By Des Bieler
Mirai Nagasu hasn’t quite reached the summit of figure skating — that could happen in the ladies’ individual competition during the Winter Olympics’ second week — but the triple axel she landed Monday during the team competition stamped her as an early star in PyeongChang.
As such, there’s no better time to reflect on the path the 24-year-old, who competed in the 2010 Games but was left off the 2014 team, took to reach this point. On Monday, most of us learned that path included a stint as a Colorado Avalanche ice girl, a memory at which Nagasu chuckled in a Twitter post.
Earlier Monday, both the Avalanche and the NHL tweeted a story about her time as an ice girl for the team, which occurred during the 2015-16 season. Ice girls clean the playing surface during stoppages in play, and they serve as community ambassadors for NHL teams. In its story, the Avalanche noted Nagasu also represented the team at learn-to-skate programs “throughout the Rocky Mountain region.”
In 2014, Nagasu, a California native, moved to Colorado Springs to work with coaches at the site of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. She enrolled the following year in international business courses at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and as she indicated in her tweet, needed some help making ends meet.
Not all NHL teams have ice girls, and not all NHL fans are thrilled with the concept of trotting out scantily clad women during games. In its story on Nagasu, the Avalanche was careful to note that its ice girls “maintain the playing surface at Pepsi Center during stoppages of play per the policies and standards set by the NHL and NHLPA,” but their attire is up to the teams that employ them.
In a 2014 Mother Jones story that drew upon the experiences of former ice girls for the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers, “impressions varied” of the job. “One woman called it ‘the best experience of my life,’ ” the story noted, “while more than one likened some aspects of it to ‘torture.’ ” The unhappy aspects of the job included a strict ban on any contact with players, even in off-hours, wearing skimpy outfits in uncomfortably cold conditions and working for low wages while having a number of out-of-pocket expenses.
Some of the women, though, told Mother Jones that the job had a rewarding upside, including a chance to be “part of something that fun and that big.” If Nagasu was conflicted about her experience as an ice girl, she wasn’t letting on in her tweet Monday, and in any event, she has moved on to something presumably more fun and undoubtedly much bigger.