AK: Alaska ice hockey player Zoe Hickel turns pro

Zoe Hickel, Boston Pride. Courtesy Zoe Hickel.
Zoe Hickel, Boston Pride. Courtesy Zoe Hickel.

Earlier this year it was announced that National Women’s Hockey League would begin its first season this fall. The move is huge for women hockey players, who until now had little to no options to pursue their careers past the college level.

One of the women who will be playing in the NWHL’s inaugural season is a born-and-raised Alaskan.

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Full disclosure: I know almost nothing about hockey, and even less about women’s hockey. During this story, some dumb questions will be asked.

Zoe Hickel is running on a treadmill.

“Have you ever been interviewed while running before?” I ask.

“I can’t say that I have,” she laughs.

In case you’re wondering she is indeed related to Alaska’s ex-governor Wally Hickel. But Zoe had a different calling in life, and it’s one that keeps her in the gym a lot.

“I did Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And Wednesday is a day off. Or you can choose to do conditioning that day.”

Photo courtesy Zoe Hickel, left.
Photo courtesy Zoe Hickel, left.

When Hickel was growing up she was an avid skier and hockey player. But then high school came, and she was forced to choose between the two. She chose hockey.

“I think the biggest thing is the team sport; the team aspect. And, yes, ski teams have their team as well but it’s so individual focused. As much fun as it is, there’s just something about being with your best friends on the ice and battling out, and having a blast. I think that was the biggest thing, the team atmosphere.”

The choice wasn’t an easy one. After all, there wasn’t a girl’s hockey team at Anchorage’s East High School, so she played on the boy’s team. Hickel says she wouldn’t change any of it.

“I’m sure there were some guys that didn’t like me, or like playing against me but for the most part it was a great town with good support. My coaches supported me and my teammates supported me, and as long as that was happening I felt safe there,” she says.

After High School Hickel went on to play the collegiate circuit for the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a forward. But as she was finishing up college, she realized her time playing hockey professionally was likely coming to an end.

“Right now you can’t make a living playing hockey after college. So for a lot of females after their college career, there are so many athletes that just don’t do anything after college. It’s like ‘well if I’m not going to the Olympics I guess I’m done.’ You’re career is just done.”

And then, earlier this year… news broke about a new women’s professional hockey league.

The National Women's Hockey League debuts with four teams.
The National Women’s Hockey League debuts with four teams.

“Big news broke for women hockey today. Women hockey players will have a new chance to get paid for their puck skills. The National Women’s Hockey League will begin later this year. The league contains four teams; the Buffalo Beauts, The Boston Pride, New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale.”

Shortly after the announcement Hickel was contacted by the Boston Pride, and it didn’t take long for her to agree to terms with the team this season. She says she’s thrilled to be making history, and hopes the NWHL can change the stereotype that girls shouldn’t be playing hockey.

“Hopefully this league will inspire young ladies and we can get them to our games and get the word out that women can play hockey. This is something that little girls can look up to and hopefully grow our sport.”

All right, dumb question alert. I can’t help but ask about the only thing I know about hockey; will there be fighting?

“Girls are sneaky,” Hickel laughs. Everyone thinks there’s no body contact in women’s hockey. There’s plenty of contact, especially at the higher levels. The higher level you get, the more the refs are going to let you play and that’s the way we like it. Not that I know if someone is going to want to come to a women’s game to see a fight break out. Go watch roller derby you know?”

All joking aside, Hickel says she couldn’t be more excited to keep doing what she’s wanted to do since she was eight years old.

“I can’t wait to be an inspiration to the future generations coming through and I’m honored to be a part of the inaugural season.”

Last bad question, I promise.

“So no chance of you becoming a politician any time soon like your Great Uncle?” I ask. I’m sorry. I had to.

“I don’t know if that’s my route,” she chuckles. “Maybe after my hockey career I’ll look into that.”

Hickel begins her first practice for the Boston Pride this Tuesday.

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David Waldron began his radio career in 2000 as a volunteer DJ at UAA’s radio station KRUA 88.1, where he hosted a weekend music show. In 2004 he was hired as the station’s Music Director, and held the position until his graduation in 2007. After a few radio odd jobs, he was hired by Alaska Public Media in 2008 as an operator and audio engineer. He currently engineers the statewide programs Alaska News Nightly and Talk of Alaska for APRN, as well as KSKA's Hometown Alaska and Line One: Your Health Connection. He also hosts and produces AK, a weekly news program that airs at the end of Alaska News Nightly on Fridays. dwaldron (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8425 | About Dave