How a devastating NHL crash led to safer hockey rink boards

A cut up second after Pittsburgh Penguins hockey participant Jake Guentzel scored late in a 2019 recreation, he slammed head first into the boards. Gamers hitting the partitions in hockey is a common prevalence, however the velocity and angle at which Guentzel made contact was significantly unfortunate. Even worse was the place he hit. Simply behind the high-density plastic wall the place Guentzel’s helmet and shoulder hit was one of many joints within the metal beams that make up the construction surrounding the rink. “There was no unfold of the drive by the boards,” says Penguins president David Morehouse. “There was no give in any way. It was a chrome steel wall.”

The break in Guentzel’s shoulder sidelined him for months. It additionally kicked off the event of a new piece of hockey tools that would forestall others from struggling a related destiny.

[Photo: courtesy Covestro/Pittsburgh Penguins and Athletica Sport Systems]

This crash and harm obtained Morehouse serious about the so-called dasher boards of hockey rinks, a basic however missed a part of the sport. Not like different sports activities, the boards across the ice are an integral a part of the gameplay, and gamers usually use them to redirect the puck or knock their opponents out of the way in which. The boards are onerous and take a beating, but additionally unforgiving when met with the drive of a human physique. Morehouse puzzled why.

At a subsequent recreation, watching alongside an government from Covestro, a chemical compounds and supplies firm headquartered in Pittsburgh since 1958, Morehouse picked his mind.

01 90690263 safer hockey rink
[Photo: courtesy Covestro/Pittsburgh Penguins and Athletica Sport Systems]

“We had been standing subsequent to our bench and I pointed to the boards and mentioned: ‘You’ll be able to’t inform me materials science hasn’t superior previous stable metal backing with some form of fiberglass-like board on prime of it,’” Morehouse remembers. “And he mentioned, ‘oh, it has.’”

Quickly after, the Penguins joined with Covestro and Carnegie Mellon College’s (CMU’s) School of Engineering to discover how new supplies and a new design might enhance the protection of dasher boards within the notoriously harmful recreation. They launched Rethink the Rink, a design problem that teamed CMU college students with scientists from Covestro. After months of improvement, they’ve provide you with a new dasher board that’s in a position to take up far more of the affect of a crash like Guentzel’s.

06 90690263 safer hockey rink
[Photo: courtesy Covestro/Pittsburgh Penguins and Athletica Sport Systems]

The brand new design provides a layer of crash-buffering polyurethane foam between the onerous plastic boards and the metal construction behind them. Utilizing crash take a look at dummies propelled head first into the boards, the crew discovered that the brand new board design diminished a collision’s drive on the physique by up to 65%.

Covestro bought the mental property from the scholar crew that developed the design, and is now working with Athletica Sport Systems, the main producer of dasher boards for the Nationwide Hockey League (NHL), to develop and market the product.

“If you happen to look again, the trade began with fundamental lumber, concrete, and plywood, so we’re occupied with any enchancment in security,” says Andrew McRae, CEO of Athletica Sport Programs. He says the brand new boards come at about a 20% value premium to what’s at present being utilized in most arenas, and he says it’s probably to take a few years to see them rolled out in decrease degree improvement leagues and finally within the NHL itself.

05 90690263 safer hockey rink
[Photo: courtesy Covestro/Pittsburgh Penguins and Athletica Sport Systems]

The brand new boards are already getting used on the Penguins’ apply facility. Although security was the primary objective of the redesign effort, the brand new boards additionally had one other problem: not altering the sport itself.

“Hockey gamers are very, very delicate to this, particularly on the degree of the NHL. They gained’t enable any change in any way on the bounce of the puck hitting the board,” says Haakan Jonsson, president of Covestro. “Belief me, they’re choosy.”

Covestro and the Penguins thought of it validation when the brand new boards had been put in and not one of the gamers seen, Morehouse says. The crew plans to proceed its partnership with Covestro and Carnegie Mellon College to develop different security enhancements, and Morehouse says they’re already accumulating knowledge on the brand new dasher boards and the speed of accidents in contrast to the earlier, less-cushioned system.

Although these boards might at some point find yourself across the rinks of the highest groups within the sport, Morehouse says they’re probably much more essential on the novice and youth hockey degree. “There’s 32 groups within the NHL, and that’s it. The youth numbers are simply exponentially greater,” he says. “Having a concussion is far more impactful in a unfavorable means to a creating mind than it’s to a absolutely developed mind.”

This danger is one thing Morehouse has grappled with personally. Simply after launching the redesign effort, Morehouse’s 14-year-old son hit the boards at hockey apply and obtained knocked out.

“In order that very day it hit house. That was my son’s first concussion. And it was as a result of he went head first into the boards,” Morehouse says. “If he’d have gone head first and there was a little give, there’s a likelihood he wouldn’t have had a concussion.”