Heated skate blades that are supposed to enhance performance are being used by four anonymous NHL players.
The four teams they play for asked that their names be kept secret so the Thermablades on their feet didn't draw media attention and their use become a distraction, says Kris King, the NHL's Toronto-based senior manager of hockey operations.
The product is manufactured by the Verdun, Que., company Therma Blade Inc., and both the NHL and the NHL Players' Association are assessing the experiment of using them in NHL games.
King says he's found no problems after conducting follow-ups with the four players who have been skating on them for several weeks now and their equipment managers. He's waiting for the players' association to complete its evaluation. The two groups will then huddle and decide whether to conduct further tests in conjunction with the company.
"We've looked at this from a safety concern," says King. "When you start putting battery packs and holders in the skate blade, we want to make sure the high-impact shots being taken don't lead to small pieces laying on the ice".
"From what I gather from my talks, I don't believe it to be a safety concern."
The names of the four players might be made public once the players' association weighs in, says King. No time frame is in place.
Thermablades use a rechargeable battery and microprocessor to maintain a blade temperature of 5 C. The slight heat is enough to increase the thickness of the water layer between the blade and the ice surface, and the company says its tests have shown this reduces gliding friction and starting resistance for skaters.
Therma Blade Inc. president Patrick Francey said during an Oct. 16 news conference at the Hockey Hall of Fame that he believes use of the heated blades will have a significant impact on performance.
"We are at the crossroads of hockey history," Francey said at the time.
King says he first met with company representatives about a year ago.
"It's a concept we haven't seen before," he says. "We want to make sure we do our due diligence in looking at all things may or not happen with these blades."
The batteries last for about two games. Fingers placed on sensors on either side of the rear of the plastic blade holder for three seconds activates the battery to signal the sensor to warm the blade. The system turns off automatically when a player is idle on the bench, and the energy of returning to the ice reactivates the system.
The blades are available in adult sizes in specialty stores at $399.99 retail. Buyers have to get them installed on their skate boots.