The Pine City Area Dragon Hockey program will be searching for a new head hockey coach before the 2020-21 season as Grant Nicoll has officially resigned from the position.
Grant Nicoll leaves after seven seasons where he racked up over 100 career wins including five-straight Two Rivers Conference Championships. Nicoll came into the program that had a rich history of hockey success, but found itself with several losing seasons in a row. It didn't take long before the team had a winning record and a conference championship banner hanging from the rafters of the Pine City Civic Center.
In an interview with WCMP, Grant said about the resignation, "It wasn't even a thought at the final game last year. That was a heart breaker and it took a while to get over that. As the summer moved on I transitioned into a new career hoping that it would work out. And as the summer played out it became obvious that it wasn't going to feasible."
Nicoll said he did not take the decision lightly: "It wasn't wash your hands and walk away and its still not. I told the new AD I'm willing to help in any way I can when they hire a new coach."
Nicoll's success on the ice came from the relationships he built with the players and his ability to get the most from each kid on the ice. Former Dragon goalie Alex Laven told WCMP, "Grant took me in as a sophomore and pushed my buttons to push me as hard as I could go. He always had a smile on his face (most of the time) He always made fun of our winning song we played in the locker room." Nicoll had plenty of opportunities to take jabs at the team's winning songs. Laven is the team's all-time winningest goalie racking up 20+ wins in each of his three seasons as the Dragon's netminder.
Dragon assistant coach Nick Miller told WCMP: "Grant has worked very hard to further the Dragon Hockey High School Program. He has succeeded in creating a competitive team every year now. The attendance in the arena can prove that hockey is booming in Pine City. Coach Nicoll deserves credit for raising the bar on how the players conduct themselves on and off the ice. Thank you Grant for your hard work and the memories these last three years."
Pine City's all-time leading scorer Jonah Bergstrom said, "He completely turned the program around and changed they way everyone thought about Pine City hockey from winning 4 games and losing in the playoffs in to having multiple 20 plus win season and leading them to a section final game. Me and all the guys love him as a coach and even more as a guy. He made every guy on the team no matter where they were in the line up to feel apart of everything we did. He will be greatly missed!"
In Nicoll's final season (for now) as head coach the Dragons went to a section championship game for the first time in 18 years and came up just short of the State Tournament. Nicoll said, "Obviously the state tournament berth has never happened in Pine City and that's a big one... that's a big bummer. I wanted to see that happen. The boys who came through the program they deserved it. The past ones, the present ones, the future ones: they all deserved to watch that and see that happen and it just never did." The team finished 21-7 overall and hosted two playoff games in his final year.
Wrapping up the interview Grant Nicoll said thank you to the community that supported him and his team. Anyone who has set foot in the Pine City Civic Center in the last year knows for a fact that Nicoll left his impact on the Pine City hockey program and set it up for years of success in the future.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons Photography