SBJ/July 28 - August 3, 2003/Other News

‘Seamless’ glass looking better in NHL

Athletica’s "Glass-Flex" will be used at seven NHL arenas next season.

Hockey dasherboard manufacturer Athletica has developed a new, flexible glass system that it hopes will end the debate over "seamless" glass.

Seven NHL teams will use the new system next season, the Minneapolis-based company said.

Athletica first brought seamless glass, which does not require support brackets between the glass panels above the boards, to market in 1995. Fans lauded it for not obstructing their views, and 14 NHL clubs eventually installed some form of seamless system.

Players, though, complained that the seamless glass did not have enough give and was causing injuries.

The league stepped in last season and created a standard for flexibility, and targeted Dec. 31, 2002, for all arenas to be in compliance. With the exception of a system developed by the Pepsi Center in Denver, all of the seamless systems in use fell short of the standard. Six teams — Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, Toronto, Florida and Columbus — got rid of the seamless glass and went back to the traditional glass systems.

Athletica spent last season tweaking its "Glass-Flex" system and, as it got closer to meeting the league's standards, the NHL office decided to push back the deadline until the start of the 2003-04 campaign.

NHL Executive Vice President Bill Daly called Dec. 31 more of a "target date" than a firm deadline. "We told everyone we were trying to provide time for seamless companies to develop an alternative that met our flexibility criteria," Daly said.

Athletica, whose chairman is Bob Naegele III, a board member and investor in the Minnesota Wild and son of the team's principal owner, had its new system ready by March and installed a prototype at the Wild's home arena in St. Paul, Minn.

"We designed it so the glass can move back and forth at the base, where the glass goes into the dasherboard system," said Davis Battel, Athletica's president.

The company said that six NHL teams — Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary — have either installed Glass-Flex or contracted with Athletica to do so before the start of next season, and the Phoenix Coyotes are installing it at their new arena, to open in December. Nine universities also have contracted for the new system.

The system costs about $125,000, roughly 25 percent more than a traditional, bracketed glass system.

"It combines the ultimate in player safety and fan friendliness," said Montreal Canadiens President Pierre Boivin.

It hasn't been easy for Athletica to coax back the six clubs that dropped seamless glass last season, as those clubs have already made changes twice. But Battel said the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are considering making a change one more time. Steve Dangerfield, who runs the Panthers' home arena, the Office Depot Center, confirmed that the Panthers may go back to seamless.

"The system we have now is very player friendly but not as fan friendly," he said. "We're not 100 percent satisfied from a fan's perspective, so we'll continue to explore new systems that are out there."

Not everyone is convinced of the merits of seamless glass. It's still a minority of NHL clubs that have adopted the system, and the other leading dasherboard maker says it is staying out of the seamless market for now.

"We're not going to chase that train for a while," said Murdo Paterson, general manager of Vancouver-based Cascadia Sports Systems Inc., which sold seamless glass systems until the league instituted the flexibility standard last season. "From what I hear, [the new systems] take a lot more maintenance."

Paterson pointed out that the seamless systems in place last season that were in compliance with the league standard were essentially used by the same companies that developed them. He said those organizations have a vested interest in continuing to use their seamless systems no matter what problems or increased labor costs they encountered. No system, he said, has proven its viability for a club or arena that does not have such an incentive.

"There isn't a long enough track record," he said.

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