Player Spotlight: Nicole Paniccia
John C. Maxwell, the world-renowned author responsible for writing many books on leadership once said that “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
That said, a sewn on ‘C’ or ‘A’ are nowhere to be found on the front of her jersey like her current teammates and fellow junior UConn transfers Taylor Gross and Jenna Welch, respectively.
However, netminder Nicole Paniccia has gone above and beyond her call to be a strong influence and backbone for a young Nittany Lions team. One cannot simply put to words how impactful Paniccia has been to her teammates so far this season both on and off the ice. Since the 5-3 victory on October 6 against the University of Vermont where she strapped on the pads and threw on the blue and white for her first game for Dear Old State, Paniccia has been a vital piece of the puzzle for the Nittany Lions.
Head Coach Josh Brandwene has praised his junior goaltender on multiple occasions, saying that she brings “tremendous contributions in every way imaginable and always has great things to say in a very constructive way”.
Paniccia has constantly kept her team in games with dazzling performances between the pipes, standing on her head at times in big situations when needed. At the midway point of the season, she sits with a 5-9-1 record and leads the CHA conference with 544 saves; with her career high of 64 saves coming against Mercyhurst on December 1.
Additionally, her .917 save percentage puts her fourth in the conference and 19th in all of Division I women’s hockey. Her most impressive performance this season came in a 2-2 tie against RIT at home on October 26 where she stopped 59 of 61 shots thrown her way
Nonetheless, “Panach”, as all her teammates and coaches call her, has taken her game to a level she has never personally experienced because of her late birthday. The switch was flipped this season as she has happily embraced her role as a strong leadership presence in addition to being a mentor for fellow Nittany Lion goalies Brooke Meyer and Celine Whitlinger.
“It’s definitely a challenge because we have so many freshmen but I love being a leader and it means a lot to me. I just tell Brooke and Celine to just go out there and play their game because you made it here for a reason because you are both great goalies and always stay positive when you’re out there.”
Paniccia exemplifies the type of player that every team should always have; extremely friendly but all business, hard-working and immensely talented at the same time. She has even brought along with her a style of netminding that is somewhat unconventional and athletic, which she simply calls “aggressive”.
“I’m a very athletic goalie. I’m not very technical or play by the rules but I’m the kind of goalie that does whatever it takes to stop the puck and I’m not worried about having the perfect technique.”
The native of Oakville, Ontario up in the Great White North, Paniccia was thrown right into hockey at a very young age at five years old. Her father Ben played professionally overseas in Italy and has played such an important role throughout her hockey career, which allowed her to grow into the sport at such a young age. She expressed that when it came to hockey, her father was very hard on her and “always her biggest critic” and made the switch to her current position between the pipes at seven years old because of her father.
“I thought it would make him stop yelling at me if I switched to goalie since he was a forward and wouldn’t know what to say. I switched and he still yelled at me so I just decided to stay there.”
Nevertheless, it has seemed to only make her stronger and could be a direct reason why she has developed into the successful young woman and player she is now. In addition, Paniccia gives a lot of credit to Christina Kessler, the former netminder for the Canadian Women’s national team, for her development as a goalie through the years.
On Kessler’s influence: “she would always come out and goalie coach me and was one of my idols growing up. I’ve watched her play and she is one the main reasons for my technique and style of play I use.”
Amidst everything else about Paniccia hockey career, examining her playing history and accolades is like a kid in a candy store. Her playing career began with her hometown developmental team, the Oakville Hornets until age 14. Since then she has made stops along the way with the Oakville Ice (2006 to 2007), Toronto Junior Aeros (2007 to 2009), Team Ontario (2007 to 2010) and the University of Connecticut (2010 to 2012) before becoming a proud Penn Stater this season. Among many of her other accolades, Paniccia helped lead Team Ontario Red to a gold medal at the Canadian 18 and under National Championships in 2009-2010.
During her two seasons at UConn, she wound up accumulating a 7-13-3 record in 23 games played with a 2.51 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. Yet what may be her most prominent honor was her appearance as an alternate goalie on the highly prestigious 18 and under Canadian Women’s national team while also getting chosen for the Team Canada Selection Camps during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.
Behind the scenes like most athletes, Paniccia has a fun “bag of tricks” when it comes to superstitions and game day routines; hers being a mix of active and quirky ones.
“I was on a jump rope team in eighth grade and learned a lot of cool tricks that I do before games.”
Then, like many goalies do to help their hand-eye coordination, Paniccia throws two squash balls against a wall 37 times in a row; her uncommon jersey number she has worn since juniors. If you’ve seen the movie “Miracle” and remember the scene where Jim Craig’s character does this exact same drill, you know what this looks like.
“If I screw up and drop one I have to start all over again until I get to 37,” said Paniccia.
Then, what may be one of the most unusual superstitions one may ever hear of, Paniccia and fellow Penn State goalie Brooke Meyer tag-team splitting a pack of Gatorade chews before every game. Paniccia says her responsibility is to open the pack and take only the top three while Meyer takes the bottom three.
With Nicole having success at Penn State, the Paniccia family torch has been passed down to her 14 year old sister Daniela, who like Nicole is a talented netminder back in their hometown of Oakville for one of Nicole’s former teams the Oakville Hornets.
Paniccia jokingly said that “it’s pretty funny because my dad wanted two boy forwards and he ended up getting two girl goalies”.
Maybe in the near future, the Penn State hockey community could see another “Paniccia” nameplate on the back of a blue and white jersey between the pipes at the Pegula Ice Arena?
As for what the future holds for her after life at Penn State, Paniccia is now a dual Canadian and Italian citizen after obtaining her Italian citizenship not too long ago. Her aspiration is to follow in the footsteps of her father and play in Italy and eventually try to land a spot on their Women’s national team.
“I would love to enjoy life and settle down for a little before getting a real job.”
Ross Insana is junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.