(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Playing in the National Hockey League is an accomplishment that not many can say that they have achieved. Alex Hicks is one of the select few who has been able to lace up the skates in the NHL. Now, Hicks is in his first year as an assistant coach for the Arizona State Sun Devil hockey team.
This weekend’s games hold extra meaning to Hicks, who played college hockey at Wisconsin Eau-Claire. Everything will come full circle for him as he gets the opportunity to coach against them.
“It’s important for the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire to get this experience. For our program to play Division III, it’s good for us to assess where we are at and to make sure we are ready even though they are DIII and we are DI,” Hicks said.
A veteran of four NHL teams from 1995-2000, Hicks had 79 points in 258 career games. He also collected two assists in 15 career playoff games. His dreams of achieving pro status started early in his life.
“It was 1979, and I watched the Philadelphia Flyers play the Edmonton Oilers with my dad. I saw Bobby Clark and fell in love with the game and the way he played. I was eight years old,” he said.
The road to the NHL wasn’t easy for him coming from a Division III school, where he didn’t earn the recognition that those from Division I schools did. In fact, he is the only former Blugolds player to play in the NHL.
“I realized I could make the NHL probably halfway through college,” he said. “I always had the dream of doing it, I just took the path that was less traveled than most players, but I remember maybe midway through my junior year, realizing I was getting better and stronger and I wanted to challenge myself.”
While it may seem like he was naturally destined for coaching after finishing his fruitful career, it wasn’t a walk in the park for him to earn his first coaching job. In fact, Hicks did not even want to coach at a high level after his career finished, settling for just coaching his kids’ teams.
“Earlier in my life, I never thought I would coach. My dad was a coach and I just was not into the politics of it all. When I retired from playing, I had no desire to until I went and watched the first few practices and realized they needed my help, but once I got on the ice again with the kids I gained a huge passion for it.”
His coaching primarily took place at Oceanside Ice Arena, which led to him building a relationship with Sun Devils head coach Greg Powers. He was asked by Powers to help out occasionally, and that turned into something more full-time. When ASU moved to Division I, Powers retained him.
With Hicks beginning when ASU was still at the ACHA level, he has had a couple years to ease into his assistant coaching job. He is looked up to because he is someone who has achieved what many of the players hope to reach. The experience in not only the NHL, but college as well, has earned him an abundance of respect from the players.
“He’s done great,” Powers said. “[Hicks] has been invaluable in every way. His experience has been great with how he developed himself into an NHL player after playing Division III hockey. The players love him because he has been there and done that so that’s why I hired him.”
With the season coming to a close and his alma mater coming to town, Hicks has had time to reflect on his years at the school that prepared him to play in the NHL.
“The best part about playing at Eau-Claire was playing with my brother for four years,” he said. “He was a year and a half older than me and we were on the same line. I don’t see him as much as I would like now because he lives in Iowa but that experience really made us closer.”
Despite his connection to the opponent, he will still be treating these like any other games, as all other coaches would.
Hicks has not taken the opportunity to be a part of history for granted, as he has soaked up his time so far with the Sun Devils in the NCAA.
“This inaugural year has been real special. It’s not often that you get to be a part of something for the first time. We have had some growing pains and great ups and lows. I wouldn’t change how anything has gone. It has been a great learning process,” he said.
Hicks will only continue to develop as a coach and be a part of even more history as his time at ASU continues.