, and Donor is excited she will once again have them as teammates.
“Last season, both [Pankowski and Ryan] actually committed right after my official visit as well, so we all came back and were hyped up on adrenaline looking forward,” Doner said. “For me, to the next year, and for them, in two years.”
Injured junior Brittany Ammerman and her sister Brooke Ammerman, who finished her four years at UW last season, played at NAHA as well.
While Doner could list the successes and prestige of the program Johnson has built at UW, she said what won her over was the chemistry she saw among the Badger players and the instant connection she felt to it with the other former NAHA players.
“I never really had to opportunity to know [the Ammermans] beforehand, but once I came here they knew me and it was that automatic connection,” Doner said. “Having them here, they kind of know what we went through, and it’s like all the Shattuck girls. They all have been through the same things. Just seeing all the chemistry the girl had together and how much fun they have, that was really the main selling point for me.”
Beyond their play together, the five soon-to-be Badgers each bring additional experience at the international level, either for the U.S. or Canada. Johnson sees this type of exposure on a recruits’ resume as a signal they have played against older, stronger, more experienced players, similar to what they will face in the college hockey stage.
With the program’s biggest name, Brianna Decker, graduating from the program after this season, the shows for the next offensive powerhouse will need to be filled.
“Are they going to come in and be Brianna Decker? Well Brianna Decker wasn’t Brianna Decker, as a freshman she grew into that position,” Johnson said. “They come in and their eyes are big and a lot is thrown at them, but if they have good work habit and are consistent with what they do they will get better. We are lucky we’ve had some special players so hopefully this next group, one of them, two of them, or all of them will end up being a special player too.”
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