PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh State men's hockey standout and beloved program supporter Chris Panek has died.
Panek, 53, who passed away suddenly, played with the Cardinals from 1985-88 and was a member of Plattsburgh's 1987 national championship team.
He was inducted into the Cardinal Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 15, 2011, which is one of his many accolades that showcased his dedication to Cardinal Hockey.
A LIVELY SPIRIT
To various members of the Plattsburgh program, Panek made his presence felt with his enthusiasm and ability to connect with so many players from various generations.
Panek was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1987 NHL Supplemental Draft and moved on from the Cardinals after his junior year, but he always maintained his connections to Plattsburgh.
"Yeah, he was drafted by the Kings his junior year, but he has never really left," Plattsburgh men's hockey coach Steve Moffat said. "He bridged the gap between the eras. He was friends with guys in the '70s to guys now. He just had that way about him to be able to connect with people and create relationships with people."
For anyone connected to Cardinal Hockey, one connection most had in common was with Panek.
He was a man of the people.
"He was a great guy to know, and he knew everyone," Moffat said. "He went out of his way to make you feel comfortable. He was a presence in a room, but how he treated you made you feel like you were the only person in the room even if you were in a crowded place."
During his playing career, Panek had plenty of success.
Some of his top accolades included being named Most Outstanding Player at the 1987 NCAA Division III championship as well as earning NCAA Division III All-Tournament Team honors in 1986 and 1988.
"He was just a great teammate in every capacity," said Jamie Reidy, who was Panek's teammate during the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons. "He led us on the ice as well as off the ice. He was an all-around player who was not afraid to mix it up and then also show off some skill. He was a Cardinal through and through."
Panek received First Team All-SUNYAC accolades three times and ECAC West First-Team honors twice. He finished his three-year career with 133 points, which was good for third most by a defenseman and 29th all-time.
"Chris was the type of guy you loved to play with. When I joined the team as a freshman and he was a sophomore, he was already a leader, which showed how quickly he established his presence in our room."
To those who knew Panek, he always showcased a comedic sense.
One memory Reidy recalled that resonates with him to this day that reinforces Panek's humorous trait took place in 1987.
"Back in the old days playing in Elmira, there was a student heckler in the corner bothering us in the warmup," Reidy said. "So Chris thought he would give him a little scare with the puck. He launched one from the other end of the ice, and let me just tell you, it was a bullseye. I will never forget that. He was near me and said, 'Hey, watch this,' and he proceeded to go make the fan stop bothering us.
"That still makes me laugh now just talking about it."
Following his career with the Cardinals and three years of professional hockey, Panek cemented himself as a hockey presence in western New York.
For six seasons, he served as the head coach of the Bishop Timon-Saint Jude hockey program, where he accumulated a 101-40-22 record, which included a state title in 2002.
He later went on to become an assistant coach with the Buffalo Junior Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
"His footprint in Buffalo, knowing the local hockey community in Buffalo, is incredible," Moffat said. "He literally knows everyone, and if he does not, he would know someone who did.
"There would be times where I would call Chris in regard to recruiting a certain player. He helped us immensely with recruiting kids. Jimmy Poreda, our goalie now, is one player that comes right to mind, but there are countless kids he helped recruit."
A LOYAL SUPPORTER
In addition to recruiting assistance, Panek was a frequent attendee of countless Plattsburgh games and various alumni events.
His love for the Cardinals was evident in everything he did.
Panek injected positivity into Plattsburgh even when the chips may have been down after a tough loss or a grueling road trip.
"Chris came to our games in Brockport and Geneseo and basically everywhere," Moffat said. "He would come to things like a pre-game meal, a pre-game skate and come to the hotel and have some wings on a Thursday night or just little things like that."
And with those various appearances at team events came the connections Moffat mentioned Panek had a tremendous ability to make.
"He would get to know some of the players with those visits," Moffat said. "He had such a good eye for the game to begin with that he could connect with the players in terms of hockey as well as off the ice. The guys really enjoyed that. He was respected by everyone within the program because he showed respect and wanted to connect with the guys."
Since news of his passing surfaced, social media flooded with warm remarks about Panek.
Former Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery, who is now men's hockey director of Merrimack College, Tweeted, "Sad couple of days for (Cardinal men's hockey) with the passing of Hall of Famer Chris Panek. He was the greatest alum (and) supporter of the program. Made my time in Cardinal Country easier and more enjoyable. He was so positive and so much fun and made all of our memories so much better."
Countless Tweets and other various posts on social media platforms mirrored Emery's message and showcased how many lives Panek touched in the hockey world.
Various members of the Plattsburgh men's hockey program as well as family and friends plan to convene out west where Panek resided in Buffalo for services.
Plans are also in the works to honor Panek whenever the upcoming men's hockey season can begin.
"With COVID-19 and everything else, some guys can't cross the border, but we will have something (Thursday), and then next summer at our annual reunion, we will get together to celebrate Chris," Moffat said.
"Someone told me a day ago, 'Here is Chris, once again, finding a way to get us all together even during a pandemic.'
"He's smiling down on us."
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