GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Nothing has ever been glamorous for Andrew Panzarella and his career.
He started by playing in Sacramento, California, where his home arena had just a half sheet of ice and holes in the roof. Parents had to bring umbrellas to the games because the ice would frequently be covered in puddles.
Later on, Panzarella spent four years playing junior hockey, waiting for schools to give him a shot.
When he finally got to North Dakota, he found out that simply getting in the lineup was a difficult task. Panzarella played just seven games his sophomore season and has been in the lineup just four times as a senior. He has — more often than not — been the odd-man out on defense because of the program’s deep defensive corps.
“I’ve obviously had a lot of ups and downs, on and off the ice,” Panzarella said. “I really think it has helped me become a man and mature.
“It’s definitely difficult. It hurt me more when I was younger, because I wasn’t used to it. You need to realize that everyone that comes here is a great player and it’s not going to be easy. You have to do the little things right all the time and I wasn’t doing it. I think it helped in the long run to focus on what I can control and don’t worry about other stuff.”
Panzarella may play this weekend when UND hosts Niagara in its final non-conference series of the regular season. There’s also a chance that he might not.
That’s been the norm for his career.
— Andrew Panzarella
He has gone through several stretches in the past four years of not playing for more than a month. He was a scratch for the first eight games of his senior season.
But during the time off, teammates and coaches say Panzarella’s preparation never changes. He frequently works with assistant coach Dane Jackson during off days to improve his skillset.
“Panz is a special player and a special person,” senior Mark MacMillan said. “He’s had a tough role his four years here. He’s an unbelievable team guy.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol said: “It’s not all purely results-based, but when Andrew has gone into the lineup for us, our team has been successful. That tells me that Andrew has been prepared and he’s mature enough to take care of his routine and do the work that you need to do when you’re out of the lineup so you can be ready to come in and help our team win.”
The UND coaching staff first saw Panzarella play during his four years in the United States Hockey League. He started gaining attention while playing for the Waterloo Blackhawks in Iowa.
Panzarella was a physical presence and often fought. He racked up 654 penalty minutes during his USHL career.
“He was certainly one of the most respected and most feared people in the league,” Hakstol said. “He gained that respect through the job he did in his career.”
Panzarella said he considered going to Omaha, but knew that UND was the spot for him after an official visit. He canceled his last visit and committed to North Dakota.
He was immediately thrust into a key role as a freshman for an injury-filled team.
Panzarella played 40 games that season, including the wild six-goal rally and comeback victory against Minnesota at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five and the 4-0 victory against Denver the next night in the title game.
But when UND restocked the cupboard the next season, Panzarella was a frequent scratch. He only played seven games that season.
A year ago, UND asked Panzarella to switch positions to forward for the stretch run. He ended up being a key piece to a team that made a surprising run to the NCAA Frozen Four.
“Panz has done a phenomenal job,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves. Going from defense to forward … playing good in a game but being out the next … that’s not easy to do. But every time he comes in, he plays well and he’s a factor and helps us win. I can’t give him enough credit.”
There’s no sure bets on what’s going to happen the rest of the season.
With injuries at forward, the coaching staff has tossed around the idea of putting Panzarella up front. For now, he’s being asked to be a tough defenseman.
“I think he’s at his best when he’s a physical and tough guy to play against,” Hakstol said. “He’s efficient in moving the puck and as he’s matured through our program, we’ve also seen the ability by him to impact the game up ice as well. There’s a real balance there.
“Right now, the role we need him in is back on the blue line. That can change. I won’t predict that what’s going to happen a week from now or down the road. It is nice to know we have a player that can go in and be versatile and help us at either forward or D.”
As usual, Panzarella’s goals for the end of the season are team oriented.
“I want us to play like we [did] Saturday night against Minnesota-Duluth every night,” he said. “I want us to stay true to ourselves, be honest with ourselves. We have to work on some things. It’s not going to come easy, but we usually have good second halves and those are hard earned.”
This article was written by Brad Elliott Schlossman from Grand Forks Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.