Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 05/18/07 at 12:42 AM ET
By George James Malik
For as long as skate blades have been digging into ice, hockey players have tinkered with the way they sharpen their blades. A deeply-hollowed blade is what you need to dig in on bad ice and turn aggressively, but players who have their skates sharpened more shallowly swear by the way that their skates “float” on the ice.
Over the last hundred years, skate blades have become lighter, stronger, less likely to chip or lose their edges, and blades have been designed to bend, flex, and even be replaced readily, whether steel or nylon, but nobody’s ever questioned whether to change the shape of the skate blade.
Rather serendipitously, I stumbled upon a site for CT Edge skate blades—blades that flare outwards—and I emailed them in short order. PR director Dan Pujol graciously scheduled an interview with the CT Edge blade’s creator, Conrad Titzmann, and we spoke at length about the concept.
The Gearhead: I was looking at your website, just tooling around, and when I saw the diagrams of the CT Edge blade, I had one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments—you’ve got a skate blade cutting into ice, and if you flare out the edges of the skate blade, you distribute the player’s weight over a larger area. I mean, it’s almost elementary when you think about it—how did you get started?
Conrad Titzmann: Let me give you a little background information. About six ears ago, I started a project, and the purpose at the time was to look at skate blades to see if there was some way to enhance their performance.
The skate blade’s the last piece of equipment where technology hasn’t done much to improve its performance, including composite materials. Nothing’s really changed the physics of how the blade interacts with the ice surface.
So I took on the project. I noticed over and over how players lost their edge and wiped out, time and time again. Finally I was watching a Flames game and a defenceman went in after a dump-and-chase; he was going pretty much full tilt, came around the other side of the net, he lost his edge, and turned over the puck, and the light bulb went on. I thought that if I could correct the geometry of the cutting edge in relation to the ice surface, I could alleviate that kind of problem.
I made some drawing concepts, left them alone for a week; they still made sense when I came back to them, and so I made some technical drawings. My background’s in welding, manufacturing, and I have a lot of experience in technical problems, and I’m a drag racer as well, so I’m a “hands-on” guy, and I was really blessed with the ability to solve technical problems in my head. It’s hard to explain to people, but I can both visualize the problem and see the parts interacting, and I’ve solved a lot of problems that way—like I said, I was really blessed by this ability—so I did a few technical drawings, and by correcting the geometry of skate blades, I realized that my blade design could possibly allow a player to turn with a tremendous amount of speed without losing an edge.
After the first prototypes were made, I selected one of my friends as a test subject. He’s an exceptional skater, but he’s also one of the most critical people I knew. We did five tests on a traditional blade, and then switched them out for my blades, and the times that it took for him to complete the drills dropped substantially. You could see him leaning over further without losing his edge. He said he felt much more secure going into corners—he said he felt like the blades were hanging on to the ice much better. That was the starting point.
That’s when my partner, Dan Pujol, got involved. He knew that the project was going on, and he tried on the blades, he came back, and was totally impressed, so we got together, refined the design somewhat, and we found that what we could do was, because the bottom of the blade is wider, we could flatten it out substantially, and it allows the blade to ride up on top of the ice, and at the same time, it distributes the weight load over a larger surface area, so the down force per square millimetre is less than a traditional blade—so the blade wants to float on top of the ice—which improves glide ability, and has other benefits.
We embarked on a 2-pronged program to expose recreational, junior, then NHL’ers to the blade to see if it had improvements for all skill levels and ages, and we found out from our own data that from young kids to NHL players, they had consistent positive results. At the same time, we wanted to quantify our results, so we embarked upon a scientific study at the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary, one of only two facilities in the world that’s equipped to perform the tests we needed—Nike uses it, Adidas uses it, the Beckham Soccer Group developed its products there, they’ve tested running shoes, golf balls and golf clubs, it’s a really impressive facility. A six-month study is almost complete. Our hope is to scientifically quantify all aspects of the blades’ performance benefits.
We think this is the way to go about making a better skate blade.
In the past, products have claimed, without substantiation or justification, that they offer a certain kind of performance, whether it’s with composites being used or otherwise, but we’ve tried to put this project together as professionally as possible, and we’ve taken it a step further than what big corporations are doing. I can say in my mind, I personally think this is the future of skate blade design—it could do what parabolic skis have done to skiing. When the parabolic ski came out there were many naysayers. There are no more straight edge skis sold—the parabolic ski was proven to be a better design.
We believe this is what’s going to happen with skate blades. There will be no more regular skate blades sold in the future. The New CT Edge Skate Blade Design will be the only blade sold. It will become the market norm.
