Boisterous laughter rang out into the hallway as Team Gold coach Zoe Hickel exited the locker room. Hickel, a two-time IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Team, paced the halls of Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio, with a smile etched on her face, embracing her role as a head coach at USA Hockey-BioSteel Girls 16/17 Player Development Camp.
Hickel attended USA Hockey Girls 14, 15, 16, and 17 Player Development Camps from 2006-2009, which played a crucial role on her journey to the U.S. Women’s National Team. Even though she’s now doling out coaching advice to the athletes, she can still easily recall her time at camp as a player.
“Coming back to these camps, it’s just like a time warp of the energy, the vibes and the competition,” said Hickel. “You’ll see a lot of girls that are familiar with each other, and some new bonds from players who play against each other who are now on each other’s team. It’s just fun to see and it brings back a lot of fun memories for me.”
Representing each of USA Hockey’s 12 districts, over 150 eager athletes flocked to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for the camp, which consisted of off-ice instruction, daily practice, and games. In addition to the priority of focusing on player development, the camp is also used to evaluate which players will advance to the remaining available spots for the USA Hockey-BioSteel Girls U18 Select Camp. The week-long process can weigh heavy on players at times, something Hickel can well relate to.
“I was so competitive that if I were to make mistakes I would get so hard on myself, and I think one of the biggest things you can do at this camp is have a short memory,” said Hickel. “It’s such an intensive week, to be able to drop the small mistakes and try to sort out what matters and what doesn’t, and to keep moving forward and not get caught up on any small mistakes that might happen. Learn from them quickly and move on and don’t let it change what happens.”
Hickel instills confidence in her Team Gold athletes and reminds them of the bigger picture every chance she gets. The memories and knowledge gained from this week will follow many players through their high school and college careers.
“I tell them just to remember why you’re here and enjoy your time, and make the most out of your short time this week that you have all those resources.”
Hickel’s excitement is palpable as she lauds the first-time opportunity many players have to be able to showcase their skills against others from around the country. An Anchorage, Alaska, native, Hickel hopes her athletes feel a sense of pride being able to represent their district, and a sense of fierce competitiveness on the ice. She reminds her team to not get discouraged, and to remember that no matter what, it’s the process over the outcome that matters the most.
“They get an idea of what’s out there,” Hickel said. “At the same time, I tell them to remember why you’re here, remember to not compare yourself to others.”
Although years have passed since Hickel donned a USA sweater for the first time at the 2006 USA Hockey Girls 14 Player Development Camp, she remembers the way her worldview shifted on its axis, and the attainability of her goals became a reality.
“These girls should be so proud to have that crest on their chest,” said Hickel. “Knowing that it’s their first time too, or the majority of that group is experiencing that for the very first time, it’s just such a special feeling and one you never forget.”
Hickel’s unwavering drive to be an all-encompassing coach, role model and mentor for the next generation of athletes was on full display all week at the camps, cruising around the ice and participating in drills, beckoning players to gather around as she illustrated intricate plays. She brought high energy and enthusiasm to every session throughout the week, feeding off the exhilaration and elation of her team and the players around her. Asked about the “why” factor that propels her, Hickel puts a special emphasis on the relationships garnered from her time on and off the ice.
“For me, it’s all about relationships.”
Hickel’s transition into coaching has left her inspired about the impact she can leave on the game and the next generation of players.
“Hockey has given me so much, and this time I’m in a unique position where I can give back,” said Hickel. “After playing, jumping right into college coaching, and now being in a position where I can help the grassroots and the younger levels coming up, it’s really fun to be in a position where I’m still at an age where I can be relatable to them, and I think that’s a unique position I find myself in now.”