National Championships: Empowering The Next Generation

Brianna Decker kickstarts retirement with national title in coaching role

“I see myself in a lot of them,” Decker said at the time. “Just interacting with these kids and seeing what they pick up on, these kids want to learn. I want to make an impact like coaches did on me throughout my career. I am super passionate about it, but my passion comes from how passionate they are about getting to that next level.”

With Decker behind the bench, 20 girls from Shattuck-St. Mary’s can also say they too are national champs after Shattuck-St. Mary’s defeated the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers 4-1 to win the Tier 1 19U National Championship. 

Decker had been dabbling in the coaching realm for quite some time prior to Shattuck. She already served as an assistant coach for three U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Teams, including most recently this past January, when the team took home bronze. She is also a team and player development advisor for the Premier Hockey Federation and has worked plenty of camps and clinics through the years.

Coaching was always going to be in her future, but her broken left fibula and several torn ligaments in her ankle at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing ultimately sped up the process. Decker thought long and hard about returning to the ice following her strenuous recovery, but she also knew her heart was pulling her in another direction. 

“It is tough to actually make that call and say you are retiring from something I have done my entire life, but I have been jumping into the coaching role a little bit and I have found a huge passion for it,” she said. “I am a one-point focused person. What I mean by that is when I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, like when I was playing, that was my main focus, and I was doing everything I could to get better every single day. I have realized that is how I feel about coaching now. 

“At the end of the day, if I am still passionate about something like when I was playing, I need to run with it. That kind of helped me segue a little bit. However, it doesn’t take away from me missing the team, missing competing. Ending my career with a tough injury the last Olympics had a little bit to do with it. I would have loved to maybe have recovered a little better, but at the end of the day this is where my heart stands, and my heart feels like I am ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.”

For the last 28 years, Decker has been a hockey player—an extremely fierce, passionate and determined one at that. Her path to international stardom began when she was 3 years old playing with her three brothers (Bryan, Ben and Brody) in Dousman, Wisconsin. The little girl stickhandling in the driveway of that small town west of Milwaukee would eventually blossom into one of the greatest women’s hockey players of all time as she traveled the world representing the red, white and blue for 12 years. 

However, it is the people she met along the way who Decker truly relishes.

“It wasn’t necessarily about winning that gold medal,” Decker said. “That was awesome, but it was the people we did it with. Some of my friends on that team are some of my best friends still today. Some of them I went to high school with, and you go through so much with a lot of those players. That’s why winning together is so special.

“The best part about hockey is it’s a team sport and you can’t win without a team. I was spoiled playing on a lot of great teams with a lot of great coaches.”

 

At Shattuck, Decker now gets to once again learn from Gordie Stafford, girls prep head coach and director of girls hockey at Shattuck.

“Gordie Stafford impacted my career like no other coach I’ve had,” Decker said as tears came to her eyes. “I don’t want to be emotional, but being back coaching with him is incredible. I can say I changed this or that at Shattuck when I had him because of how great of a coach he was, but he made an impact on me as a person more than anything. He gave you confidence and humility in the same breath and I just couldn’t thank him more for everything he has done and continues to do.”

Stafford commended Decker for staying humble in the pursuit of excellence throughout her career and is proud to have her join him on the bench.  

“The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of you is your humility, but also your commitment to consistent competitive excellence and your intuitive understanding of the standard necessary to achieve excellence,” Stafford said in a congratulatory video to Decker. 

“That is going to be missed a lot, but I also look forward to the next part of your career here at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.”

Now Decker is helping the next generation have an opportunity to pursue a dream that she was so fortunate to live. 

“I want to put my kids in the best position to know what they’re doing out there in the biggest moment of their lives at that point,” Decker concluded. “Nerves do sink in a little bit, but at the same point, having the playing experience that I’ve had, I know how to manage those nerves. I want to try to help the kids out as much as possible with managing those nerves as well.”

Issue: 
2023-04

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