Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Not Easy Being an Ice Girl

Before anything else, I'd like to apologize to Linda Beach who was kind enough to let me interview her over the phone at 9:30 pm on the same say that she was up before dawn for the WPIX News Morning show that covered the Ice Girls. The video is on ITV on the Islanders main website.

Linda is starting her ninth season as coach of the Ice Girls as well as juggling a ten-month old baby girl. (Maybe a FUTURE Ice Girl?)

I've been surprised before about the turn out to these auditions. After all, it's not that ice skating is unheard of on Long Island. We do have some pretty famous ice skaters coming out of our little piece of real estate. And figure skating IS a requirement. But it is only one of them. So many other things go into making an Ice Girl. I asked Linda if the girls who applied knew what they were getting into.

"I think word-of-mouth is taking over in that. As far as realizing what's really involved. Tim and I make it VERY clear during their interview what a commitment it really is and all the work that they will be doing as far as the school assemblies, as well as during the game. They pretty much don't stop. They're in the stands, they're on the ice, they're on the Zambonis. Behind the scenes they're making appearances at the Birthday parties."

I was exhausted just listening to this. Considering there is a squad of only ten girls, this seems like a lot. But the most important part of being an Ice Girl is the fan interaction. Remember, THEY are the face of the Islanders even more than Sparky is. How they handle the difficult situations that can be presented to them in the stands is key.

"I think sometimes maybe that may be what stops some of the applicants as far as trying out. We've had girls who are fabulous skaters, but you could just tell. You can't be shy to do this. You really have to be outgoing and wanting to take your picture and be people friendly."

They dynamics of the fan base have changed in the nine years Linda has been coaching this squad. She's seeing more families coming out to the games and truthfully, the young girls enjoy the Ice Girls. Perhaps because they aspire to be that pretty, that friendly and that photogenic. But she admits some of the women in the stands are not very receptive to the squad.

In some ways, this is a shame since these girls who do this are working very hard at it. Not just the diet and exercise regimen they have to stick to, but also the schedule. This is a part-time job for them and many of the girls are full-time students. But there are those who have returned year after year. For example, Kelli is on season seven and there are a few others who have been with the squad for five years.

While the figure skating requirement is key, you won't see too many demonstrations of their skills since the NHL will not let them back on the ice once the ice has been cut. Linda said she tried to let the girls out on the ice before the Zamboni had at it, but the ruts were so deep from the hockey skates that it was impossible and down right dangerous. So the flag ceremony and an occasional figure eight with a bucket of snow may be all you get to see how well these girls really skate.

On Saturday morning, I headed over to IceWorks to see how things were going. There were about eleven actual new applicants on the ice. I was very surprised to see that one of them didn't heed the figure skating requirement. I'm not sure if she had ever actually laced a pair of skates in her life. It was easy to see, she was not a perfect candidate.

I was happy to see my friend Dina, the Arena Hostess, had come out that morning as well. We sat together and chatted as we watched the girls on the ice. We had plenty of time to chat once the interviewees were taken into the locker room. They came out one at a time to do a quick spot for the ITV camera crew to see how they carried themselves on camera.

I stayed to see how they did with the flags. To me, that is the thing that looks like it could get you in trouble. Of course, Dina thought I only continued to hang around because Joel Rechlichz had come down to IceWorks with Justin DiBenedetto to work out in the gym. She tells everyone that I tossed my wedding band when he came by to talk to me. It was just a coincidence that I had been taking it off at that moment. (No. Seriously.... it was.)

The new applicants came out with Linda to see how they could actually skate with this over sized flag. Trust me. It's not easy. You have to be well balanced and a proficient skater. It's like para sailing on the ice. And all with a smile on your face. I know I would fail dismally.

I asked the other girls in the stands if the applicants generally are hockey fans or not. They said most of the time the girls become hockey fans once they get the job. It is a job you learn to love. But if any of the applicants think they are doing this in order to hook up with a hockey player, think again.

So when you see these girls in their spandex outfits and their smiles, realize they may have been working since early that morning. They are there to sell charity 50/50 tickets, to shoot t-shirts out of a c0-2 gun to the stands and help make the time between periods a little more enjoyable.

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