Like any athlete, Brianna Decker knows there is a clock ticking on her playing career. When that clock will strike midnight is unknown, but Decker already has an eye on her future.
Almost a year after helping the U.S. Women’s National Team win gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Decker just completed her first stint as an assistant coach with USA Hockey. She was behind the bench for the Under-18 Women’s National Team that won silver at the Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Obihiro, Japan.
Decker fires a slap shot at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang
“Honestly, it’s something that I kind of want to pursue when I’m done playing,” said Decker, a two-time Olympian who also won silver with Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. “This was a great opportunity. ... Being that I was on the first two [USA Hockey] U18 teams myself, I thought it was a great way to give back but also to help these kids out through my own experiences.”
And from all accounts, Decker performed her duties as a coach much like she plays.
Players on the U18 team were excited to have someone of Decker’s caliber on the same ice. In addition to providing her Olympic insight, they said Decker brought “focus” and “energy” to the team.
“She was always prepared at practice,” said Katy Knoll, an alternate captain who had three goals and two assists in the five games. “The way she was able to demonstrate drills and talk to people when we were doing system stuff because she has the on-ice experience to kind of help us learn. ‘Go this way, instead of that way. It’ll work better in the long run. Trust me, I know.’ We can really trust her when she says things like that because she has that experience.”
Makenna Webster, the tournament’s second-leading scorer with three goals and three assists, noted Decker’s communication and passion.
“Just knowing how hard she works and seeing what she does makes me want to work harder,” Webster said.
Her apparent knack for coaching doesn’t mean Decker is on the verge of retiring from playing. She currently plays for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and will be on the ice when the U.S. faces Canada in the three-game Rivalry Series from Feb. 12-17. In fact, Decker said she is aiming to play on the 2022 Olympic team.
Still, she knows she needs to start writing the next chapter in her life.
“I was a little nervous, obviously,” Decker said. “I hadn’t coached too much before, just a little here and there, so I didn’t have much of a coaching background, but I knew my experience would help a little bit just playing in those tournaments.”
Head coach Maura Crowell, who also serves as head coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth women's ice hockey team, put Decker in charge of the offensive systems, while Josh Sciba, head coach of the women's team at Union College, handled the defense. Decker said the most challenging part of her coaching experience was bench management as penalties forced lineup adjustments.
“It was obviously different [coaching instead of playing], but at the same time, I just tried to teach the girls more than I tried to coach them,” said Decker, referring to the elite talent level and the brief time period the team was together. “I enjoyed coaching the game in the sense that it’s a totally different view from when you’re playing and I think I learned a lot from that as well.”
Of course, the lessons went both ways.
“The girls made it so much fun and I’m just so thankful and grateful for the opportunity I had,” Decker said. “As much as they hopefully learned from me, I learned a ton from them and the whole experience in general.”
Decker would love to continue coaching at the U18 level for USA Hockey or even in college.
“It was great to see the bright future for USA Hockey,” Decker said. “We have some unbelievable talent and unbelievable character in the girls. I thought it was awesome to be able to see that throughout the tournament and the whole process.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.