The PWHPA All-Stars dropped their Hub City Tampa finale on Wednesday afternoon to the Utica Junior Comets by a final score of 5-2. It wasn’t the way the group wanted to end things in advance of the 2021 Dream Gap Tour, but there were certainly bright spots in the game. The line of Haley Skarupa, Brianna Decker and Amanda Kessel created chances all game, Kali Flanagan continued to transition the puck with what looked like ease, and Kelly Pannek lit the lamp twice.
Kessel, Flanagan and Pannek all had outstanding trips to Tampa Bay, and look like they are fully in stride as they approach next weekend’s Dream Gap Tour stop in New York. Flanagan was the group’s top defender when it came to moving the puck, while Kessel and Pannek both lit up the scoresheet. For Kessel, she was the straw that stirred the drink for the team’s most dangerous line, while Pannek continued to play a complete 200-foot game in the Hub.
Pannek centered the top line during the PWHPA’s first trip to Tampa Bay. In those six games, Pannek scored four points (3 g, 1 a) and was the group’s most dangerous forward. This time around? In five exhibition games, Pannek scored seven points (3 g, 4 a) and scored the game winning goal against the Islanders Hockey Club on February 11th.
Her offensive ability is impressive, but it isn’t the only thing that Pannek does. Routinely, Pannek was making plays in her own zone to break up scoring chances for the opponent. She forced countless turnovers and helped get the puck moving in the direction. It’s a major reason why Head Coach Bill Flanagan trusted her with so many minutes and such a big role.
Pannek’s ability to play a complete game allowed Flanagan to move Abby Roque, a strong offensive presence in her own right, to right wing on Pannek’s line. It’s a duo that gave opponents fits.
“I like the combination,” Flanagan said on February 12th after practice. “Kelly (Pannek) is awesome at both ends of the ice and it was a really good combination that we’re gonna stick with on Saturday.”
Kessel, meanwhile, formed an extremely dangerous line with Decker and Skarupa. It was the PWHPA’s most dangerous line on the trip, as they were able to tilt possession and create ample scoring chances. Kessel led the way for the line with six points (2 g, 4 a), finishing second on the team behind only Pannek.
Kessel’s aggressiveness in the offensive zone allowed her to create turnovers and apply pressure. She, Decker and Skarupa also displayed a chemistry that allowed them to do things in the offensive zone that other lines couldn’t. It was a line that took the opening game on February 10th to get adjusted, and then never looked back.
For the Minnesota Regional Training Hub, that’s bad news. This trio, thanks to Decker going from Calgary to New Hampshire, now all play together for Flanagan with the New Hampshire Regional Training Hub. It seems quite likely that we will see them together in New York next weekend. They’ll be able to hit the ground running.
Kali Flanagan, meanwhile, played a key role for the PWHPA from the blueline. Flanagan was the most consistent defender when it came to transitioning the puck throughout the trip. Overall, she and Savannah Harmon were the most consistent defenders on the roster.
Flanagan looked a step quicker than last season, and displayed her strong hockey IQ in all situations. She proved to be a valuable asset on the ice when with the puck. Not only can she take a pass and make a pass, but Flanagan also has the speed and skill to carry the puck and transition from defense to offense. Numerous times on the trip, she’d rush the puck up the ice, gain the zone with control, and set things up for the forwards. It allowed the PWHPA’s top two lines to set up better and control the zone.
Overall, Flanagan finished with four points, all assists, in five games played for the PWHPA. She led the defense in scoring.
Now, with Tampa Bay in the rearview mirror, all three of these players and the rest of the PWHPA All-Stars will turn their focus to the Dream Gap Tour, which kicks off next weekend in New York City. It concludes with a historic evening at Madison Square Garden on February 28th, with puck drop at 7:00 pm.