Mankato West boys hockey coach Curtis Doell always wanted to take the next step in his coaching career.
After 20 seasons behind the Scarlets’ bench, the last 12 coming as head coach, Doell is taking a position as an assistant coach with the New Ulm Steel of the North American 3 Hockey League.
“When I accepted the new job, I looked at my wife and said, ‘My closet is going to get a lot of different colors.’ If you look at my closet, it’s all red and black. I don’t have much other than West shirts in my closet,” Doell said.
Growing up in Saskatchewan, Doell has been immersed in hockey since he was born. He played at Minnesota Duluth from 1996-98 and was picked to the WCHA all-rookie team in 1997.
In 1998, Doell, a defenseman, signed a professional contract with the Florida Panthers and played two years in the American Hockey League before concussions forced him to retire.
While at Duluth, Doell met his wife Angi, who is from Mankato. The two ended up in Mankato soon after Doell finished playing in 2000, and Doell started as an assistant with the Scarlets about two months later.
“I wanted to coach because I didn’t want to quit hockey all together,” Doell said. “I wasn’t even looking to get paid, I was just looking to get my feet wet.”
Doell’s tenure as West's head coach has been filled with success, including five trips to the section final and a 2016 berth in the state tournament.
The hockey has been fun and the games have been memorable, but Doell is going to miss the relationships. He’s still in contact with many of the players he’s coached through the years and enjoys seeing their lives take shape.
“That’s going to be the hardest part, not having those connections,” Doell said. “I get to see the kids grow up. I get to go to their weddings, I get to see their kids ... they become friends.”
Added West activities director Joe Johnson: “Not only does he love the game of hockey, but he’s able to connect with young people. ... Other than just the X’s and O’s of hockey, it’s about teaching life lessons ... he excels in that area.”
Johnson said the boys hockey head coaching position has been posted and will remain up until mid-May. At that point, he will start going through applications.
Steel head coach Zach Stepan, a former MSU hockey player from 2013-17, has had Doell in his sights ever since he took over in 2019.
Stepan got to know Doell while he was at MSU, and the two instantly connected and became friends. When Stepan learned he was going to get to hire this position, it seemed like the perfect fit.
As a former forward, Stepan is excited to get a defenseman’s perspective on his staff and knows Doell’s connections in the high-school hockey world will be invaluable.
“There’s a million things I still don’t know as a coach, and I know Curtis is going to be able to help me learn those things,” Stepan said.
Doell is going to miss West, but he’s excited to get more into scouting and recruiting, which he’ll get an opportunity to do at the juniors level.
He knows the juniors season can be a grind, but with his two kids now being older, it seemed like the right time to make the move.
“I don’t know too many people who get paid full-time to do something they love and have loved since basically I could crawl,” Doell said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.