As a coach this time, Paavola is providing guidance for Hancock’s state tourney run

Dylan Paavola, middle, holding the trophy, is now an assistant coach for Hancock after winning a state title as a player for the school two years ago. (Photo submitted to Daily Mining Gazette)

SAULT STE. MARIE — Dylan Paavola sits in a Hampton Inn hotel lobby listening to a Joe Rogan podcast. It’s five hours before Hancock plays Big Rapids in the Division 3 quarterfinals and the 19-year-old is taking in Rogan’s inspirational words. He’s always liked that kind of stuff, he said, the real-life stories, the ones that mean something.

Not that Paavola needs any more inspiration. 

After all, the former player turned assistant coach knows what it’s like to win a state title. He was the captain when Hancock did it two years ago. 

He knows what it’s like to jump on Dawson Kero in the net after a hard-fought victory. He knows what it’s like to get off a bus with a community of people welcoming you with cheers and open arms. And most importantly, he knows what it takes to win. 

That in itself is inspiring enough. 

“When we won, it was just a feeling of something we had been working for so long finally happening,” he said. “I really hope we can do that again this year and they get the same feeling, because it is something I will never forget. I will always remember that because it was that special to me.”

Paavola serves as a voice who has been there, done that. He’s not far removed from the players — as he played with Kero, Teddy Randell and Alex Nordstrom two years ago. He’s also transitioned seamlessly into coaching. As a captain, his role was fairly similar. Now, he applies the same concepts he used then to try and help the players in any way he can.

An easy transition, yes, but one that happened somewhat accidentally. 

After graduating from Hancock, Paavola played a year of juniors in Vancouver and then spent time playing in Saskatchewan. But something didn’t feel right, and Paavola realized he wasn’t supposed to be there. So he moved back home to figure things out. Paavola is planning to attend Finlandia next year, where he will play hockey. But he needed something to do in the meantime. He didn’t have to stay in limbo long, as a simple text solved the problem.

“The first day of tryouts, Dan (Rouleau) texted me randomly and asked, ‘Do you want to come watch tryouts?’ and I guess the rest is history from there. I couldn’t really stay away from the rink.”

There are obvious difference’s between Paavola’s team and this one. His team was marked by a good defensive core (that he was part of), while this team has stronger forwards and more offensive firepower. 

Still, the different pieces balance each other out, and that is the most important thing when it comes to being successful.

“When my team won, it was a four-year process, getting the right pieces of the puzzle, and then the fourth year, it just kind of came together,” he said. “And we had the right guys to accomplish that goal that we had had for so long.”

Two years ago, Paavola was on a bus getting ready to play some of the biggest games of his life. This year, he rode up with the team, having his days playing as a Bulldog behind him, and his time coaching right in front. 

He doesn’t know how long he will help coach at Hancock, as he has his studies at Finlandia soon taking priority. But Paavola’s introduction to coaching has been enough to at least get him interested. 

“Getting a group of kids together that are different and accomplishing one goal,” he said. “I like that part of it.”

On the way to Sault Ste. Marie, Paavola was reading a book. This one, he says is an underdog story. He likes those even more than the inspirational ones. 

Not this time though. This time, he would like to see the No.1 team win it all.