This season, however, more players will skate away without serious injuries, thanks to a custom plastic SoftCap from rink designer Athletica, Minneapolis.
The flexible extruded plastic SoftCap sits on top of rink dasher boards. Hollow channels inside the extrusion absorb impacts 96% better than the material previously used, according to NHL testing. The league expects SoftCap to reduce head, chin, elbow, and other injuries and has approved it for all team arenas. The New York Islanders were the first to install SoftCap and several teams are following suit.
Athletica supplies 75% of dasher boards to the NHL and came up with the initial concept for SoftCap last April. The company found most plastic extruders passed on the job because its large size and complexity made it too challenging.
Athletica eventually worked with Intek Plastics, also in the Twin Cities area, which specializes in custom plastic extrusions.
To design and produce a prototype in time for the fast-approaching NHL season, Intek used its Rapid Design for Lean Manufacturing process. This included a collaborative daylong brainstorming session with designers from both companies.
SoftCap is made from Santoprene thermoplastic vulcanizate.
The TPV combines the desirable qualities of vulcanized rubber, such as flexibility and low-compression set, with the processing ease of thermoplastics. It is polyolefin based and completely recyclable. It remains flexible and absorbs energy in temperatures down to –60°C, has good tear strength, and resists oil, grease, many acids, bases, and aqueous solutions. The SoftCap design evolved into a four-piece, modular system that compensates for rink variations. A friction-reducing coating was also added.
When the product is released for full production this year, Athletica plans to make it available to NCAA, high-school, and recreational rinks.