Anchorage’s own Zoe Hickel represented Team USA at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Cup. The IIHF Women’s World Cup showcases the best women’s hockey players in the world.
The U.S. were joined by the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Russian, Canada, Switzerland, and Sweden at the event, played this year in Kamloops, British Columbia. As of press time, Team USA was a perfect 3-0 and scheduled to play either Canada or Finland in the Gold Medal game on Monday, April 4.
Hickel is no stranger to USA Hockey – the governing body for organized amateur ice hockey – having been selected from 2006-2009 for the prestigious player development camp. Hickel went on to play four years of college hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Last season, Hickel joined the Boston Pride of the newly-formed National Women’s Hockey League, the first paid professional women’s hockey league.
The Northern Light spoke to Hickel on one of Team USA’s days off about being selected as an alternate, her love of Boston, and what she will remember about Duluth.
TNL: How disappointed were you about not being originally selected for the final U.S. Women’s National Team when it was finalized in late February?
Hickel: “I think the biggest thing is you just use it as motivation but at the same time I had to… train and play as if I was coming… [To] still be in the program and be on the squad for the next Olympics is the ultimate goal. It’s just one step at a time, just take what they can give you and try to learn… and keep applying that to the skills to work on over the slower periods between camps and between tournaments.
I’m pretty pumped to be here and to get a call the day before [training camp] was exciting and nerve-wracking. You just had to flip the switch because the odds of those things happening aren’t always likely.“
You were on the national team last year. What would you say is the biggest difference from a skill-standpoint between international women’s hockey and any other level you’ve played at?
“I don’t really know what to compare it to — because the NWHL and college — it’s the cream of the crop from all of those leagues and it’s put together here.”
Did you ever think that you would be paid to play hockey and become a professional hockey player?
“No, I mean the league developed really quickly… It’s the first paid professional league and so it was convenient for me graduating at that point in time because I had a place to play and you have to keep doing that, especially coming from Alaska. It’s hard for me to train and play at home over the years if I’m out of college.”
I bet your fellow Boston Pride teammates were excited about — well maybe a little disappointed about Stephanie’s appendicitis — but were excited to welcome you as a teammate again.
“It’s definitely bittersweet. I wish her the best too, she’s definitely a great player.”
Because Boston has so many hockey programs — from Boston College to the Bruins — what has it been like for this new women’s professional team to enter into that fray of hockey in Beantown?
“It’s been welcomed greatly. I think Boston is a phenomenal city and it was a lot of fun and we had a ton of support. We played at Harvard, [it] was our home rink and we always had a ton of fans that were there… It has a lot of potential to make it bigger and keep getting the word out. Obviously Beantown is a huge hockey town, so its awesome city to be in when it comes to hockey.”
What is the diet like of a professional hockey player?
“(Laughs) Well that’s a loaded question, it depends. We try to eat clean, but I have a lot of weird allergies. But a lot of protein, carbs are important for our performance; veggies, chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes, that consumes a lot of my diet.”
If you have a Saturday night out on the town, who are you with and what are you doing?
“Well, we actually play on Sundays, so there wasn’t much time — all of our games were on Sundays, so we didn’t get out much but whenever we had a chance to go to a Bruins’ game or get together with the team. After we won [the Isobel Cup] we were in Newark for that, and we went to New York City and that was a blast. We didn’t really go out much, but the team was a lot of fun when we got to get together and go out for that. Mostly just go out for some dinners and have a couple drinks, but nothing too crazy. Our girls like Hong Kong [Restaurant], that was a popular place to go on Sundays in Faneuil Hall.
Have you been to a Red Sox game?
“I have, it was actually a couple of years ago. My first game was actually against the Yankees, the first and only game I’ve ever been to it was awesome.”
You and Canada are really competitive, what is that rivalry like and how fun is it to face your friendly neighbors from the north?
“Well, it’s awesome to be in Canada, first of all, because everyone knows about [the Women’s World Cup] and the games are packed and its just an awesome atmosphere and even though they are cheering against us, there is still so much energy and it’s just a fun environment to be in and it’s the biggest rivalry throughout women’s hockey. It’s spread throughout the country and into the world, and it’s a lot of fun having so many people catch onto it growing up in the women’s game.”
What were your goals for the tournament, because you won last year?
“Being in Canada, too, as well, there is a lot of pressure in defending a title, but the goal for us is just get better everyday and work on the process and keep growing as a team. We only get to be together as a team a short part of the year and to make the most out of these opportunities as we’re together and continue to get better everyday and at the end of the tournament to be able to come out on top.”
How fun was it to be at the University of Minnesota Duluth and be a Bulldog?
“I love Duluth, it was a great four years. It went by too quick, for sure. It was a fast four years and I learned a lot when I was there and it definitely got me to where I am today and I’m thankful for that.”