When a walleye or octopus gets hurled on to the ice at the Huntington Center, Kate Schmoekel skates quickly to it, picks it up, and proceeds to whip it around in the air.
Fans are known to throw the fish or squid on to the ice at Walleye hockey games in celebration of goals. Schmoekel, who is part of the team's ice crew, is the one who retrieves the dead marine life.
“As long as I have gloves on I'm good,” said Schmoekel, who is an accomplished figure skater. “The fish are scarier because they are heavier and they can slip out of my hand. But I swing it around my head.”
Schmoekel, a 25-year-old from Monroe, Mich., has been skating since she was 5 and works full time as a physical therapist. She joined the Walleye ice crew three seasons ago.
Aside from riling up the crowd at the Huntington Center, Schmoekel has many ice maintenance duties. She prepares the nets before the games, cleaning out the moorings. She also shovels off any built up snow on the ice, especially in front of the players' benches.
“I love it,” Schmoekel said. “The guys I work with there are like my dad. It takes me away from all my stresses. I can let everything go when I'm on the ice. I just like the smells and everything about it.”
Schmoekel was studying physical therapy at the University of Toledo when she spotted a flier that said the Walleye were looking for a female skater to work games.
“I had stopped skating six years ago,” she said. “But my mom pushed me to do it. I had to skate. Now it's my favorite place. The ice is my happy place.”
Schmoekel's mother, Dawn, skated with the Ice Capades group shortly after graduating from high school and traveled all over the United States.
“My mom got me started when I was 5,” Schmoekel said. “I went pretty far with my freestyle skating.”
Schmoekel, who at 5-foot-7 is tall for a figure skater, said falling on to the ice started to become difficult.
“It really hurt when I fell,” she said. “One of my goals is to give back to skating through coaching. One day I want to be on a synchronized skating team.”
When she was in the sixth grade, Schmoekel tore her hamstring when she fell while performing.
“I had to go to physical therapy for six to eight weeks,” she said. “And that's when I decided I wanted to get into physical therapy.”
She graduated from UT with a doctorate in physical therapy. She now works in Flat Rock, Mich. at an outpatient clinic with patients of all ages suffering from various conditions.
“One day I want to work with figure skaters or hockey players,” she said. “I want to go through a certification program for manual therapy.”
On Walleye game nights, Schmoekel has her shovel at the ready.
One day a group of season ticket holders made a sign with her name on it.
“I like seeing the little kids and I love when they come up to me,” Schmoekel said. “They know who I am.
“It's sweet when little girls come up to ask for autographs.”