Karen Rickard is stepping into her second season as the coach of Team Colorado's 14U program. Photo courtesy of Team Colorado
In the last five years, Karen Rickard has seen and experienced firsthand the growth of girls hockey in the state of Colorado.
Rickard’s latest venture in youth hockey has been with Team Colorado — a club with the goal of advancing players to collegiate hockey. Since helping get the program up and running as one of its inaugural coaches, Rickard has served for three years as the team’s 16U coach, and most recently, the team’s 14U coach. In the 14U team’s first season, Rickard led Team Colorado to the Tier I National Championships.
Taking over the 14U team was a return to Rickard’s roots; she had previously coached the 14U tournament team in her first year with Team Colorado. When Team Colorado established a Tier I 14U team to replace the tournament team, Rickard knew she’d be a perfect fit.
“I think it was because I’m really good with the younger kids,” Rickard said. “Not just in terms of being a coach but also to connect with kids starting at an early age. I build relationships with those kids and families and help bring them into the program.”
Team Colorado announced shortly after the 2020-21 season that Rickard would return for the upcoming year. It’s an extension of her long involvement in the sport of hockey that began as a kid growing up in Bowmanville, Ontario, where she quickly made a name for herself on the ice.
College programs, including the University of Wisconsin, quickly noticed. Rickard, a forward, played four seasons with the Badgers, finishing with 44 goals, including 15 her senior year. She even earned a second-team All-WCHA selection during her tenure in Madison.
Following her playing career, Rickard remained in the U.S. and earned her master’s degree at Ohio University in sports administration and facility management.
Eventually, Rickard made her way to the Centennial State, where she joined The Colorado Select as the Assistant Director of Hockey and served as the 19U Tier I coach.
After her time with the Colorado Select, Rickard made the move to Team Colorado in 2016 and helped get the program off the ground.
“When the concept of Team Colorado came up, we were trying to find opportunities for the top girls in the state at 13-14 years old to come together for a tournament team,” Rickard said.
She started with the 14U tournament team before moving on to coach at the 16U level. At the time, the 14U team only played tournaments throughout the season, while the 16U and 19U programs had a chance to compete at USA Hockey’s national championships. The newly founded 14U team now participates on the national level.
Rickard saw a lot of interest in Team Colorado’s 14U program in its inaugural season. More than 40 players looked to join the team, despite the pandemic complicating the sports world.
“It was not hard to have players come and play for us,” Rickard said.
Much like any hockey team operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team dealt with challenges. However, Rickard felt supported despite many changes to tournament and travel schedules.
“The season was challenging,” Rickard said. “We sidestepped our way through the season. Everything came together.
“We had really good parents and kids. A lot of things were out of our control. We managed the best we could.”
Heading into regionals, Team Colorado had a banner season in its first year as a Tier I team looking to head to nationals. The squad went into nationals with a 30-9-1 record and outscored its opponents 154-46.
“The girls kept up the competitiveness despite the challenges,” Rickard said.
At the end of April, Team Colorado’s 14U squad made its USA Hockey National Championships debut in the Tier I 14U girls’ division. The tournament took place in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
However, Team Colorado ended the tournament on a high note. Tied 2-2 with the New Jersey Colonials at the end of regulation, Team Colorado picked up a 4-3 win in a shootout in its last game in Pennsylvania.
“It was good for the kids to go and see that competition,” Rickard said. “It caught them off guard. It was good for them to be caught off guard in the sense that next year they won’t be so surprised.”
Rickard will look to build on last year’s strong showing when Team Colorado retakes the ice in 2021. She’s built a foundation, and it’s something the program is quite excited about.
“(Rickard) has just done a great job developing players over the years,” said Shaun Hathaway, the Executive Director of Team Colorado. “We’re certainly thrilled to keep her on staff.”
As players quickly transition to higher ranks, Rickard will be leading a new group next season. There’s certainly a lot of young talent to tap into, and the team is coming off a season in which it had its most players ever at tryouts.
“We’re always looking to upgrade our talent,” Rickard said. “The goal is always to develop these kids and have them better than they were at the start.”
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