Gearhead: Are you working on skate blades for goaltenders as well? A lot of goalies have gone to toe ties because the NHL made the Overdrive blade illegal…
Titzmann: We’ve had discussions with John Forzani, (Chairman of the Forzani Group, Canada’s largest retail sporting goods company) he voted us as the product with the most potential to be the new norm, and he used the analogy of the parabolic snow ski. He’s excited about it and thinks the potential is huge, we feel the same way, and at the moment, we’re prototyping a goalie blade, and we’ve talked to goalie coaches and NHL goalies, and for people that are playing the butterfly style, which is 99.99% of goalies, we put an angle on the inside of the blade that would, in theory, anyway, allow the goalie to keep their edge much longer going down in the butterfly, with more control, and he or she can catch the edge much quicker coming back up. Goalie coaches are excited, and we think it’ll be a huge hit; we’ve got a good product line for skaters and players and potentially goalies.
Someone in the Calgary organization said something to the effect that the new rules have taken so much away from goaltenders that it’s nice to see them get something back.
Gearhead: Where do you think this is headed? Is there real potential in the NHL? I’d imagine that with the inconsistencies in ice quality—in Miami, Phoenix, LA, and in a lot of multi-use buildings, even in colder climates, like New York and Toronto, sometimes when the Wings go into those buildings, I almost assume that somebody’s going to come out with a groin injury.
Ice is so inconsistent in the NHL these days; I’d assume that distributing the player’s weight over a larger surface area would help with all the groin and hip injuries guys suffer these days.
Titzmann: We sent some blades to Kris King (Senior Manager Hockey Operations for the NHL). He has spoken with Collin Campbell and others in the NHL head office. They have no issues with our skate blade design and expect to see it in the NHL soon.
A growing concern the last few years, with current skate blades deeper hollows, has been an increase in groin pulls, abdominal injuries and lower back issues for both players and goalies. By changing the blades bite angle with the ice, (correcting the geometry of the cutting edge) our belief is that there will be a reduction in the number of those types of injuries. Our testing continues, but it just makes so much sense.
Dan Marouelli wore our blades in the 2005 World Hockey Championships, and when he was over in Vienna, Austria doing one of the games, the ice was horrific, like slush, and he commented that the players were pumping their legs like crazy to get going, and he only needed two or three strides and floated past everybody. That reinforces our data about glide-ability, and we think that we have a product that outperforms a traditional blade in all aspects.
Gearhead: If you’re getting a better edge, I mean, we all saw how Paul Coffey had a really different skating stride because he sort of floated like that, almost skating over the ice instead of into the ice, and I’d imagine that it really changes your stride.
Titzmann: Some players have developed different strategies because of the design. One of the strategies of the forwards is, as they come in on the D, they draw them to their off-hand side, and cut as hard as possible to turn on-hand, and it gives them a few seconds to get a clear shot at the net because the defencemen can’t turn as hard. We can see players using our product for a substantial amount of time are thinking beyond personal performance to strategy improvements to outperform the opposition. We’re seeing the evolution come through the system, and that reinforces the benefits and strategies that can be developed on ice to improve performance.
We also had Stan Wilson, Equipment Manager of the Phoenix Coyotes look at the blade. He totally sees the upside in the design. In the early stages of the design process he said “It is obvious this blade will turn better, my only concern is glideability; if it glides better you will have a winner” We now know it does indeed glide much better.
He handed the blades to Corbin Beu. He’s a handicapped fellow who plays sled hockey; he’s the Coach/Captain of the Phoenix Coyotes Sled Hockey team and he’s the coaching captain of the 2007 U.S. Sled National Hockey team. He owns Zebra sports manufacturing, and he contacted us to state that he’s never been able to go on a product that’s enhanced his game as much.
He customized his sled to incorporate the new design, and he said that he feels like he’s floating on the ice, and yet, when he wants to turn, he turns better than he has with anything else he’s tried, and he’s requested that we supply all the blades for all his sleds. The benefits aren’t just for recreational players, junior players, or NHL players; there are also sled hockey benefits, and he’s confident enough to say that he believes this is the future of the skate blade, and he thinks it’s overdue.
Gearhead: That’s the thing—you look back to the old strap-on skates, tube skates, modern skates, and the blade-holder changes, it’s plastic now, but the geometry of the blade’s always been straight up-and-down, two edges.
Titzmann: The nature of the game’s gotten much faster, and quicker, with more agile players, who are bigger, and our product’s timely for the game. The patterns of blades from the 1800’s to the ones used today, traditional blade design hasn’t changed since the 1900’s.
Gearhead: Is there a reason that the blades have a 4-12 degree angle off vertical, instead of something bigger?
