There are more popular sports on the USC campus than hockey. However, creative event planning is making hockey a hot ticket at Southern Cal.
In addition to creating a successful on-ice product, assistant general manager Johnny Nguyen has helped create an unrivaled fan environment. The center of the game presentation approach are the USC Ice Girls.
Originally started as a way for the USC figure skating team to utilize the intermissions to promote the team, the genesis for the Ice Girls team grew from there.
“The time between our first meeting and their first official appearance was about 3 weeks,” Nguyen said. “We really went from first gear to fifth in no time. Of course we had a few bumps on the way, but we found a few more girls, had uniforms made, found a coach, and put together a program in that time.”
From the time Nguyen met with current captain Niki Huenergardt and Jessie Houston, the team has grown to 16 members and not only performs at intermission, but performs in-game tasks just like NHL ice crews.
A majority of the team participates in clearing the ice during play while the entire team has in-game responsibilities including cheering on the team and interacting with the fans. A handful of the girls figure skate during intermissions.
“I wanted to continue skating throughout college,” Huenergardt said. “Then I thought of having a team that could cheer while doing stuff during the hockey games.”
While figure skating was the prime motivation for Huenergardt and the others to begin their involvement, the Ice Girls have evolved into a group that mimics nearly every activity of an NHL crew. In fact, the USC Ice Girls were able to shadow the Anaheim Ducks Power Players.
“We were able to shadow them and see how they interact with fans and go about their work,” Huenergardt said. “It was really meaningful for them to open up to us. For them to bring us in was really neat.”
Nguyen noted that having the ability to work with the Power Players was a big step for the Ice Girls. Not only did they have the opportunity to shadow the team to see how an NHL crew works, they were able to form a bond with the professional crew.
“The Ducks girls were excited to see that we have a group of girls at the college level,” Nguyen said. “It is almost as if there is a fraternity with these groups.
“What we learned from working with a professional team has really helped us out.”
While future opportunities to shadow the Power Players seem to be on the horizon. Nugyen didn’t seem to think the Power Players would be making any appearances at a USC game in the near future. Although, his team is certainly hoping the opposite is true.
Huenergardt - a team captain who expressed so much in regards to what she and the team learned from the Power Players - noted that she hopes to host the Ducks crew one day just as the Power Players did for USC.
The team has forged a unique niche in the USC hockey family. Acting as the face of the team, the Ice Girls have established a strong bond with the fan base through the many different activities they go through on a nightly basis. The sky seems to be the limit for the Ice Girls in the future.
“We have accomplished so much in this first year; I’m not sure where we might end up,” Nguyen said. “If you had asked me that last year everything I would have hoped for we have accomplished.“
As of now the Ice Girls remain the only ice crew in the ACHA. However, what they have done for hockey in southern California and on the USC campus shows the potential for the USC team to continue growing.