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Staff Spotlight: Queen of ICE

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
While there are a few dozen people who hold high-profile positions in the Oilers organization – mostly management, coaches, and players (of course) – there are many more who work behind-the-scenes to help make the team as successful as possible on the ice, in the books, and out in the community.

In fact, if you ignore the on-ice and locker room stuff, the Oilers staff makeup is probably very similar to the staff of any other business, with accountants, sales reps, marketing specialists, and IT administrators on the payroll.

But while the Oilers employ many people who excel in “non-hockey-specific” areas, the front office is full of unique personalities, unique stories, and folks with responsibilities unique the world of sports. You all know about the scouts, trainers, and equipment managers, but you may not be familiar with the roles of some other personnel.

In this series, I will highlight some of the people who make the Oilers organization function like a well-oiled machine (pun intended). First up? A teacher who specializes in hockey stats and Zamboni art: Sandy VanRiper.


As the Edmonton Oilers ICE School Program Coordinator, Sandy is responsible for introducing children in Grades 2-9 to a week-long curriculum of fun projects and assignments based on hockey, Rexall Place, and Northlands Park. After receiving submissions from Edmonton-area school teachers throughout the previous year, Sandy whittles the list to 24 classes who will visit her Rexall Place schoolroom for one week in hockey season.

After 34 years as a public school teacher, Sandy has translated her love of teaching, sports, and unique learning opportunities into this unique position within the Oilers organization. “I've always enjoyed coming up with interesting ideas to accomplish teaching objectives, from guest speakers to field trips,” she explains. “[The ICE School teaching position] was a perfect fit for me and friends encouraged me to apply.”

That was back in the spring of 2002, after the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation approached the Edmonton Public School Board with the ICE School concept. After a four-month research and planning period – which Sandy calls “a great gift” – the ICE School began hosting weekly sessions for young and eager students from across Edmonton.

“It's not about building hockey players,” Sandy emphasizes. “It's about introducing students to new and cool ways of approaching math, science, and social studies.”


Kids from Entwistle School get the chance to skate at Rexall Place during their ICE School session in mid October.

Projects vary according to grade level and target a variety of school subjects in different areas of Rexall Place and Northlands Park. From the “Seat Work” assignment (which encourages students to explore and compare Rexall's various seating sections by using a map of the facility and ticket prices) to the interview assignment (where students can interview a Rexall Place or Oilers staff member) to the Zamboni sketching assignment, the curriculum keeps children – and their teachers – interested and excited as the week progresses.

When asked which project the students like best, Sandy says that it's impossible to say. “They love everything they've just done,” she answers with a laugh. “They know they're in a magical, interesting place and everything is a new experience.”


The students aren't the only ones who are challenged and motivated by the new experiences: Sandy says her biggest challenge is balancing the busy curriculum with the demands of a busy arena, with safety and non-intrusiveness always a top priority.

“One of the first things I do every day is check what's going on in the building,” she explains. “We try to take maximum advantage of what's going on – whether it be a concert set-up or like the recent NBA game – and make it a learning experience.”

Learning, after all, is what the ICE school is all about. “I've heard from many teachers that kids who normally don't do well in the classroom will do well in this program,” Sandy says. “It's all about helping them realize that the world is full of learning opportunities and I think that coming to Rexall Place and having to access to areas that you might not normally see really piques their interest and curiosity.”

For more information on the ICE School, visit Be sure to check out more Staff Spotlights in future editions of Jen's Journal.
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