PANORAMA — Hockey players and other skaters are hitting their stride on a new skating treadmill, or skatemill, at Excellent Ice.
The $80,000 machine was installed at the three-sheet arena in early January.
Users wear a harness and their skates on the rolling treads, made of a special plastic that feels pretty much like real ice on the bottom of blades.
The skatemill is the only public one of its kind in Surrey, and one of only a few in Metro Vancouver.
“Ours is wider than the other ones out in the market,” said Scott Elliott, general manager of Excellent Ice, “and the beauty of that is, you can get larger guys on the machine, and I’ve actually had two kids on there striding out at one time. With it being wider, you can do a lot more edge work, crossovers, backwards on there, all that potential.”
So far, both kids and adults have been eager to try the skatemill.
“It’s been a great response,” Elliott said, “and for us it’s a bit of a learning curve with how we manage the groups and bookings, so it’s taking some time to get up to speed on that, but since we’ve opened it’s taken off.”
He said the machine is best used to quickly and efficiently break down a skater’s stride.
“It’s almost like you’re speeding up the process,” explained Elliott, an instructor along with Brandon Lai and Lyle Wingert.
“We can get them skating the right way much quicker than going on the ice. You can break down every push, every arm swing, if there’s a sway in your upper body, how much you’re bending your knees, where you’re coming back and recovering – it’s a great tool.”
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The skatemill can also incorporate pucks, for shooting and passing drills, and cameras and screens are set up to capture all the movements. The instructor can speed up, slow down and incline the skatemill with the push of buttons on a remote control. Users pay $100 per hour.
“Ideally there are three or four people taking shifts on the machine within the hour,” Elliott noted.
The machine was installed on the arena’s second level, at the far end of rink #1, next to the new Golden Glory Fitness & Martial Arts Academy.
The recent expansion of Excellent Ice was the first in more than a decade, said Elliott, who has worked there pretty much since the facility opened in 1999.
“We started here with two sheets (of ice) and a small cafeteria-type kitchen upstairs, and since 2004 we’ve put the third sheet in, and it’s been a number of years since we’ve done anything,” he explained. “We were searching for ways to drive some more revenue and build some more business. We had the empty space and built-in clientele, because we do all our programs in-house and our own leagues. We wanted to add that off-ice element to the on-ice element, that’s our objective, and it’s going to lead to our summer camps we run, so (the skate mill) will help with all areas of what we do here.”
Over the years, Excellent Ice has carved a niche with its Youth Pond Hockey League, which runs from March to June on the facility’s three smaller-than-regulation ice surfaces. Each three-on-three team pays up to $2,900 to play.
“I don’t think anyone in Canada can touch us with what we do in spring, maybe in all of North America,” Elliott said. “We have 236 teams for our kids league, and we get an additional 35 or 40 adult teams, so that’s around 270 (teams), and pretty much every ice block is used. It’s our peak time, the spring. It’s a very trying time for us, a difficult thing to run, but it’s an amazing program for us.”
Every Friday evening, Robin Vossenaar drives to Excellent Ice from his home in Coquitlam to allow his son Chase, 6, to train on the skatemill. The young player also regularly uses a similar machine at Burnaby 8 Rinks.
“I saw an improvement in his stride right away,” Vossenaar said. “It’s worth it, because all we want to do is make him a better skater. He’s got really good hands so it’s about working on the other things, too, to make him the best player he can be.”
In his backyard, under a party tent, Vossenaar installed a synthetic ice surface to allow Chase to practice skating, shooting and puck-handling. Video and photos are frequently uploaded to Twitter.com/VozzyHockeyKid, an account that describes the young hockey players as “Just a kid who thinks he’s the next star of the NHL.”