Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00
Every hockey fan likes to think their favorite team is special, but the New York Islanders can boast that they were the first team in the NHL to introduce the Ice Girls: a dedicated team of skaters who present the team’s flag at every game. On Saturday, Aug. 6, 24 female skaters headed to Iceworks Syosset on Underhill Boulevard to try out for one of only 10 spots on the 2011-2012 Ice Girls team.
With the exception of one lockout season (2004-2005), the Ice Girls have been part of the show at Islanders’ games since the 2001-2002 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. 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 said she looks for strong edges and strong fundamental skating skills from the girls. What she isn’t looking for, however, is spinning and jumping; figure skating moves, utilizing the toepics at the front of the girls’ figure skates, can take a toll on the ice. Poor ice conditions can lead to rough skating for the hockey players, and naturally, no one wants to see cranky Islanders. However, as many of the girls who try out for the Ice Girls have competitive figure skating experience, most of them are capable of the more advanced figure skating moves, and there were plenty of impressive spins on display at Iceworks during tryouts.
In addition to their work during games, the skaters represent the Islanders throughout the year as a part of the I.C.E. (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. The Islanders do approximately 200 community events a year, and while the Ice Girls are not involved with all of them, they do appear at many.
One recent event the girls were involved in was the Aug. 1 Nassau Coliseum vote; the skaters went to train stations in their Ice Girls uniforms to draw attention to the vote, in addition to handing out fliers at local businesses. According to Beach, it was hard for everyone involved with the team to see Nassau voters reject the Coliseum proposal.
“We were rallying; we really wanted that bill passed, and we were heartbroken when it wasn’t,” said Beach.
Hopefully the Ice Girls contenders who didn’t make the team this year weren’t heartbroken as well; since the skaters must try out every year, even if they’ve made the team in the past, tryouts can be tough even for veterans. Some skaters saw the competition and dropped out early, deciding to polish their skating and vie to wear the Islanders’ blue and orange uniforms another time.
Still, the tone on the ice was friendly, with plenty of skaters seemingly enjoying the opportunity to have the ice rink to themselves on a hot summer day. In between drills and interviews, newcomers and experienced Ice Girls alike zipped around the ice gracefully and chatted about the team.
While some of the skaters said they wanted to be a part of the Ice Girls while they attended college part-time, others said they were looking to pursue professional figure skating in the future, with kid-friendly ice shows like Disney on Ice as one likely career option. However, while all the girls clearly love to skate, according to Beach, skating is only one part of what makes the Ice Girls what they are.
“They do so much more than what you see at the games; they are really ambassadors for this community,” said Beach. “Long Island should be proud to have the Islanders here.”