Ice Ice Baby

Woodbury’s ice expert Katie Broderick shares what happens behind the scenes at Bielenberg Sports Center.

With all of the action at Bielenberg Sports Center (BSC) since its 2014 remodeling, Katie Broderick, facility operations technician, says she’s often asked the same question: “Where’s your ice guy?”

“That’s me,” Broderick says. As one of the few females in the ice industry, Broderick has grown her dream career right here in Woodbury. Today she manages everything in the overall operations of the Bielenberg indoor complex: the hiring, training and scheduling of staff; the installation of the indoor and outdoor rinks; ordering equipment and overseeing concessions; monitoring the geothermal refrigeration equipment and ice maintenance such as driving and maintaining the Zambonis. The 180,000-square-foot operation includes two indoor ice rinks, an indoor field house and a new outdoor rink that was added in 2014.

Broderick’s career began the way most Woodbury residents experience BSC: as an athlete. She played soccer for New Life Academy when she was hired for a part-time job at the sports facility at age 16. “I was in concessions, selling popcorn and hot dogs; when I was 18, I was trained on how to sharpen skates, how to drive the Zamboni and became a shift supervisor,” says Broderick, who celebrated her 20-year anniversary with the city this year. “Hockey is big in my family. My dad played. My grandfather was a hockey coach and led his team to State twice and was inducted into the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame.”

With a family legacy and her passion for all aspects of the game, Broderick maintained her job at BSC through high school, college and post-college, continuing to learn everything she could about ice maintenance and managing different aspects of the operations. “Over the years, while having other full-time jobs at other companies, I would still be here and call it my ‘fun job,’ ” says Broderick, who has a background in marketing and sales and joined the city full-time in April 2014. It’s her on-the-job training over the past 20 years that has made her Woodbury’s resident ice expert. “You learn as you go. I was always asking questions because I enjoyed it and wanted to know.” She also says she’d love to drive the Zamboni for the National Hockey League (NHL) one day. “There aren’t any females driving in the NHL,” she says.

Broderick is one of three full-time staff members, and she manages four regular part-time positions and 30 to 35 seasonal positions such as ice field attendants, skate rental, monitoring programs and cleaning.

“Maintaining and operating ice arenas is very labor-intensive behind the scenes,” says Dave Black, BSC’s facility manager who has worked for the city since 1995 and hired Broderick. “We see 300,000 to 400,000 visits over a year and 5,000 hours of ice time, not counting the outdoor rink. On an average week, our Zambonis are on the ice 125 to 150 times. Most of those ice cuts have to been done in eight minutes, with time to dry for the next group to come out, so it takes a lot of skill.”

It takes the average staffer two to three years to know the job well enough to be a shift leader and learn to drive the equipment. There are 10 to 15 drivers, after months of training led by Broderick, on the schedule. Woodbury has three Zambonis, which the staff has nicknamed Whitey (it’s white), Banky and Dinamoo (named based on their sponsorship labels). Black says a Zamboni costs about $130,000.

One unique aspect of Broderick’s role is nearly 24/7 monitoring of the complex geothermal refrigeration system that maintains the ice temperature around 18 degrees. “Sometimes at 2 a.m. I’m getting an alarm,” Broderick says. “Even though it’s automated, if a pump fails in the middle of the night, you have to go in and make sure that the fail-safes we have in place actually happen. Power outages are one of the worst things that can happen in an ice arena.” BSC opens daily at 6 a.m. and the doors are shut between 11:30 and midnight each night, so there is no such thing as a 9-to-5 schedule in this business. “We’re here a lot,” she says. “Luckily I live five minutes away, especially for those 2 a.m. calls.”

The arena is home to Woodbury High School girls and boys hockey and East Ridge girls hockey, averaging four to five high school games a week. “There are kids who I’ve helped tie their skates at 5 and 6 years old, and watched them grow up to play in the state tournament when Woodbury made it. It’s fun,” Broderick says.

Maintaining the ice properly is a labor-intensive system of balancing the daily fluctuations that affect the ice. “It’s always changing. Weather, usage, the number of resurfaces, the number of people in the stands which impacts humidity, staffing, and schedule changes in games and practices. It requires a lot of juggling,” she says. “No two days are the same. It’s not for everyone, but I really do enjoy the variety. I also love when I train someone on the Zamboni and the moment when I see the light go on and I know they get it.”