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College spotlight: UMD's Hickel looks to follow in mother's footsteps

Hockey has taken Minnesota Duluth senior Zoe Hickel on plenty of road trips over the years, specifically with the Bulldogs across the WCHA. Hickel's favorite though is the 3,000-plus miles she traveled with her mother, Cristy, from their home in ...

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UMD’s Zoe Hickel passes the puck during Sunday’s game against St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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Hockey has taken Minnesota Duluth senior Zoe Hickel on plenty of road trips over the years, specifically with the Bulldogs across the WCHA. Hickel’s favorite though is the 3,000-plus miles she traveled with her mother, Cristy, from their home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Duluth the summer before her Bulldogs career began.
There were bears, moose, buffalo, bison and some interesting pit stops along the way to keep in shape.
“It was five days on the road. We stopped once to go to a hotel. Other than that we pulled off on the side of the road,” Hickel said. “I was trying to do training during the same time. She’d drop me off and go down the road a little bit and I’d run to her. We’d do some different stuff we could do without weights, just a lot of body weight stuff. We’d pull off on the side of some random parking lot and we’d get some strange looks off the highway. You got to do what you got to do.”
Strange looks from outsiders are nothing new for the Hickel family, who Zoe said is often misunderstood back home in Anchorage, specifically her mother. Cristy is a former University of Alaska-Anchorage skier and now a youth sports coach and organizer in Anchorage. According to Hickel, her mother gets a bad rap as a pushy sports mom who made her daughters do things they
didn’t want to do.
The truth is it was the other way around, with Zoe and her younger sister Tori pushing their mother. It was the daughter, not the mother, stopping the car for runs along the Trans-Canada Highway in July 2011.
“People kind of look at us like, ‘Oh that crazy mom,’ but they just don’t know that it’s actually coming from us. I felt bad when people would say, ‘Her mom always made her do stuff,’” Hickel said. “She would make us wake her up in the morning if we wanted to go to the gym or go to 6 a.m. practice.”
Hickel credits the support of her mother for getting her not only to UMD, but also to her first USA Hockey women’s senior national training camp in Blaine, Minn., over the holiday break. Hickel was one of 40 players at the camp which included 16 members of the 2014 Olympic team that finished with silver in Sochi, Russia. Hickel finished as the camp’s leading scorer with three regulation goals and a shootout tally. She had a short-handed goal and the game-winning goal in Game 3.
According to Bulldogs coach Shannon Miller, the invite was long overdue, and that was a good thing for Hickel. In the UMD
captain’s own words, she “was able to jump in and thrive in that environment and not just survive.”
“I would have liked to see her invited earlier, but at the same time, sometimes if you get invited early, you get put into a little box and they might say, ‘Your hands aren’t that good; you don’t score that much; you’re more of a checker,’” Miller said. “Had she gone two years ago, she might have ended up in a box and be seen as a fourth-line player and a checker. Now when she goes, she’s emerged, she’s arrived. She’s extremely good offensively and defensively. She is no longer going to be in a box she may have been in or some kids might be. It’s like, ‘Wow, where did Zoe Hickel come from?’
“Maybe that’s a good thing they didn’t see her until she arrived because she is a great player.”
Whether Hickel continues her playing career with Team USA or elsewhere after college, she plans to eventually follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a coach. It’s why Hickel chose UMD and why coaching is her minor.
“No matter what I do after college, I will coach at whatever level it is. I don’t know if it’s going to be right into college coaching, but I definitely would even love to develop a youth program and develop kids at the youth level to learn that and how to develop teams. I think that’s really important for college players like myself who are interested in coaching, especially female coaches who jump right into coaching. They have connections and are able to get right into it. A lot of times those coaches don’t spend time developing players and it’s a really hard transition.”
Hickel already helps coach her mother’s youth sports teams - and not just hockey - and plans to jump on with a local team once UMD’s season comes to an end. She’s also aiming to coach a select tournament team in Florida this spring. Those around Hickel at UMD say she’ll be a great coach.
“She is a great leader on and off the ice. She’s very smart. On the ice, she is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” said Hickel’s teammate Jenna McParland, a senior and fellow captain.
“I think she sees the game more as a coach than a player. She knows when she is doing something wrong. She knows how to fix it. The way she plays the game is just how a coach would want a player to play the game.”
Zoe Hickel File
Status: Minnesota Duluth senior
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Major: Communications
Minor: Coaching
Family: Cristy, mother; Vern, father; Tori, younger sister.
Post-graduation plans: Play hockey and get involved in coaching
Five Favorites
Professional hockey player: Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings
College course: Applied exercise science
Movie: “Invincible”
Food: Sushi or Alaskan salmon
Restaurant: Double Musky in Girdwood, Alaska
Getting to know Zoe
Why I chose UMD: The tradition of excellence, the amazing coaching staff and I wanted to win a national championship
Most memorable hockey moment: Playing pond hockey on the lake on New Years
Activity you’d most like to try outside of hockey: Crashed ice
First job: Mom’s youth soccer and ski programs
Advice to aspiring young athletes: “Keep the love for the game. Don’t ever lose the passion for it. Always find a way to love what you’re doing. Make sure you feel like you’re enjoying the game because as soon as you lose that, it’s hard to keep doing your best.”

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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