Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 31 August 2012 00:00A blazingly hot August day is a great time to head to Iceworks just to cool off, but the dozens of young women who showed up to the Syosset ice rink on Sunday, Aug. 12 had something more ambitious in mind: showing off their skating skills to win one of just 10 spots on the New York Islanders 2012-13 Ice Girls Team.
With the exception of one lockout season (2004-05), the Ice Girls have been part of the show at Islanders’ games since the 2001-02 season. In addition to presenting the Islanders flag at every game, Ice Girls keep the ice clean during games, and perform an additional routine when the team wins. They also play games with the fans in the stands during time outs and distribute T-shirts. The girls must be over 18 with strong skating skills, capable of skating backwards as well as doing lunges, spirals, t-stops and power crossovers.
Ice Girls coach Linda Beach says that she’s looking for the full package in a skater: someone with both good technical skating skills and a warm personality. “It’s really just finding that all-around personality who can skate that strong stuff, then deal with the community as far as events and interacting with the fans,” said Beach.
Beach said that the team’s duties in the upcoming season will largely be the same as previous years, with one significant difference: the league recently changed shoveling procedure, making the Ice Girls’ task of keeping the surface of the rink clean more challenging. The girls have to cover more ice with their shovels in the same period of time—90 seconds—meaning they have to be able to skate with the large snow shovels at greater speed. At the tryouts, several skaters struggled to keep up the pace while shoveling. While the Ice Girls make it all look easy, Beach says, obviously it’s all much harder in practice.
Most of these young women have other obligations outside of skating. Christi, who was an Ice Girl last year and made the team again this year, is currently busy with law school, but relishes the time she gets to spend with the Islanders.
“It was so much fun. You get to go to every single home game we have, you interact with all of our awesome fans. You go into the community, you get to help out…it’s just a lot of fun. You get to be involved in all the excitement,” said Christi. She went on to say that her absolute favorite task as an Ice Girl is riding the Zamboni machine while using a T-shirt gun to shoot free shirts to the fans in the stands.
Christi has only been skating for a few years, but most of the girls have been skating for their entire lives; some have even competed in national and international competitions. While Ice Girls’ duties don’t typically call for some of the more difficult aspects of figure skating, there were still plenty of artistic spins and jumps to be seen at tryouts as the skaters warmed up.
Niki, who started skating when she was three years old and competed professionally until the age of 17, was thrilled to make the team for the first time this year.
“The Islanders have been my favorite team since I can remember. I’ve been following them, and I love hockey too. So the combination of figure skating and hockey is just awesome to me,” said Niki with a big smile.
In addition to their work during games, the skaters represent the Islanders throughout the year as a part of the ICE (Islanders Community Events) Tour, a program designed to foster a love of hockey in young fans and promote the sport throughout the year. As an integral part of the tour, pairs of Ice Girls can be found signing autographs and helping out at hospitals, schools, festivals, summer camps, and other venues all over Long Island.
While some of the contenders left the rink disappointed that they hadn’t made the team, there’s always next year: skaters have to audition for a spot on the team every season, and tryouts can be tough even for veterans. For some, wearing the Islanders’ colors of blue and orange may become a reality somewhere down the road.
In the meantime, the current team seems to be having a great time. “If they would keep me on forever, I would come back for as long as they’ll have me,” said Christi.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I love figure skating. It’s a place where I can express myself, and I would love it if I could do it for the rest of my life,” said Niki.
The Islanders will begin the season on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, Oct. 12. The following night, Saturday, Oct. 13, the team will hold its home opener, facing off against the Philadelphia Flyers.