Fifty potential female candidates for the Penguins’ first-ever Ice Crew descended upon the Penguins’ practice facility at Southpointe on Wednesday night as Ice Crew coordinator Laura Spencer hosted the first of two practice skating sessions leading up to this weekend’s tryouts.
Spencer, a Pittsburgh native who spent two seasons with the Dallas Stars Ice Girls team, ran the girls through a one-hour practice session which was designed to mirror what the ladies should expect when they arrive for Saturday’s tryout.
“I would say that they got a good understanding of what we are looking for in a female Ice Crew team member,” Spencer said. “It takes a lot more than just skating well. It’s how you present yourself on the ice and how you carry yourself.
“Saturday will be very similar to what the girls saw on Wednesday. On Saturday the girls will audition by performing skating drills that showcase their speed, agility and ability to stop quickly. Sunday is going to be more focused on the on-ice positions. There are six on-ice positions (Snow Plow 1 and 2, Benches, Bucket and Long and Short Goal), and we are going to be performing 2-3 of those.”
Considering the excitement and energy level from the girls who attended on Wednesday, Spencer is excited with the group she has to work with.
“I was extremely pleased with the large turnout we had Wednesday night,” Spencer said. “Not only because of the large turnout we had, but also because of the talent level we had there.”
Spencer will have a second chance to work out potential candidates prior to Saturday’s tryout when another group of potential team members arrives for a second prep class on Friday night. In total, 88 of the roughly 160 girls expected to try out will have the chance to experience one of the instructional sessions. Spencer had to cut off the number of girls at 88 because of the high interest level among the girls.
“Due to the great interest in the Ice Crew I had to shut the prep class off at 88 girls,” Spencer said. “I wanted the classes to be helpful and productive.”
Things certainly figure to get pretty crazy on Saturday morning when Spencer needs to take the 160 girls trying out and then pare that number down to a more manageable figure. To help her with that process, she will have a handful of talent evaluators on hand, including a former NHL Ice Girl.
While it won’t be easy for Spencer to narrow down the list, which includes several candidates with impressive resumes, she does have a checklist of criteria she will follow to help herself out.
“Speed would definitely be the first criteria we are looking for,” Spencer said. “We only have two minutes to clean the ice. You also need agility because you never know when a player or referee is going to stop right in front of you so you have to be able to account for those things. Finally, the personality that they are going to bring to the ice is going to be very important.”
Wednesday night’s practice, which included a small crowd in the stands and sports bar overlooking the ice, began with Spencer watching each of the girls skate and then dividing them up into two groups at opposite ends of the ice.
Group 1, which was a little smaller than the second group, spent most of the hour working on their shoveling and figure skating skills.
Because removing excess snow from the ice during television timeouts is going to be among the girl’s most important duties, Spencer spent more time focusing on the finer points of snow removal. Towards the end Spencer began going over more figure skating techniques, as another function of the Ice Crew squad will be to entertain fans during the intermissions.
“When we do the TV timeouts, it is strictly the on-ice positions,” Spencer said. “When we go out there during the intermissions I want them showing off and showcasing their talent.”
At the opposite end of the rink a larger group of girls focused more on skating and stopping techniques. Many of these girls were taking advantage of the hour-long practice to get adjusted to the hockey skates that the Ice Crew will wear after growing up on figure sktates.
Once both ends finished working on their specific drills, Spencer brought the entire group back together at center ice for a five-minute review session that encompassed everything the girls learned. After a brief pep talk from Spencer, the girls then called it a night as they prepare for what should be a fun and demanding tryout on Saturday morning.