Titzmann: Our patents are from 4 to 12 degrees because our research and testing showed that anything below 4 degrees isn’t really worth doing, there’s very little difference to be had, and above 8 for a player, or 12 for a goalie, is too radical. For goalies, our range is 8-10-12, the first prototypes are at 8 degrees, and it’s a good starting point for customizing, and then 10-12 degrees, our feedback from goalies is that they go to higher angles to find a better sweet spot.
Gearhead: But when you flare a blade out at the bottom, the steel’s much thinner at that edge. How do you make the design stay structurally sound and durable?
Titzmann: Because we use CNC machine processes, we have had to bring blades in for hardening after they’re machined, and the first couple of blades used for hardening warped, but now we’re using a new company, and we’re getting perfect blades. It’s all about the manner in which they’re handled during the manufacturing process. If you look at the work that’s been done on blades after the fact, we’ve only had a few broken blades.
When you look at different materials, their Rockwell hardnesses, and the points of view of equipment managers, they want a blade to be as user-friendly as possible, a finished product with almost no warping, something that’s user-friendly to sharpen, and not too hard to not hold an edge, and that’s why we’re optimizing the product to make it the best we can before we release it.
Gearhead: That’s what really surprises me—you’ve been at this for six years, and yet you haven’t put the blades up for sale. Why not just put it out there?
Titzmann: Most manufacturers would bring it to the market first—you see numerous products where the engineering hasn’t been done to find out all the kinds of glitches with a new product, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the force in the equipment industry is marketing to get new products, retain market share, and worry about the bugs later. We’re a small operation and we want to do things differently; we want to bring our blade onto market and tell the customer that this is the best product they can buy by quantifying it with scientific, ironclad data, and we want to be sure that it’s been developed to its optimum performance when it’s released, so you don’t have to re-buy and re-buy an improved product. I want to have no doubt in my mind that if somebody comes up to me and asks whether my blade’s better, that I can show them the data and tell them in confidence that it’s the real deal.
I’ve found in my experience in dealing with NHL people, they seem to have two groups, one group that’s open-minded, and one group that looks at the concept and says, “You know what, if it’s so simple, why hasn’t anyone else thought about this?” One group understands the geometry of how it’ll benefit players, and then the other group says that somebody else would have done it if it was such a good idea, and they don’t believe it. We’re dealing with both crowds, so, to the group of disbelievers, we want to be sure that we can quantify all our claims scientifically.
Forzani said that you can pay one player to say whatever you want, but with a scientific study, nobody will question it. Some players will make claims, but Robyn Regehr has used our product for two years, we’re not paying him a cent, and he’s stated that the product works substantially better than regular blades, he’s noticed improvements and has used them as an advantage when playing.
With the University of Calgary Dinos, 18 players were given the option to switch back, and nobody wanted to, they all say that their skating has improved; Calgary Dinos Head Coach Scott Atkinson recently made some very significant comments when asked if he noticed anything about the majority of his team using this new blade design. He said, “It’s obvious to the naked eye what the blade does for players. There seems to be a more efficient use of energy—by the end of the game our players appear to be less fatigued, they are also much stronger on there feet and are much harder to knock off the puck when they are going strong to the net, and you can see them cutting corners harder.” He also wants to try them for himself.
Gearhead: So you’re ready to suggest that your blades reduce injuries, and not just groin pulls? If you can hold your edge longer, glide better, and expend less energy, that’s got to help all the way up, from the ankles to the groins, from the skates to your hips and even your back.
Titzmann: We believe that we’ve developed the first skate blade that changes the dynamics of how the cutting edges interact with the ice surface, and testing has shown that our blades are a substantial improvement over a conventional skate blade. With testing almost complete at the University of Calgary Human Performance Lab, we look forward to sharing our results. I suspect that the results will surprise a whole group of people that may claim that they’ve seen it all before.
Our blades change the dynamics of skating, and there’s an exponential improvement, if you look at back injuries, guys like Gretzky, Lemieux, and now Bertuzzi, they’ve gotten those injuries skating with traditional blades, with a deeper hollow, and we can alleviate some of that with our design.
Gearhead: But even saying that, you’re still holding off on a release date?
Titzmann: Well, when somebody asks for proof that the blade’s substantially improved performance, early indications point to 18 players on the Dinos, and all say they’ve improved, and their coaching staff is noticing it visually, and that speaks volumes.
When there’s nothing to stake your claim upon, there’s no consumer, so we want to make sure it’s 100% ready when we release it. We don’t want to backpedal, or be a one-year flash-in-the-pan, we’re here for the duration, and I believe in my own mind that this is the future of the skate blade, just as the parabolic ski took over, we’re going over that same curve.
Gearhead: So what’s the next step? Name recognition’s a huge factor, so are you headed the NHL route?
