Gold medalist Pannek welcomed back at Benilde-St. Margaret’s

| March 23, 2018 | 0 Comments


Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist Kelly Pannek joined a group of Benilde-St. Margaret’s girls hockey players for a photo March 21 during her visit. Pannek graduated from BSM in 2014. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Benilde-St. Margaret’s girls hockey players oohed and aahed as they held and got pictures with an Olympic gold medal March 21, won by 2014 alumna Kelly Pannek.

“It’s so heavy,” one BSM player exclaimed.

The BSM student athletes met with the Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist over breakfast at the St. Louis Park Catholic middle and high school. Pannek, who played forward for the team, fielded questions from the girls and then visited with them informally, getting pictures and signing autographs.

“It’s just kind of crazy. I was watching her on TV, and she was representing our country and she’s meeting … all these important people just for this sport,” said BSM eighth-grade forward Sophie Melsness. “It’s amazing to see.”

While at BSM, Pannek excelled academically and starred in three sports. That included winning “Ms. Soccer” in 2013 and back-to-back state titles in 2012 and 2013. In girls hockey, she led the Red Knights to state in 2014. She also won all-state honor in girls lacrosse in 2014.

She went on to have a strong start to her college career at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as she helped the Gophers win national titles in 2015 and 2016. She’s majoring in supply chain management.

“Going academically from high school to college wasn’t too hard for me because I felt like I was just prepared so well, and that’s a testament to everyone — the teachers and the [administration] staff,” said Pannek, who grew up attending St. Mary of the Lake in Plymouth.

Pannek joined the U.S. women’s hockey team in 2017 after various international competitions leading up to the Olympics. In South Korea in February, she helped the U.S. go 4-1 overall with two assists, including a game-tying goal in the third period of the gold medal game.

She shared about her experience with BSM hockey players during their Belgian waffle breakfast in the school’s library conference room. Spread out at tables around the room, the girls asked questions ranging from what it was like to compete in the Olympics to what she ate.

“I’m not on a strict diet like I probably should be,” Pannek said.

She mentioned that some of her teammates utilize blood tests in order to optimize their diets. But Pannek, who said she keeps a simple diet, doesn’t want to do the test.

“They can’t eat things like bell peppers, which is super random, and they used to eat it all the time,” Pannek said of her teammates.

In South Korea, Pannek said she spent most of her time at the Olympic Village and took in a few events, including figure skating. She described the people as kind and hospitable. She also put her younger brother, Billy, on the spot since he attended the games with their family.

A senior at BSM, Billy shared with the girls hockey players about exploring some of the sites in South Korea. He also said he learned about the country’s culture along the way.

In playing archrival Canada, the U.S. rallied to beat the northern neighbor in a 3-2 shootout victory Feb. 22. Pannek, who found teammate Monique Lamoureux-Morando for the game-tying goal in the third period, described what the final shots of the shootout were like.

“You can’t really put words to it, but whenever you see those pictures, it brings back the chills and all the memories of it,” Pannek said.

BSM players also wanted to know what it was like meeting the different celebrities she encountered after winning gold. It became an extensive list for her: Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Venus and Serena Williams and Meghan Trainor.

“She just chatted with us for 20 minutes and was taking pictures,” Pannek said of Trainor.

Pannek said a highlight for her on DeGeneres’ daytime show was when DeGeneres “put up our jersey over Drew Brees’ [jersey]” on the set. Pannek said DeGeneres took a spontaneous approach to interviewing them.

Aside from media fame, Pannek shared about social media experiences as an Olympic athlete. She said she received a Facebook message from someone in Seattle claiming to be related.

“That was the weirdest one, and other people have had it [happen], too,” Pannek said.

BSM’s entire student body welcomed Pannek during a morning assembly and again during lunch periods.

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