ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Amanda Pickett was growing up, there was no high school girls hockey in the state of Minnesota.
But Pickett ended up up playing for the Woodbury/Park High School team in the first Minnesota State High School League season for the sport in 1994-95. She went on to play for the fledgling St. Cloud State women's hockey team from 1999-2003 and in the inaugural season of the Minnesota Whitecaps in 2004-05. The Whitecaps are now in the National Women's Hockey League, but when they were founded, they played in the Western Women's Hockey League.
Since then, Pickett has been coaching hockey either at the high school or youth levels. She recently was named one of three assistant coaches for the St. Cloud Icebreakers, the co-op girls hockey team for Technical, Apollo and Cathedral high schools.
Pickett said she knew that the Icebreakers were looking for a new head coach after Mark Chamernick left to become the activities director at Warroad High School. She said that she was contacted by Adam Holm, who is the community education director for the St. Cloud school district, about applying to be an assistant coach.
"He just said that I'd been recommended by multiple people, would you please apply for this job," said Pickett, a former Sartell/Sauk Rapids girls hockey assistant coach. "I thought about it and then thought, 'Yeah, I think I will.' I want to go back into that role of being the good cop, building the relationship with the girls and build that family chemistry.
"As a head coach, it's hard to do those things ... And then Tony (Holcomb) called me asked me to interview. It kind of got brought right into my lap. It wasn't something I was looking at, but it's nice."
Special education teacher
Holcomb was hired as the Icebreakers' head coach in May. Holcomb and Pickett have both coached girls high school hockey before, but neither have done so in the last handful of years. Pickett most recently coached the Sartell/Sauk Rapids 15-and-under girls hockey team and for the Minnesota Special Hockey team in St. Cloud.
Minnesota Special Hockey is adapted ice hockey for players of all ages with developmental disabilities. Pickett's full-time job is working as a special education physical education teacher in the Sartell school district.
"That's a mix of both of my worlds, my profession and my passion for hockey," she said of Special Hockey. "I just had an incredible time with them. I plan on continuing to do that, even though I'll be coaching with the Icebreakers. It's on Sundays and I'm going to try to get more girls to help out."
Holcomb, who is from Owatonna, was recently hired to be a special education teacher at South Junior High School in St. Cloud. He coached a 12-and-under girls youth hockey team last season, so there are some similarities in their backgrounds.
"She's a special education teacher, understands this is about the girls and bringing her hockey background to the program is a nice fit," Holcomb said. "I'm not sure if she's going to be head JV (coach) or assistant varsity or how it's all going to fit yet. But all of (the assistant coach hires) are really nice additions."
The other two assistant coaches that Holcomb has selected are Matt Richmond and Ryan Bidinger. Richmond, a former Eagan High School (Minn.) goalie, is a physical education instructor at South and spent last season as an assistant coach for the St. Cloud boys bantam 'AA' travel team.
"To get a goalie coach is incredible," Holcomb said. "He brings a lot of energy and to get a goalie coach on staff is just huge."
Bidinger, a former Sartell-St. Stephen High School forward, is a math teacher at South. He spent last season as an assistant coach for the Sartell boys bantam 'A' travel team.
"He wanted to get involved in St. Cloud hockey and he came highly regarded," Holcomb said. "All four of us are teachers and I think all of us are pretty excited about that. It just doesn't happen as much as it used to."
Getting more girls to play
Pickett, whose maiden name is Mathison, is excited to join the staff.
"I'm really looking forward to this," she said. "I told Tony that I know this is a good program and I know that from coaching youth hockey. One of our goals is how do we, as high school coaches, help that youth program. It's really important to grow that camaraderie, that we're all on the same page and get them to realize we're all one big family."
St. Cloud has one Under-12 and two Under-10 travel girls hockey teams that are the feeder programs for the Icebreakers.
"Coaching the high school program is first (priority), but second is getting the recruitment and retention at the youth level," Holcomb said. "There's more opportunities for girls to play hockey and it's not happening for whatever reason. (Pickett) experienced it and she knows the benefits. We've been involved a long time and we just know that a lot of good things can happen if you get involved in it."
Pickett, who grew up in Newport, Minn., playing ringette, a game played with hockey equipment, a stick with no blade at the end and a blue ring. Then she started playing hockey and had to make a choice between the two sports.
"I grew up playing ringette and that's probably why I was such a great skater," she said. "I played ringette and high school hockey at the same time in 1994. I remember trying out for the USA ringette team and they told me, 'You need to make a decision between hockey and ringette.' I said, 'See you around.'"
She went on to play forward and defense for the Huskies and had 14 goals and 26 points in 128 career college games.
Pickett and her husband, Kevin, have three children: Hannah, 14, Emma, 12, and Marcus, 4.