Look at the Baxter Arena ice on any given game night and it’s a mostly male-dominated scene. In addition to the players, the refs, coaches and even most of the support and arena staff follow that theme. However, there’s one face that stands out.
Look at one of the two Zambonis driving across that same ice on some nights, and you’ll see a woman. Her name is Natalie Sekosan.
“I don’t personally think of it as something weird or different,” Sekosan said. “If you look at it as an outsider, you’d probably think it’s weird, but I grew up with all males, so for me it’s just another day. I’ve never felt like I had to prove something doing it, but I liked that challenge of being the only female.
“If I’m not challenged, I get bored, so to be a female in a male-dominated position is something I enjoy and everyone here has been very welcoming and supportive.”
Growing up in a town just north of Detroit, Sekosan grew up in the heart of the Detroit Red Wings run in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so she fell in love with the sport right away. Her family is originally from Serbia, but when her parents moved to Detroit, her father started to play hockey in the neighborhood he grew up in.
It has only since continued throughout the rest of the family.
“I was always at the ice rink,” she said. “I don’t really remember not being there. I attempted to play when I was younger, but I kind of gave up because I was doing ballet and soccer too. Women’s hockey wasn’t very big yet either, so I would’ve had to play on a boys team, and my mom wasn’t all for that.”
Sokosan was just 4 years old when her older brother started playing, so hockey has played a big part in her life. In eighth grade, she missed every Friday of school for nearly three months traveling for her brother’s hockey. She jokes she’s more productive at an ice rink than anywhere else in life because of it.
That time at the rink also started a string of opportunities that would keep her involved in the game and lead her on a path to Omaha. One of those being a Zamboni driver.
“I never really thought of it until I was in middle school,” she said. “One of the other dads came up to me and a few others at the rink one day and asked if we were interested in it, so it just started there.
“This is my second year doing it (driving) in Omaha, but the Pod is when I really freaked out for some reason. My very first game, I mean there was nobody there, but I think knowing that people are watching on TV and in my head I didn’t want to disappoint people.”
Sekosan said knowing people in the stands still freaks her out at times, as she knows people are watching. However, it’s also taught her to simply block everyone out. She also drove in the Mavericks home series against North Dakota.
As the years went on, the opportunities within the sport continued to grow. Sekosan is a USA Hockey level 4 coach and spent time working at a high school academy in her home state. She’s currently getting her master’s in education and is also an assistant athletic academic intern at UNO.
As for what brought her to Omaha, there’s another familiar face at Baxter Arena that played a big part. Current Mavericks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier.
“Once he came back to Omaha, he kind of started pushing me to come out and visit,” she said. “I finally came out and really liked the campus, so I applied and got into the school. I actually had another opportunity come up, and Lindsey (Ekwerekwu) reached out saying she had an internship position she thought I’d be perfect for, and I love working with the student-athletes here and doing academic advising.”
The two worked together at Total Package Hockey in Michigan for three years while Noel-Bernier was an assistant coach. This is her second season around the Omaha program, but she hasn’t gotten a chance to see him much if any. However, that familiarity still made enough of an impact to make the move.
“It just helped to know someone here,” she said. “Moving 12 hours away probably isn’t the decision that most people would do, and everyone back home told me I was crazy for moving to Nebraska. So I think with him here it helped a lot to have someone I could trust and ask questions when I had them.”
Now that she’s here and well into the job, it’s a decision she says she’ll forever be thankful she made. As someone who likes the atmosphere of working in sports, it’s been a perfect fit. Most of that with the athletes and staff she gets to be around regularly UNO.
On the hockey side of things, it’s also given her the chance to set an example for girls in the youth hockey community. Considering it’s something she didn’t have much of growing up, it makes her proud to see how much women’s hockey has grown over the years.
Although she might not be playing in the games, now whenever she’s on the ice, it gives her a chance to show them they could potentially be out on that same ice too.
“I don’t think if I would’ve taken that chance in the summer of 2019 that I’d ever get an opportunity like this, ever,” Sekosan said. “I love the community of our staff, but also within the rink, just how open everyone is to having a female Zamboni driver.
“I hope this shows some of the younger girls in the hockey community that you can drive the Zamboni one day too, and I just think the opportunities of working with the hockey players and student-athletes here has been such a special opportunity.”