Titzmann: We are going to Phoenix to the 2007 PHATS/SPHEM annual meeting for athletic trainers and equipment managers. We have a half-hour educational program booked to introduce and explain our product and technology. We want to get all the top equipment managers up to speed with what we believe will be the blade of the future. At that time we will be able to release the results of the Testing and Study done by the Human Performance Lab at The University of Calgary. We believe the scientific study will scientifically quantify our claims, and I believe we’ll slowly see the amount of people in the NHL and other leagues come around. We get dozens of emails already, and if we’d commercialized a year ago, we’d have a good chunk of the market, but we want to take the time to do this correctly, with scientific studies and data. You can’t rush it, time has to take its course, and then we will be ready in short order.
Dan Pujol, our public relations coordinator, has been talking to equipment managers and assistant coaches, and we have 6 to 8 equipment managers and assistant coaches who’re either evaluating the prototypes or are skating on them, and the feedback has been tremendous. All they say is that everything we claim is true, and they believe what we say is true.
They also say that, at multi-purpose buildings, it’s a fact that the design, flatter grind, and better edges, will help the inconsistency of NHL ice become much less of an issue using our product.
Gearhead: You said that you’re working with Robyn Regehr of the Flames. I’d imagine that he’s a perfect candidate; he had two broken legs at one point, and he’s a big guy, too.
Titzmann: Regehr has been one of the best test subjects we have. He gives us important feedback, he’s a pleasant person to deal with, and he’s indicated to us that he’s seen substantial improvement in the performance of our product as well as his performance. He got his brother Ritchie Regehr to try our blades, and they just got Jeff Friesen on them. Friesen was struggling early on in the season with his skate equipment, which affected his skating.
Gearhead: He’s had a lot of groin trouble over the last year or two…
Titzmann: Exactly. He’s been given the same combination that Regehr has, and he broke out of his goal-scoring slump after he put our blades on. He even won the Flames’ fastest skater competition.
Kelly Hrudey, who lives here in Calgary, indicated that he’d noticed improvement in Friesen’s skating without knowing he had our blades on, the commentary that people notice the differences, and that you can tell after the fact that a player’s changed to our product, you can see how that substantiates our claims.
Gearhead: If I may steer the conversation toward goalies for a moment, I’m a goaltender myself—I’m actually one of that .1% that’s stand-up goalies—and I’m curious as to how you feel the CT Edge blade will help goaltenders.
So many goaltenders play with really slack toe ties these days because, especially since the Overdrive blade was made illegal, they can’t get an edge in the butterfly without getting most of their skate blade on the ice. To an old “toe buckle” guy, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but I’ve heard of goalies getting their skates sharpened on an angle to try and get a better edge in the butterfly…
Titzmann: We’re offering the goalie a blade that will effectively mimic the effects of an Overdrive blade with a simpler and legal design, and while it may not be as dramatic as offering a horizontal blade to attach to your skate, it will have a similar effect.
If you look at a goaltender like Ed Belfour, who has diagonal blades, it’s no real advantage for him as the blade comes down straight to the ice. When a goal skate catches an edge and holds an edge doesn’t change, so it’s more of a placebo effect.
We’re very excited about our goalie blade prototypes. I think the goalie blade will be accepted and used substantially even more quickly at the NHL level than player blades; players are more traditional and superstitious, and they’re skeptical to change until somebody else does it, and they can see the changes. Then it feeds off itself. For the goalie blade, every goalie out there will understand how it works.
Gearhead: Is there a reason that you yourself haven’t tested the blades?
Titzmann: My partner Dan’s a lifetime hockey player, but since I’ve gotten into the business, I haven’t had the time to play lots of hockey, so I don’t want to use myself as a test subject because I’m not the best skater.
I rely on highly qualified skaters to test and help design this whole concept, which was so simple, that when people finally see it, they say it makes so much sense that the fact that big companies haven’t done this blows them away.
Dan figures I was able to do this by thinking outside the box, because equipment companies would like you to believe that thinner blades are better blades, and they’re absolutely wrong.
Gearhead: So what would you say to summarize what makes the CT Edge blade a product that they’ll want to try out?
Titzmann: What we’ve done—actually, a professor at the Human Performance Lab said that, in a nutshell, what we’ve done is we’ve changed the paradigm of how a skate blade works, and we’ve changed the performance of that product. He’s absolutely correct. Big companies think within the box, and they pump out the same products with traditional blade design, and even if they include composite blades, perforated blades, coloured nylon blades, nothing’s really changed the dynamics of how a blade interacts with the ice surface.
We believe that what we’ve developed and spent the last six years doing research and development upon will be the future of the game, without a doubt.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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