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"Home" ice is available for isolated hockey players
By Lance Hornby. April 17, 2020 (click on image to see original article)
Pro hockey players — and many others who spend their lives on blades — can’t get into padlocked rinks these days.
So the ice sheet must find its way to them, which is why Can-Ice has suddenly found itself very busy during the COVID-19 shutdown with its claim as the best available synthetic surface.
Company founder/former NHLer Danny Gare and GTA-area entrepreneur Steven J. Wong already had clients such as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Joe Pavelski, as well as Vincent Lecavalier and Nik Antropov who sought the product for their hockey-playing sons.
Can-Ice has an exclusive endorsement deal with Hockey Canada, as well. But no one could have foreseen pros and amateurs at all levels now without the means to practise.
Many have looked into Can-Ice, whether it’s for their smallest manufactured surface of 1.2 x 1.5 metres — just enough to shoot a puck while wearing shoes — or larger panels in a basement to skate a few strides, all the way up to a backyard rink.
“The first two weeks the NHL had off, probably a lot of players were just sitting around playing video games,” Wong said. “Now, about two dozen have been contacting us or their agents have. And with every new announcement about extending the delay in the season, they want to be back on their skates even more.
“The product is easy to install, it’s double-sided, it’s only (.95 centimetres thick) and lays down like a kids puzzle. You can clip 18-inch boards on it or full rink boards.”
Naturally, players with huge seven-figure contracts aren’t going to risk injury going full out, turning or stopping on a foreign, flimsy surface. But artificial ice has come a long way. Wong, 49, recalls the nascent technology of the 1970s and ’80s that required lubricants, did not allow skaters much edge control and risked them tumbling if their blade caught one of the many ruts and seams.
“It was terrible,” Wong said. “Elvis Stojko (Canada’s three time world figure-skating champion and wife Gladys are Can-Ice endorsers) said tripping on the old surface was like falling in a bucket of grease.”
As a junior player, Gare’s off-ice training used to consist of a piece of plywood, that his ski coach, dad Ernie, waxed on one side for shooting. After retiring from a 13-year NHL career in 1987, then moving on from broadcasting with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gare first heard about synthetic ice 10 years ago from a colleague who brought back samples from Norway.
Gare had the nagging feeling that he and others had sacrificed skills development in the NHL’s fight-filled era and wanted his next business career to be a way of giving back.
“I wanted a surface under me that was more valuable for skating, shooting stride and tight turns in small spaces,” Gare said. “So we went on a production hunt for the right plastics manufacturer, all over North America.”
He was introduced to the right people, quite by accident in Tampa Bay at a Phil Esposito golf tournament.
“A guy said: ‘We have these sheets we’ve put in the bed of asphalt trucks so the stuff slides out easily when the lift is up. He told me he’d lay some panels down at his factory (in Clearwater, Fla.) and to bring my skates. On some artificial ice, I might push off and go three or four feet. My first time on this, I went about 20.”
It’s down to ‘sinter pressing’, an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene, the kind of material used in underground utility pipes and roller-coasters.
“There are competitors out there (Wong was recruited by Gare from HockeyShot where he was senior vice-president, while Glice is another name in the business), but I’d stack ours up there,” Gare said.
“We have great technology, we mix the (glide agent right in with the resin) where others apply it later. And our surfaces come in many colours.”
The raw panels, as large as 1.2 x 3.0 metres, go in an oven while under 27,579 kPa of pressure with the resin mixed in. It gives panels a density that can withstand temperatures between 82C and minus 184C for any environment and vitally, does not leave any shavings from the blade.
The cost starts at $400 Cdn. for the smallest panel and delivery in ideal circumstances is seven to 10 days. The Stojkos went into Wong’s basement, skating around plumbing pipes and all, for a video testimonial.
“There’s that little resistance you’re going to have because it’s not (real) ice,” Stojko said. “It’s not melting underneath your blade. But this is the closest thing, bar none.”
The Maple Leafs, Devils, Sabres and Blues have applied Can-Ice for their practice facilities and shooting ranges and an order of 1,765 square metres was purchased by a New Jersey Devils’ rink partner to furnish a full sized arena to encourage youth recreation.
But if there’s to be a pause in play until late in the summer, it’s NHLers who want to be at the most ready.
“You watch these guys do their off-ice skills and dryland training and it’s like poetry in motion,” said Wong, who was also a martial arts competitor and strength/conditioning coach. “Ryan Smith had his full rink set up before COVID, Pavelski is putting one up at his off-season place in Wisconsin, Toews just ordered a few panels for his condominium and Jonathan Marchessault, too.
“Speedskaters have used it, sledge hockey players and we’ve talked to people in Asia who want to use it to introduce curling. We think it can help everyone who skates or wants the feel of ice.” -LHORNBY@POSTMEDIA.COM
CAN-ICE founder Danny Gare and COO Steven J. Wong will be hosting a new, informative and exciting podcast. Stay tuned and be sure to give us input and suggestions for topics and guests. Exciting times ahead!