When junior Rachel Zaleznik was growing up, she watched endless hours of hockey with her dad.
“If you don’t love hockey and are from the Boston area, you’re crazy,” she said.
She was raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, an old, colonial suburb of the city of Boston. When she graduated high school, she left the New England ice behind to come to Elon.
Pursuing a sport and event management major with minors in marketing, sales and business administration, Zaleznik knew going into college that sports would be a dominant aspect of her professional life once she graduated.
But her athletic future began much earlier than expected.
Finding her squad
“I went to a Carolina Hurricanes game with a friend as part of a school project,” Zaleznik said. “I saw the girls during the periods, saw on-ice promotional stuff, and it looked like a lot of fun. I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
The girls she witnessed were part of the Hurricanes’ Storm Squad, a promotional fan development team.
“I knew a girl back home that was a [Boston] Bruins ice girl, and she always loved that. So I did my research, and it worked out,” Zaleznik said.
In fall 2014, after a two-day process packed with interviews and activities, Zaleznik became the Storm Squad’s newest member.
“The first day you meet a lot of executives and people you’ll be working with, it’s like a group interview setting,” Zaleznik said. “They ask you questions about your hockey knowledge, personality — stuff like that. If you make it to the second day, there are more interviews, you do games and TV interview practice, and they have us do a presentation about ourselves. It’s a lot of fun, not like a regular interview.”
Once hired, Zaleznik re-immersed herself in hockey culture, working games, promotional events and devoting her time outside of classes to her work. Other then attending meetings for the Sport and Event Management Club, she focused mainly on her commitment to the Hurricanes team.
But the team is located in Raleigh, making the commitment a hefty commute.
“I think I drive the furthest [out of the other Storm Squad members],” Zaleznik said. “Most of them live in Raleigh, go to [North Carolina State University] or [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill.”
Managing life with ice
For any college student, time management is a key skill. Because Zaleznik has hour long commute each way to and from the rink, she’s had to implement time management to balance school and work.
“The commute isn’t so bad,” Zaleznik said. “I’ve gotten used to it. It helps me organize my day because if I know I have to work, I know I need to get everything done. It helps more than it hurts.”
The Hurricanes’ season this year will last from October to April, but Zaleznik and the other Storm Squad members will only work the home games.
Her roommate, junior Nicole Soltz, has seen first hand how Zaleznik manages her time.
“I know sometimes she feels like she’s missing out on some things that are happening at Elon, but for the most part she enjoys spending weekends in Raleigh and working games and events,” Soltz said.
Zaleznik doesn’t work every game though — she rotates events with the other Storm Squad members. So far, she has only worked two games and the Hurricanes are on a three-week road trip, so she will start up work again at the end of the month.
When the team is back and in full swing, Zaleznik said she will typically drive into Raleigh two or three nights a week at most.
“They try and help us out so that we’re not there every other night if we have a packed schedule,” she said.
As part of the job, Zaleznik and her co-workers get to conduct activities on and off the ice, during games and at other Hurricanes events.
“It’s more than the typical ice girl squad,” Zaleznik said. “We’re an ice promotional team, so a lot of what we do is fan-based during the games. We’ll walk around the concourse and talk to fans, do the T-shirt slingshot and on-ice promotion games in-between periods.”
The fans are her top priority.
“Pretty much all we do is based around the fans, making sure they have a good experience,” she said.
Sometimes, Zaleznik interacts with fans outside the games. This includes season ticket-holder events as well as events for the city of Raleigh where the Hurricanes wish to show their support.
“Last year we did the autism walk in Raleigh,” Zaleznik said. “We interacted with people around the city — Canes fans or not.”
Since becoming a Storm Squad member, Zaleznik said she has met a variety of different people, including girls on the squad and fans, and since this is her second year, a lot of season-ticket holders.
Connecting to Elon
Zaleznik remembers one season-ticket holder in particular well, as she said she sees him at every game.
“He is an Elon alum, and he knows what is going on in the area,” Zaleznik said.
Other Elon students, Zaleznik said, have come to home games as well, but the long commute and access to transportation don’t make the games feasible for the majority of the student body.
“There are a few [Elon students] that I’ll see, but not a lot of specific Canes fans since it’s a lot of people from different states,” Zaleznik said, noting that a large percentage of Elon students are originally from the Northeast. “A lot of my friends will want to come see me. I know some fraternities will have a rush event and come to a game, so I’ll recognize people sometimes.”
Zaleznik said, because of where many Elon students are from, a lot of them like hockey — it is just a matter of getting to the game.
“She always reminds [her friends] to go to a game she’s working so we can hangout with her before and after the games, but most of us didn’t have time or didn’t get around to going last year,” Soltz said. “I know we’re going to definitely go this year because we’re so excited she got the job again and it’s an awesome job to have for sure.”
Some on-campus programs have begun providing advertisements for games or incentives for students to get to the rink. The Sport and Event Management Club is doing a “night out” in November, selling tickets for Hurricanes games. The Student Union Board has also provided transportation to games in the past for students.
“The drive is the thing for most people,” Zaleznik said. “My freshman year I didn’t have a car either. I think it would be fun though, to see people. I always like seeing people up there.”
Working the ice
Other than the fans and other squad members, Zaleznik has interacted with the team itself. In certain events they will skate or interact with the players, such as during the Canes golf tournament.
“We don’t hang out with them or go out after games,” she said. “We’re not really allowed to interact with them in that sense.”
During one event called Caniac Carnival, Zaleznik and her co-workers worked a “red and white” game, a scrimmage between the team.
Some players from Charlotte tried out for the Hurricanes, and even though it was technically a practice for the team, it was a game for her and the other Storm Squad members. Otherwise, they strictly work games, promotional events or community events the Hurricanes take part in.
As Zaleznik’s second year as a Storm Squad member gets underway, her excitement to continue building relationships with her new community has heightened.
“Since it’s my second year, I know a lot more people, so that makes the experience better for me,” she said. “I see familiar faces, people come up and say hi to me and hug me.”
Zaleznik distinctly remembers being nervous on her first night, but the reliance on her co-workers and the positive attitude of the fans helped her immensely.
“Everyone was so welcoming,” she said. “The connections I’ve made with people are such a neat thing. Every moment is memorable. I love this job so much.”