ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Amanda Pickett got back into coaching hockey last season after taking one season off.
Pickett, who played forward and defense for the St. Cloud State women's team from 1999-2003, enjoyed the experience as an assistant coach for the St. Cloud Icebreakers under head coach Tony Holcomb.
Holcomb resigned after one season with the Icebreakers, a co-op girls team that is made up of players from Technical, Apollo and Cathedral high schools. Last season was Holcomb's first time as a varsity head coach after many seasons as a boys and girls hockey assistant coach. Pickett decided to apply for the position and was officially named the team's head coach this week.
"I saw the opportunity to try to move on up and try something new, a new challenge," Pickett said. "With COVID and not being able to do much team building and team bonding last year, the kids pretty much got dressed at the rink, practiced and would leave. I worked well with Tony and we got along well.
"I was sad to see him go, but I'm happy to have the opportunity."
Before taking the 2019-20 season off, Pickett had coached the Sartell/Sauk Rapids 15-and-under girls youth hockey team and had been coaching Minnesota Special Hockey 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.
She was an assistant coach for the Sartell/Sauk Rapids girls high school hockey team before that. This will be the first time that she has coached a varsity girls hockey team as a head coach and is hoping to provide some stability to the program. Pickett will be the third head hockey coach for the Icebreakers in three years.
Before Holcomb, Mark Chamernick spent two seasons in his second stint as the team's head coach. Chamernick was the Icebreakers coach from 2005-15 and the team was 130-113-5 and won Central Lakes Conference titles in 2010 and 2014. He returned to the program in 2018 and St. Cloud went 26-26 in those two seasons. Chamernick resigned as head coach to become the activities director at Warroad High School.
Coaching the defense
Last season, Pickett was in charge of the team's defense and said she enjoyed her return to the game.
"I was working on building relationships and I would go to the back of the bus rides to hang with the players and get to know the girls and their playing styles and what they need to work on, what are their strengths and weaknesses," she said. "I had them fill out a questionnaire before the season about what their strengths and weaknesses as a player? What are the goals you want to set for the year?
"Midseason, Tony and I took the 'D' aside and we talked to all of them about areas they need to improve, areas they need to work on. Tony and (assistant coach) Ryan (Bidinger) also did that with the forwards. Then (assistant coach) Matt (Richmond) did that with the goalies.
"I had a blast," Pickett said of returning to coaching. "Yeah, there were highs and lows over the course of any season. The coaching philosophy of Tony is a little different than what I would do. Last year, we didn't do a lot of system work and all the girls skate together where we didn't break up the JV and varsity (players). One practice that I ran, we did that. We warmed up together and then broke them up to JV and varsity. They have different needs ... Our summer goal is to have fun, get back to basics with skating, stickhandling, shooting. We will probably start to implement some systems because I want them to know it when we have scrimmages this summer and then refresh everyone in the winter."
The Icebreakers were 7-11-0 and lost to Moorhead in the Section 8AA quarterfinals last season. The top seven scorers and junior goalie Kailee Falconer (7-11-0, 2.66 goals-against average, .907 save percentage) are among the 27 players Pickett expects to return. The top four returning scorers last season were junior Katherine Bell (15 goals, 9 assists, 24 points), sophomore Ava Schmidt (6-18-24), junior Cailey Davidson (7-8-15) and eight-grader Tori Anderson (4-8-12).
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Possible changes, an anniversary
Workouts for the team will begin June 7. Bidinger and Richmond are both returning to be assistant coaches. Bidinger, a former Sartell-St. Stephen High School forward, is a math teacher at South Junior High School. Richmond, a former Eagan High School (Minn.) goalie, is a physical education instructor at South.
Pickett said that she is working on adding at least one more assistant coach and possibly two.
"I kind of have an idea who it's going to be, but it's not official yet," she said of one assistant coach. "I actually want find one more to try to get some more females on staff. I've got to call St. Cloud State and see if we can find some girls who have just graduated and get them roped into coaching. It's a nice transition for those who have just finished playing."
Pickett finished playing hockey in 2005 after playing the inaugural season for the Minnesota Whitecaps, who eventually joined National Women's Hockey League in 2018. She played four seasons for the Huskies after playing for the Woodbury/Park High School team in the first Minnesota State High School League season for the sport in 1994-95.
Growing up, she also played 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 after a tryout for the USA national ringette team.
This season will mark the 25th anniversary for the Icebreakers program and Pickett said she would like to get alumni involved and said she would like to retire the number of a former Icebreaker.
She would not name the former player, but Anne Schleper played for the Icebreakers before she played defense for the University of Minnesota from 2008-12. Schleper was the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top college women's player in 2010.
From 2011-15, Schleper played for Team USA on the senior women's team in the IIHF World Championships (winning three gold medals and a silver) and she was a member of the 2014 US Olympic Team that took home a silver medal. Schleper retired from hockey in 2017.
Pickett and her husband, Kevin, have three children: Hannah, 15, Emma, 13, and Marcus, 5.