Get to know your Bisons: Brenna Nicol

Forward, women’s hockey

Bisons women’s hockey forward Brenna Nicol knows growing up in the small town of Nipigon, Ont. contributed to her love of the game.

“I think my dad had a pair of skates on me as soon as I could stand up,” Nicol said. “Every year he and a buddy down the street would make a backyard rink and I would be out there every night.”

With few sports being offered in the small town, Nicol fell in love with hockey. However, like many small-town kids pursuing their dreams on the rink, it would literally be a long road for Nicol to pursue her passion.

“There [weren’t] really any options for competitive hockey in Nipigon,” Nicol explained. “I was playing boys every year and then there was a team in Thunder Bay — which is an hour away from Nipigon.”

Nicol said her dad and grandfather took turns driving her back and forth to play in Thunder Bay, an hour each way, “probably five days a week.”

“Then once I got to high school, it was just kind of like, ‘okay, we got to go on the path to billeting,’” Nicol said.

A common practice for young hockey players moving away from home to play on competitive hockey teams located in bigger cities, billeting places young hockey hopefuls into homes of families living in those cities.

“My billets were honestly just amazing to me,” Nicol said.

“I really am grateful for everything that they did for me those four years, and I owe them a lot to get me to where I am today.”

In Grade 11, Nicol was invited to a Bisons women’s hockey spring camp, not knowing she “was on the coaching staff’s radar at all.” In addition to the University of Manitoba being the closest U Sports school to Nipigon with a hockey program, Nicol credits fellow Bisons forward Molly Kunnas for helping her along the way to a career with the Bisons.

“I got to hear her experience with her recruiting process and hear what she thought about the team,” Nicol explained.

“I’ve been really good friends with Molly pretty much our whole lives. I started playing with her when I was around 10 years old […] so that was a huge part in me coming here.”

Nicol also noted that after her U of M visit, she could see that the school offered her what she wanted academically and hockey-wise.

In her third year of eligibility with the team this season, Nicol’s 2022-23 season was commendably impressive. The forward scored her first U Sports goal against the MacEwan University Griffins last November in a game where she also recorded an assist.

In fact, Nicol had six assists last year, including a four-game streak of assists last November against the Griffins and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. She averaged over one shot per game played last season with the herd, and in the regular season opening series game she played in this September against the Huskies, Nicol recorded two shots.

While Nicol’s budding record on the ice is commendable enough, in the off-season, she fights wildfires. Stationed in Geraldton, Ont., approximately two hours away from Nipigon, Nicol had “always known about the fire base.”

“And then when COVID hit, I was 18 and I just decided to go take a weeklong course of wildland firefighting,” Nicol explained. “I landed a job and never looked back.”

Having spent three years as a firefighter, Nicol became a crew boss for the first time this summer, explaining her position as “a supervisor role in fire suppression tactics.”

“I wasn’t fully in charge,” Nicol said, “there was still someone on my crew above me, but my job was just to help things run a little more smoothly.”

Nicol loves the adrenaline rush that comes with the job despite the uncertainty that also comes with fighting wildfires.

“As soon as that alarm goes off, you’re on a helicopter and you’re taking off and you have no idea where you’re going and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” Nicol continued. “You could be gone for one night, you could be gone for 14 nights.”

While Nicol enjoys the community of her off-season job, she takes that same reliability to the rink, focusing on being a player her teammates can count on “to be a physical presence and work hard.”

“I might not score a million goals, but I’ll be working,” Nicol said.

Unsatisfied with how the women’s hockey season ended last year — the herd just missing the playoffs — Nicol and the Bisons are looking to harness their potential as a group this season and work on “getting better every day.”

As for life post-U Sports, Nicol is just happy to finish her degree and her run with the herd.

“I don’t have anything set in stone,” Nicol said.

“I’m kind of just taking it day by day and year by year.”