Anyone who has taken an economics class knows that every choice you make always has an opportunity cost — losing out on something else you could have done.
For University of Wisconsin women’s hockey players Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark of the U.S. and Canada, respectively, that cost was losing the chance to play their senior season of hockey with their classmates. The two women ultimately chose to try out for their country’s Olympic teams over the summer, and were both given roster spots for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
For both women, this is has been a childhood dream, a chance to help their teams compete for a gold medal on one of the most exalted stages in sports. Both have been working for this opportunity throughout their careers, pushing themselves to be the best players they could be.
For Clark, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, hockey has been running through her blood from a young age. Wearing the red and white for her country was an honor she always dreamed of, and knew it was going to be a challenge to be selected in the country of hockey.
Clark has played for the Canadian national team for the past seven years, starting as a member of the Under-18 team and finally earning her spot on the current Olympic roster. Clark knew that she would have to put a lot of work in early on during her career with Team Canada in order to prove herself a Olympic contender.
“I’ve been working for this since I first got into the program six or seven years ago,” Clark said. “I’ve always had the 2018 team in the back of my mind and the Olympics were always something that I have liked to go for. I am very fortunate to get to live out that dream.”
Clark is thankful that during this pivotal moment of her life, she is able to share it with some of her closest friends, who also happen to be former Badgers. Clark will spend her year with former Wisconsin line mates Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbull and Ann-Renee Desbiens.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve been with this group for the last three years, and so it’s nice to have that [familiarity],” Clark said. “[Nurse]’s one of my best friends, so it’s pretty special to go through this with her. To have [Nurse, Desbiens and Turnbull] here, just to have familiar faces is always nice.”
Clark is also going through her first Olympics with Pankowski, even if the two might be competing for opposing teams. While Pankowski is in Tampa Bay training with the U.S. national team, she revealed she and Clark keep in contact as much as they can.
This is not Pankowski’s first rodeo when it comes to trying out for an Olympic team. She already took off a year from school back in 2013-14, only to have her Olympic dreams dashed three days before Christmas.
Pankowski was out in Boston training with the U.S. Olympic team, and managed to make it through several rounds of roster cuts, but her life would be more impacted by the round that she wouldn’t make it through. During the final rounds of cuts, U.S. head coach Katey Stone told Pankowski that she would not be travelling with the team to Sochi.
Looking back at that moment now, Pankowski admits that she had some growing up to do before she earned her roster spot. That rejection was something that fueled her through the past three years, as she continued to challenge herself to become the hockey player that the U.S. needed her to be.
“Four years ago I would not say that I was as confident as I am now as a hockey player and as a person,” Pankowski said. “I think that opportunity four years ago opened my eyes to show me what it takes. I believe that this go-around, I am ready to meet that challenge and to be a difference maker for this team.”
While this is one of the greatest opportunities that both players will get in their careers, there is also a trade-off, and that trade-off happens to be their senior year of college. While both players still have a year of eligibility when they come back from the games to play for Wisconsin, they will miss out on spending their senior season with the teammates that they have played alongside for the past three years.
Lauren Williams, Maddie Rofles and Baylee Wellhausen are holding down the fort in Wisconsin while Pankowski and Clark chase their Olympic dreams. Both women expressed sadness over missing this crucial year with their classmates, but have faith that they will continue on building up this Wisconsin team.
“I’ve been through the last three years with those girls,” said Clark, “and I have gone through a lot with them, a lot of amazing seasons. It’s definitely sad knowing that they’ll be doing this year without me, but [I like] knowing that I have Annie with me through [this experience of] the Olympics and senior year together as well.”
Pankowski knows that chances like this don’t come around often, and that sometimes you are going to have to give up things when you want to chase your dreams. If Pankowski had not deferred school two years for the Olympics, she would have actually graduated in the spring of 2017.
As someone who hopes to become a veterinarian someday, she knows that there are still plenty more years of school awaiting her in the future. For Pankowski, it is not about how long it takes to get from point A to point B, but about the experiences that you have along the way.
“It’s like my dad always tells me ‘it’s not a race, it’s all about the journey,” Pankowski said. “College is going to be there when you come back, and it is not going to change my world right now to pursue this Olympic dream and I know that I can always go back to Wisconsin.”
While Wisconsin hockey is going to miss both Pankowski and Clark this year, the whole community is happy for the two young women and all that they have managed to accomplish thus far. Badger nation will support both women, whether it is on the ice at LaBahn or as they compete for Olympic gold in South Korea.