Ice Girls active on, off the ice
When the Columbus Blue Jackets Ice Crew takes to cleaning the rink at Nationwide Arena during T.V. and game time-outs, most fans only see the flashy, attractive side of the girls and guys who keep the ice in prime condition.
“For the Ice Crew uniform we wanted to have something that had a ‘Wow’ factor,” said Event Presentation Manager Lynn Truitt, who’s in charge of the club’s three promo teams—the Kia Ice Crew, the Pepsi Power Patrol and the Cannon Crew. “When you see all the girls skate out, they look very put together.”
The Ice Crew used to wear pants—both girls and guys. But in January of 2011, the girls of the Ice Crew had their uniforms changed to short skirts. The shift drew a few letters of complaint to the CBJ headquarters.
“We’ve gotten feedback emails. My supervisor and I looked at them. It was a handful at the beginning of the season, which we think was an initial reaction of, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Truitt. “We got as much negative as we did positive. For every person who didn’t like the (skimpier uniforms), we had one person who stopped us and said, ‘Those girls look great.’”
The attention to the uniforms can be a distraction to the girls wearing them, however. While the Ice Crew ladies do enjoy the performance aspect of going out in a flashy costume, they work hard behind the scenes and have more going for them than a fan might give them credit for. One gal is a hockey player herself, another is about to graduate from the engineering school at Ohio State University—and all of the co-ed Ice Crew must be in stellar physical condition to get the job done.
“They’re the ones who have to have the special skill of being able to skate well,” said Truitt of the Ice Crew. “They have to go out on the ice during time outs and intermissions, edge the boards, clear the snow, and keep the ice in prime condition and all in a very strict time limit.”
They also have pre-game duties, arriving at the Arena sometimes two hours before game time to mingle with fans in the main concourse and during intermissions with game contestants on the ice.
“My goal is always to enforce in my team’s minds that they’re one of the best ways for us to communicate with the fans, to give them a great experience; they are the face of the organization when fans come to the game,” said Truitt. “I’m making sure that’s their primary focus; that our fans are going to walk away thinking, ‘Wow I felt like I was being engaged and the employees cared about me.’”
It’s an important lesson the 23-year-old Ice Crew member Elisa Duesing has learned and has tried to incorporate in her three years as an Ice Crew member. The 5th year material science and engineering student, who graduates in June from the Ohio State University, said even when her day is tough, she comes in with a smile for the fans.
“I’ve honestly learned that, with such a stressful schedule, there are so many times where I come to a game and I’m very low sleep and I haven’t even eaten that day or been home to collect myself, but I go to the game, and I have to go up and greet the fans and give them a good experience,” said Duesing, who also has a part-time engineering internship in addition to holding an undergrad research position. She’s also the vice president in two organizations—the OSU material and science club and the Engineer’s Council. “You have to come in and look like you’re having the best day of your life even if you just failed an exam or you’ve been in the lab for 10 hours. Some days get very crazy and stressful and you just have to remove yourself from that and focus on the game and the fans.”
But for most of the Ice Crew, the fans and the game give them the energy to get through a day. This social bunch said one of the top reasons they joined the Crew in the first place was the chance to spend time with like-minded fans.
“I’m such a people person,” said 22-year-old rookie Ice Crew member Sarah Lawson. “My grandma calls me a social butterfly.”
Lawson, who will graduate next year from OSU with a Speech and Hearing degree, said that the Blue Jackets ticket holders have taught her a great deal about what it means to be a true fan this season.
“The Blue Jackets haven’t had their best season, but I’ve loved how loyal the fans have been,” she said. “I’ve really fed off their enthusiasm and energy for the team. It really helps motivate me to always keep that enthusiasm.”
Lawson said she’ll definitely try out again for next year’s squad, and not just for the comradery, but also because she loves to skate. The job, she said, gives the once-competitive figure skater—and current ice skating instructor at the various Chiller locations—an opportunity to get paid to do something she loves. Oh—and it also helps her learn more about hockey.
“I’ve been a fan but I’ve never really played too much. I played intramural and I was the goalie,” Lawson laughed, saying she wasn’t sure how she ended up in that role on the ice. “You learn how much harder it is and how to appreciate the skills behind hockey once you do it yourself.”
That’s something 19-year-old Saundrine Lanouette can speak to from personal experience. Lanouette, a student at Columbus State Community College, is a goalie for the Ohio State University women’s hockey club — on one condition.
“I’m only allowed to play non-league games,” said Lanouette, who practices with the OSU squad and plays less than 10 games a season.
“I started skating when I was 3-years-old with my parents,” said Lanouette. “My mom told me she broke her back teaching me how to skate.”
Lanouette grew up in Maine. Until her freshman year of high school, she was required to play hockey on the boys teams because there were no women’s teams in the lower grades.
“Growing up there was always that one guy who was like, ‘Get off the ice,’” she said. “Being a girl in a male dominated sport, as a goalie, you get more respect from them; your name gets around.”
Being able to play the sport and then represent the NHL club in Columbus as an Ice Crew member is an opportunity Lanouette is thrilled to have.
“How much is fun is this job? You get to watch hockey, and you get paid for it,” she smiled. “It’s not really a job; it’s fun.”
For engineering student Duesing, representing the Columbus Blue Jackets is a dream come true that started with her father.
“I grew up around the sport; my Dad coached hockey, a traveling team, and so I was kind of the rink rat that got drug around to all my Dad’s games,” laughed Duesing. “I grew up playing with him in the driveway and would watch games and burn his ear off with all the questions I had to ask. I just really gained a high level of respect for people who made it to the NHL and that level of play. It’s been a dream come true to be able to stand down by the ice and watch the guys warm up and actually skate out on to the ice with some of the best names in the league. There are people who don’t even get to go to an NHL game and I get to work at them. I just love it.”
That enthusiasm for the sport, as well as a desire to work with fans and be good ambassadors for the club, is what Truitt said makes this team so special.
“The number one thing I would say about the teams in general, they are here because they love the Blue Jackets,” she said. “They love being a part of the game atmosphere. They love to interact with the fans as part of the organization. They love having it be their home away from home. This is a lifestyle for them; not just a side job. They really do commit themselves to the team, whether they’re a veteran of five years or it’s their first year. They just love being here.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets are now accepting applications for the Kia Ice Crew, the Pepsi Power Patrol or the Cannon Crew. Submit your photo and information at bluejackets.com/promoteams before Monday, May 14, to be considered for a tryout.