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Ice Cats carve out new fan experience
One of the only collegiate ice cheerleading teams in the country
There are 15 minutes until the puck drops for a Saturday night game between the top-ranked Quinnipiac Bobcats and ECAC foe Clarkson. But, you wouldn’t know it looking at the number of still unoccupied seats in Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center. The die-hards have been there almost an hour ensuring they could get the student section’s best seats, but the rest of the section looks thin. The people of Hamden, the non-students, also file in and ambivalently walk around the concourse finding their seats.
The arena suddenly goes dark. A spotlight cuts through the abyss illuminating Boomer, Quinnipiac’s bobcat mascot, tracking him as he bolts onto the ice waving a blue Bobcat flag above his head.
Moments later, 13 uniformed women take the ice and fan out around the periphery of the rink. Facing the crowd with their yellow and blue pom poms, they work to excite the fans; telling them to get loud, then demanding they get louder.
One breaks off and skates toward the center of the ice where she flawlessly performs an array of figure skating maneuvers. The fans respond.
The once uncertain disposition of the fans has more than dissipated. They are now entranced by the scene below them. The fans, at the rink for a hockey game, have instead stumbled upon a spectacle, and they love it.
The Ice Cats, Quinnipiac’s hockey cheerleading squad, have transformed the atmosphere of hockey games in Hamden. In their first full season on ice, they have gotten fans to the games and revved up to cheer for Quinnipiac’s increasingly successful hockey team.
“Now that they’re there, I really don’t think I can imagine games without them,” Sam Catapano said, a Quinnipiac student who was in attendance for the weekend games. “They add a lot to the intensity of the crowd, they almost give the game some authority, it makes it seem legitimate.”
It takes more than a competitive team to incite widespread student interest at Quinnipiac, a school that once famously placed second on a Princeton Review poll ranking the nation’s most apathetic student bodies.
It has taken a No. 1-ranked team and an electric game atmosphere, and the Ice Cats have been a big part of making that happen.
“We love having them, I think it’s great,” Bobcat head coach Rand Pecknold said of the newest aspect of the game-day routine. “The fans have been excellent this year. It’s maybe the best year we’ve had with fans. If you win games, they’ll come to your games. That’s the bottom line at any level.”
“It’s funny, students show up on a Friday night and the place is crazy,” said Bill Schweizer, the broadcaster for the Quinnipiac University hockey and basketball programs. “Then, on Saturday night, they’re all busy heading to New Haven and there aren’t as many people. But now the team, all of a sudden, is ranked No. 1 in the country, and now all of a sudden, you can’t get tickets to the game.”
Schweizer added that the athletic department in recent years has discussed ways in which to increase fan attendance and fan participation at games. Year to year the fan base grows but still, he says, not enough has been done in marketing the games to the student body.
“I think it becomes a tradition,” Schweizer said. “Once the fans show up and see how great it is and how crazy the atmosphere is, they continue to do it.”
The Ice Cats coach, Michelle Coppola, who is also the coach of the basketball cheerleaders, has made that the priority of the Ice Cats.
“What they bring to the hockey game is a lot more spirit,” Coppola said. “They really entice the crowd and bring a totally different atmosphere to the game. It’s more of a professional look.”
The concept of the Quinnipiac Ice Cats was first theorized by Pecknold close to six seasons ago. However, that group of cheerleaders was not led by Coppola and lasted just one game. Pecknold revisited the concept again last season when he suggested it Coppola for the first time.
“A lot of different Western schools have cheerleaders, Minnesota, St. Cloud, there are a bunch that have them. So I thought ‘why don’t we have them?’” Pecknold reasoned. “We have them for basketball, why not for hockey?”
The Ice Cats have more responsibilities than getting the crowd riled up in the pre-game show – once the game begins, they stand behind the student section lending their energy and cheers to the crowd, and at intermissions, they scour the crowd looking for the loudest sections to throw free T-shirts.
“The Ice Cats are here to entertain the hockey players and the fans,” Coppola said.
Coppola added that the Ice Cats get involved in the game, and in doing so, they get the crowd involved. She says the student section is excellent this year but the Ice Cats are what connect everything together.
“You go to Maine, Boston College, University of New Hampshire, and the students there are so organized, they have an identity, a routine,” said Max Bunin, a Quinnipiac senior who regularly attends Quinnipiac hockey games. “But you have to remember, UNH and these other schools have been playing hockey for a lot more years than Quinnipiac. So tradition is something that grows as the program grows. I think the Ice Cats are a big step that Quinnipiac is taking that will head it in that direction.”