Late last year, Red Deer Rebels trainer Dave (Radar) Horning applied a white paste to the skate blades of the coaching staff and a half-dozen players prior to a practice.
He later spoke with the players, who were unaware of his tampering, and asked them if they’d noticed a difference.
“Five of the six said, ‘Yeah, what did you do to my skates today? It felt great.’ ”
Head coach Jesse Wallin was also impressed.
“I was quite surprised and it made a really big difference,” he said.
Since December, the entire team has been using SK-8T Fuel.
Horning and Wallin think that’s contributed to the Rebels’ success this season.
“I think it definitely makes a difference in your skating, especially for guys who are good skaters — guys like (Ryan Nugent-)Hopkins and (Mathew) Dumba, and those types of players,” said Wallin.
The man who introduced SK-8T Fuel to the Rebels is Ron Rinkel, a self-described entrepreneur who lives at Pine Lake.
He developed the paste after nearly three years of work and now has deals with at least two national retailers to begin selling his product by this summer.
Rinkel, who operates with his brother Rick as The Hockey Doctor Inc., said SK-8T Fuel creates “a permanent, micro-thin liquid barrier between the ice and the skate blade.”
“That’s critical in really aggressive turning and aggressive starts, where the water under the blade is displaced.”
It also improves the blade’s glide — by 18 per cent, according to mechanical testing, said Rinkel.
Horning said the improved performance of skates with SK-8T Fuel allows him to sharpen blades to a flatter hollow, reducing their “bite” and improving their glide. And that, added Wallin, reduces the effort of skating and makes it easier to maintain a high speed.
Rinkel is secretive about the composition of SK-8T Fuel and how it adheres to blades.
“The best way to describe it is it’s almost like a magnetic field. You could take a pressure washer to it, you could steam it.”
The only way to remove SK-8T Fuel, he said, is to sharpen the skates.
A former homebuilder, Rinkel was president of Calgary-based AlanRidge Homes and Jager Homes before moving with his family to Pine Lake last summer.
A hockey enthusiast, he spends much of his time in arenas playing the game or watching his two sons, both of whom are now on midget teams.
Inspired by the effectiveness of wax on skis and snowboards, Rinkel started to ponder ways to improve the performance of hockey skates. The search proved much tougher than he expected, with a variety of issues — from chemical compatibility to environmental and health concerns — frustrating his efforts.
But after “many failures,” Rinkel formulated a successful compound with the help of a chemist and a mixing company. In addition to mechanical testing, he arranged for minor hockey players at a variety of levels to try SK-8T Fuel, culminating with the Rebels.
“We’ve had outstanding comments all of the way through,” he said.
“The more elite the player, the more they’re able to notice the difference and the more they’re able to appreciate its characteristics.”
In addition to an endorsement from the Rebels — whose logo will appear on its product — The Hockey Doctor has an agreement in principle with Red Bull Crashed Ice racers Kyle and Scott Croxall. The Canadian brothers used SK-8T Fuel at a downhill skating event in Quebec City two weeks ago.
“They’re really, really well known through Europe,” said Rinkel. “So for us, that’s a fantastic marketing advantage.”
The Hockey Doctor is also working toward an endorsement from a “prominent female hockey player,” he added.
SK-8T Fuel can already be purchased through The Hockey Doctor’s website at www.thehockeydoctor.ca, but Rinkel expects a retail network to soon grow across Canada and beyond.
“Anywhere hockey is played is where it’s going to go. There is no product like it in the world.”
Wallin said he has no doubt SK-8T Fuel will be adopted by other major-junior hockey teams as well as professional players. But he’s hopeful that won’t happen until after the Rebel’s current Memorial Cup run.
“At this point, we’re keeping it under wraps for the Red Deer Rebels.”