RICHFIELD, Minn. — The pandemic has thrown much of the economy into shambles, and made it a daunting challenge for many of the 2020 college graduates to find jobs in their preferred field. But Stu Bickel is a case in point that if you have the right skills and experience to go along with your schooling, the right job will find you, quickly.
Barely a month after earning his degree from the University of Minnesota, the former Gophers men's hockey player and assistant coach on Tuesday was named head coach of the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League. The Magicians, who play their home games at Richfield Ice Arena, are scheduled to begin their eighth season in Minnesota this fall, after moving from New Mexico in 2013.
"There were a few really good (job) opportunities but part of what intrigued me about the Magicians opportunity was the chance to become a head coach and kind of run the ship, and help theses guys move on to college hockey and mature a little bit as well," said Bickel, who played 38 games in the NAHL in the 2005-06 season. "I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere where the rest of the organization felt we had an opportunity to be good right away. I think we have a good set of returning players and we're going to have a really competitive camp. Those were all things I looked into before even coming to the first interview."
Originally from Eden Prairie, Minn., Bickel, 33, played one season for the Gophers and played 76 games in the NHL with the New York Rangers and briefly with the Minnesota Wild, primarily in a glove-dropping role. He came back to his home state in 2018 to finish his degree in communications, and was a Gophers student assistant coach for Bob Motzko’s first two seasons at the program’s helm.
“He has great presence and you can tell he’s been around the game. I was impressed with his motivation, coming back to get his degree after only playing one year of college hockey,” Motzko said last month, predicting that Bickel’s search for a coaching job would not be lengthy. “He’s a tiger. He wants to get a start and doesn’t care where he has to go. You see people that want to get into coaching but aren’t willing to move somewhere or to take a step back to make a step forward. Stu is willing to take any step he needs to get into the business.”
Bickel drew raves for his work with the Gophers’ defense over the past two seasons. He had been in contact with at least two NCAA Division I college hockey programs about open assistant coach positions, but instead stayed closer to home for his first head coaching opportunity.
After a franchise-best 36-win season in 2018-19 where they finished second in the NAHL’s Midwest Division, the Magicians took a small step back last season, and were 21-23-9 when the season was halted in March due to the pandemic.
“We want to continue to grow as an organization and grow as an army, and that means adding more talented manpower,” said A.J. Bucchino, the Magicians’ president and general manager, who coached the team the previous two seasons. “Stu is a Minnesota native and a very credible name. He’s proven he can play at the highest level, he’s coached with the Gophers and has really gained a lot of experience there. We want to give him a platform to start his career as a head coach and see where it can take him. So we feel this will be a great fit.”
The NAHL is considered the top Tier II junior league in the country, behind the Tier I United States Hockey League. There are 27 NAHL teams spread all across the country between Maine and Alaska, with two in North Dakota (Minot and Bismarck) one in South Dakota (Aberdeen) and four in Minnesota (Austin, Cloquet, Richfield and St. Cloud). A 28th NAHL team, which will play the 2021-22 season in El Paso, Texas, was announced on Tuesday.