Ben Paniccia wanted two boy forwards as children, but got the exact opposite. Two girl goalies.
Goalie Nicole Paniccia, one of Ben’s daughters, got into the sport after watching her father play professionally in Italy and has steadily become a vital role of the Penn State women’s hockey team.
Paniccia said her father never put pressure on her to play hockey, but once she got into the sport, he became her biggest critic and fueled her position change away from his position of forward.
“My dad is very, very hard on me,” Paniccia said. “He would always yell at me, so in my five-year old head I thought, ‘Maybe if I switch to goalie, he would stop yelling,’ but he didn’t,” Paniccia said with a laugh.
Paniccia played her freshman and sophomore years at Connecticut with forwards Taylor Gross and Jenna Welch before transferring to Penn State for the inaugural D-I season, a decision Paniccia made in March. She said Uconn is a great school, but it was not the right fit for her and she could not pass up being a part of history for the Nittany Lions.
Ever since the season started, Paniccia has assumed a leadership and workhorse role on the squad. One of Paniccia’s highlight games was against RIT when she stopped 59 of 61 shots that came her way en route to a 2-2 with the Tigers Oct. 26.
Assistant coach Casey McCullion, who was a goalie for Holy Cross during her college years, one of the biggest things Paniccia had going for her was her experience, but McCullion has been struck by Paniccia’s poise throughout the season.
“She doesn’t get rattled by things,” McCullion said. “I think for a young team, she’s such a good role model in that [if] she gives up a goal, she puts it right behind her and she’s on to the next shot.”
Head coach Josh Brandwene said Paniccia is unbelievably athletic and has a calming influence over the young team. Brandwene also said Paniccia lives in the present moment and she has “a great thing going on with that.”
Gross said the two were underclassmen and Uconn, but now Paniccia has embraced the upperclassmen leadership role and is a vital part of the Lions’ squad.
“We’ve still got to work on kind of protecting her a little better,” Gross said. “But other than that, she keeps us in a lot of games and we’re very lucky to have her here.”
Paniccia said she never thought she would like to get more shots as opposed to fewer shots, but this season has changed her mind. Paniccia said she likes a multitude of shots because it keeps her mentally in the game even though the shot totals may be overwhelming at times.
McCullion said she does not think there is any question that Paniccia is one of the best goalies in the country and she works hard because she does not like to get scored on.
“She proves that day in and day out,” McCullion said. “There are some practices that we get off the ice and all the coaches kind of look at each other and say, ‘did she even get scored on in practice?’ She’s making our shooters better every day because every puck matters to her.”