St. Thomas announced Thursday the addition of assistant coaches Leon Hayward and Stu Bickel to Rico Blasi’s staff in preparation for the Tommies’ first season of Division I play.
The pair brings a variety of coaching and instructional experiences from youth and preps to junior as well as Division I assistant roles. They each enjoyed on-ice playing success over several seasons in junior, D-I and professional hockey.
“We’re excited to have both Leon and Stu as part of the staff and joining the Tommie hockey family,” Blasi said in a statement. “Both coaches bring a wealth of experience and a passion for the game. They also share a commitment to our culture and the process we’re putting together as we transition into Division I hockey.”
Blasi likes that both have strong Minnesota hockey connections
“I really like Leon’s overall Division I recruiting experience, especially his familiarity to recruiting the Minnesota player,” Blasi said. “With Stu, I’m excited to have a Minnesota native on staff and have someone who played Division I and pro hockey for Minnesota teams.”
Hayward is starting his 15th season in coaching. He also built a deep playing resume, in Division I at Northeastern University, plus six years in professional leagues. The Seattle native served as assistant coach the last four seasons at Colorado College, working with defensemen and penalty kills on the ice while also coordinating the Tigers’ recruiting operations.
Hayward received a master’s degree in Leadership from Northeastern in 2014.
He played in 132 games as a forward at Northeastern (1998-2002), scoring 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) and as a senior received the team’s Unsung Hero Award. He scored 85 goals and had 88 assists in six pro seasons, included four in the AHL. He led Trenton to an ECHL championship in 2005 and was named finals MVP as he finished with 11 points over 20 playoff games.
Bickel played in all 45 games and scored seven points in his lone season with Minnesota in 2007-08. The defenseman later had a 10-year pro playing career, including 85 total games over two seasons with the New York Rangers, and nine games logged in 2014-15 with the Minnesota Wild. He also played for AHL teams in Hartford, Iowa, San Antonio, Syracuse, Bakersfield and San Diego during his pro career.
The Chanhassen, Minn., native was a graduate assistant coach with the Gophers from 2018-20, and last season worked in junior hockey as the head coach and associate general manager with the NAHL’s Minnesota Magicians. In his first season as a head coach, the Magicians won the Midwest Division finals and advanced to the Robertson Cup semifinals for the first time in the franchise’s eight-year history.