DU Alumni

Former Pioneer Angelo Ricci helping to shape hockey’s future

"“The biggest thing we try to instill is those core values when they’re young, so that when they get to college, juniors, or even pro, they have a foundation,” Angelo Ricci says of his young hockey players. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

“The biggest thing we try to instill is those core values when they’re young, so that when they get to college, juniors, or even pro, they have a foundation,” Angelo Ricci says of his young hockey players. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

“We always talk about all the different things that go into it, but the greatest thing is that it’s hockey, no matter what level,” says Angelo Ricci (BSBA ’95), founder of Ricci Hockey Consulting. “It’s getting on the pond, playing with the puck and having some fun with your buddies.”

The former University of Denver hockey player created Ricci Hockey in 1996. It has grown to become one of the most prestigious skill-development businesses in the industry, working with such notable players as Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild and former Pioneers and pro hockey players Nick and Drew Shore. The Denver-based company even does team consultations with NHL clubs including the Buffalo Sabres.

“I think if you can leave an impression on guys like that, at the elite level, with just a couple of differences to help their game, then that’s the difference between them scoring 15 goals or 30 goals,” Ricci says. “That’s their livelihood, so that’s a really big deal. It’s really cool to play a role in that.”

Ricci works with players of every caliber, from children learning the fundamentals of the game to elite NHL-level talent. While winning and improvement on the ice are obvious focuses for Ricci and his team of coaches, the development of the players off the ice is perhaps the bigger goal.

Understanding that not all those he coaches will go on to play hockey at the next level, Ricci wishes to prepare his players for life. The hockey training itself may be more intense, but players are also taught how to maintain proper nutrition and health, how to be responsible with social media, how to deal with adversity, and other skills to help them act professionally both on and off the ice.

“How you balance your social skills, going out with your friends, your family aspect, your academics and your athletics is huge,” Ricci says. “The biggest thing we try to instill is those core values when they’re young, so that when they get to college, juniors, or even pro, they have a foundation.”

Ricci attributes a large part of his success to the University of Denver for helping prepare him for the challenges he has faced. He transferred from Wisconsin in search of a smaller school, smaller classrooms and a more personal relationship with his professors.

“I really feel like I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for DU, because of the foundation they laid in terms of creating a business plan, making contacts and using those to help yourself get along in business,” says Ricci, who graduated in 1995 with a degree in marketing. “What it’s done for me is open a lot of doors. I know people in every field, which is fortunate, because if I need something, we have people in different avenues, who I met all because of the University of Denver.”

Ricci joined the University of Denver for the 1991–92 season as a transfer from Wisconsin, becoming an offensive star in his four years with the team due to his exemplary stick handling abilities. He accumulated more than 160 points during his time with Denver, including 97 career assists — 12th all-time in the program’s history.

After graduating, Ricci went on to enjoy moderate success in professional ice hockey with the Toledo Storm, the Louisville Riverfrogs and the Amarillo Rattlers, as well as a brief stint in Italy. He also played professional roller hockey from 1995–96 with the Chicago Cheetahs and the Denver Daredevils.

It was with the Daredevils that Ricci experienced one of the most formative moments in his life. On a fateful night in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ricci suffered a wrist injury that would end his playing career.

“I’ve been hit like that a thousand times throughout my career, but it just snapped it,” Ricci says. “It was one of those weird things. I tried to come back, but I wasn’t the same player. My confidence was gone; I was weak. At that level, if you don’t have the confidence, you’re done.”

Facing a potentially futile rehabilitation process, Ricci needed to make a decision. In the end, it was Ricci’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, Melanie, who helped him make it.

“She told me, ‘Angelo, you’ve got to make up your mind. You’re feeling sorry for yourself. What do you want to do? Do you really love the game?’”

After a few days of introspection, Ricci knew it was time to start the next chapter of his life, although his passion for hockey would remain the driving force in his success. Ricci began to develop his stickhandling clinic, and he eventually became director of hockey operations for the Colorado Thunderbirds. One of the country’s preeminent AAA hockey programs, the Thunderbirds develops players from the pee-wee (11–12 years old), bantam (13–14) and midget (15–18) levels. The Thunderbirds U16 team won the national championship in 2010 and lost last year’s championship in four overtimes.

“Ricci is extremely demanding, a perfectionist,” says defenseman Eric Killam, who played for the Thunderbirds from 2009–12 and was a member of the 2010 national championship team. “He has a great hockey mind. His competitiveness, passion, and swagger rub off onto his players.”

The continued success of the Thunderbirds has made it one of the most sought-after programs in the nation. Players from all over the country and abroad come to Colorado to develop and to play against elite talent at different age groups. Ricci and his team have helped to fill the talent gap in the West, as upper-echelon players who would have had to travel to the East Coast for development can now play in Colorado.

Ricci isn’t completely sure what the future holds for him, but down the road, he says, he may want to open a two-sheet facility with a training center, or even coach a juniors team. For now, he is content to be developing hockey’s future stars.

“The biggest thing is that I feel I did all I can do,” Ricci says. “Have I done everything the right way? Absolutely not. I’ve made mistakes along the way. I’ve had to apologize. You go through the process, and you learn from your mistakes, and you try and get better. Nothing will ever be perfect, but as long you know you gave it your all, you’re passionate about it and you love it, then that’s all you can do.”


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