A Hockey Team
of Her Own
Ni co l e K i rnan ’ 01 s tands out i n the
ma l e - domi nated wor ld of profes s i ona l
hockey owner sh ip.
by Meg Bernier ’07, M’09
The trio of traditional songs – "Chapel Bells"
Eugene Wright ’49), "A Tribute" (John
Brush ’22) and Gannon’s "Alma Mater" – is
added to the
University’s songbook
Inaugural men’s hockey game
Appleton Arena pits St. Lawrence
against Dartmouth.
St. Lawrence’s first
kicks off fundraising
efforts to build Appleton Arena.
When people think of places to estab-
lish professional sports teams, they rarely
consider the North Country. Nicole
Kirnan ’01 did, and that’s just one of the
ways she sets herself apart in the world of
men’s professional hockey.
Owner of the 1000 Islands Privateers
in the Federal Hockey League (FHL),
Kirnan has had hockey in her blood since
she was young. Growing up in Syracuse,
where her father owned the Syracuse
Stars junior hockey program, she used to
lace up her skates and play in the boys’
AAA leagues since girls’ teams didn’t
exist. After a successful career at Choate
Rosemary Hall, she came to St. Lawrence
and was a member of the first women’s
ice hockey class that played at the NCAA
Division I level.
We didn’t do so hot our first year, but
four years later we were playing for a na-
tional championship,” she recalls. “It was
an awesome experience playing at
St. Lawrence.”
Her passion for hockey continued
at Manhattanville College, where she
earned her master’s in sports business
management and spent five years with
the women’s ice hockey program, four as
head coach, developing it into one of the
strongest Division III programs at the
After completing
her master’s, Kirnan
wanted to get
involved with the
sport at a different level. When her father
became the commissioner of the FHL,
she was inspired to start her own team.
We researched 68 locations on the East
Coast,” she says. “Establishing a team in
Alexandria Bay (N.Y.) was the best fit.”
The Privateers’ inaugural season,
was a success, with a 44-26-
record, a third-place finish in league
standings and a playoff berth. It wasn’t
just what happened on the ice that ex-
cited Kirnan, though. It was the fan base
that rallied around the team. People from
Watertown, Fort Drum and the river
communities on both sides of the border
became die-hard fans.
In early 2012, Kirnan faced losing the
arena she was using when its owners
announced they would shut down. She
took on a short-term lease to keep the ice
and restaurant open for home games, but
if the Privateers were to continue calling
the North Country home, a long-term
solution was needed.
If it’s something you really want to do,
you stay the course. We’ve run into so
many challenges building this,” she says.
It’s important to believe in what you’re
doing and work hard at it every day.”
Connections to the North Country
aside, Kirnan needed to look at viable
options for the Privateers. After she re-
searched nearly a dozen venues, again all
over the East Coast, a deal was made to
move the team to Watertown’s municipal
arena. “We are so thankful we got to stay
here,” she says.
Owning a professional team in a male-
dominated sport, when she is also among
the younger owners in the league, poses
its obstacles, but her father’s confidence
in her and her experience at St. Lawrence
influence her every day.
Whenever there are challenges, there
are opportunities, and every day is a
chance to prove yourself,” she says.
SLU was so good to me. The women
hockey players were treated as equals
and I always felt the school, the athletics
program and the Boosters Club looked at
us that way. The St. Lawrence and North
Country community was something that
carried me through my four years and
beyond. That sense of community stays
with you forever.”
Amanda Morrison/Watertown Daily Times