The timing was perfect for former University of Minnesota Duluth standout Zoe Hickel.
After setting career highs during her senior season in 2014-15, she debuted with the U.S. Women’s National Team at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships in March.
The Anchorage, Alaska, native followed that up by signing on to play for the Boston Pride during the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League, which began play this fall.
“The transfer from college and figuring out what the next step for me in hockey, being from so far away, impacted the decisions I had to make,” Hickel said. “Just being here with these girls and being surrounded by some of the best players in the world has made a huge difference.
“I’m really happy to be here in Boston and to have this opportunity, for sure.”
It’s been quite the adjustment, transferring from college hockey to playing with the national team and now joining the new NWHL. In Boston, Hickel has been able to learn from a decorated group of NWHL teammates, which includes U.S. Olympians Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and Brianna Decker.
“We’re surrounded by Olympians, and these girls have done the kinds of things that all of us want to do,” Hickel said. “It has been amazing. To have these girls as role models, they help lead our team and set the standard of what we want to accomplish.”
Hickel, 23, credits her time at UMD for preparing her to play at the next level. She finished her college career with 93 points in 135 games, and she was one of the top-15 goal scorers in the nation during her senior season with a career-best 19 goals.
“I learned a ton through my four years, and I think I was a different player by my senior year,” Hickel said. “Just having confidence and a successful senior season, playing in a tough league where every week is a battle helps elevate your game.
“I think that helped me prepare for the next step.”
The next step was an invitation to the national team development camp in December. It was Hickel’s second time representing the U.S. after helping the Americans capture silver during the IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in 2010.
“I was so excited and happy to have an opportunity to be there,” Hickel said. “I felt like I was having a good year and I wanted to work hard and show that I could play with those girls and be successful.
“I think having a successful camp, just jumping into the mix and competing, played a big role in making the team. I was eager, and once I got there it was rewarding to be successful in that environment.”
Then, she got the call that she had made the national team. Hickel appeared in four games and scored a goal for the U.S., which captured its sixth world championship in the last eight tournaments.
“It was an honor to be there and a big reason why I decided to move out East and continue pursuing this,” Hickel said. “The first time was unbelievable, and it was a really cool experience to be part of winning the gold medal after an Olympic year.
“It was really rewarding and an amazing opportunity.”
Hickel continues to grow alongside her Olympic teammates as she successfully transitioned from college to her national team experience and now the NWHL in Boston.
“The thing I learned the most probably comes from the girls because they’re so driven,” Hickel said. “I’ve learned a ton from the girls, what’s expected and how much they love the game.
“It just sets the standard, and to be surrounded by a core group of those girls every day, to be in that kind of environment has helped me immensely.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.