The Ponoka Stampeders are feeling the loss of a teammate and friend after 19-year-old Damian Pannenbecker was killed in a fatal crash near Olds, Jan. 6.
Pannenbecker had been a member of the Stampeders for two years, played defense and was assistant captain.
Although he lived in Lacombe, teammates, coaches and anyone else who knew him also knew he was a much loved part of the community and an integral part of the team.
Eli Falls, goalie, knew Pannenbecker for the two years he played for the team. “I got to be really good friends with him over that time.”
“He’s one of the only guys I played with that was more competitive than I was,” Falls remembered with a small smile.
Teammates agree Pannenbecker was a good leader and friend when it came to the game. He took charge, played smart and pushed his teammates to be their best. “We were all better for it,” said Falls.
Falls will also remember his friend’s common presence and infectious smile. “He had a smile on his face every time he came to the rink. He was fun to be around. He was a good friend.”
Brad Zimmerman played on defense with Pannenbecker and witnessed every game his commitment to teamwork and playing hard. Zimmerman had also known him for two years.
“I loved playing with him. I could count on him to always be in the right position. He was a solid defenseman.”
Zimmerman thought back to the first time he met his friend and recalled his demeanor and crooked smile. “He was always a happy guy.”
The two boys met at a rookie party two years ago and Zimmerman recalled how lively and fun his teammate was. “He was photobombing the whole time. He had sunglasses on.”
Forward player Cody Lemon joined the Stampeders late in the season last year and says Pannenbecker was the first guy in the dressing room to come up and talk to him.
“You couldn’t help but like the guy. He was a great hockey player, a good leader. He was the guy to go to,” he added.
Pannenbecker also did work in the Dominican Republic building and painting houses. “The list goes on,” said Lemon. “He was just a great guy for the team and condolences go out to his family.”
Head coach Mark Dobler says Pannenbecker was great at keeping the team together and helping the team improve. “That’s what will help us get through this as a group.”
“He was what we’d call, in the sports world, the glue guy. He kept these guys together and he was completely dedicated to the Ponoka Stampeders . . . He’s one of those guys you’d want to go to war with, he’d always look after his teammates” he added.
Along with his ever-present smile, Dobler says Pannenbecker possessed an amazing sense of humour. “He was an awesome kid, I wish I had an opportunity to get to know him better.”
The crash, which killed three people and sent four more to hospital, happened at approximately 6 p.m. that evening when a minivan and an SUV collided head on and the cause of the accident is still under investigation.