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Gracie Ostertag Sees Familiar Faces at Minnesota in Kelly Pannek, Other USA Hockey Teammates

By Dan Scifo, 10/02/18, 12:45PM EDT


The incoming Golden Gophers freshman has a network of leaders to learn from.

University of Minnesota women’s hockey captain Kelly Pannek represented her country at the highest level earlier this year and won a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Incoming freshman Gracie Ostertag has experience playing high-stakes international hockey, and winning gold medals, but she won her hardware with the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team.

Because of that, Ostertag enters campus with confidence, but she hopes Pannek and others can help her continue to grow and reach the next level.

“Kelly is amazing and everyone on our team looks up to her,” Ostertag said. “She’s a big speaker, which I love and was super welcoming when I first came here.”

Pannek is happy to pass down her knowledge and experiences to Ostertag and her other teammates.

“It’s a huge privilege and I don’t want to take it lightly,” Pannek said. “Especially since last year I was looking up to so many different people and trying to learn as much as I possibly could. It’s really cool to have that experience and be in that position [at Minnesota], but just because I have a little more hockey experience doesn’t mean I have more life experience. I can learn just as much from them as they can from me.”

Ostertag (left) and Taylor Heise (center) being presented with Players of the Tournament awards at the 2018 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship

A number of Pannek and Ostertag’s teammates also have experience with USA Hockey.

Taylor Heise and Patti Marshall both have three medals with the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team. Catie Skaja, Grace Zumwinkle, Alex Gulstene, Taylor Wente, Alex Woken, Emily Oden, Emily Brown and Crystalyn Hengler also have gold with the Under-18 Women’s National Team, and Taylor Williamson won silver. Abby Boreen, Nicole Schammel, Sophie Skarzynski and Sydney Scobee have participated in USA Hockey development camps.

Joel Johnson, the former highly-successful head coach of the Under-18 Women’s National Team, is also on staff at Minnesota.

“Those are people who are winners, and we like to track a lot of those at Minnesota,” Pannek said.

It also helps Ostertag transition to the college level.

Ostertag (left) celebrates with Madeline Wethington (center) and Heise (right) after winning gold at the 2018 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship

“It has definitely built my confidence coming into Minnesota,” Ostertag said. “Some of the kids that I played with on the Under-18 team were my teammates, so I think that adds a level of comfort.”

Ostertag won three gold medals with the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team. She served as an alternate captain on the most recent championship-winning team and was named the tournament’s best defenseman.

“It has been awesome for her to bring that experience to our team,” Pannek said. “Being part of three championship teams and being a leader in that program is huge.”

Pannek, a redshirt senior, said her situation was different prior to her time at Minnesota. Ostertag was part of three gold medal-winning Under-18 Women’s National Teams, while Pannek won a silver medal in 2013.

“She definitely has more experience in terms of USA Hockey,” Pannek said. “She’s able to handle the pressure of playing in high stakes, high-pressure games and moments. College is a little different, but being able to fall back on that experience with that same mentality helps at the college level.”

Ostertag has the opportunity to learn from Pannek every day as the two are warmup partners during stationary passing drills. It can be admittedly intimidating for Ostertag, a freshman working with a senior captain, but the intent is to pair a younger player with a veteran, and she is anxious to continue to learn from Pannek.

“She’s an inspiration and a player many want to be like on and off the ice,” Ostertag said. “I hope to learn a lot of leadership skills from her. She’s more vocal and that’s something I need to grow better at.”

Pannek is confident Ostertag will settle into a leadership role at Minnesota.

“She’s super smart, super strong and a huge talent,” Pannek said. “She sees the ice really well, she’s really calm and never shows emotions. She never looks defeated or down, and she’s always hard to battle against. It will be really cool to see how she grows because she’s expected to make a big jump and play in critical moments for this team. She’ll be part of that as a freshman and in the future.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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