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Protecting the players

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Thirteen years ago the Vancouver Canucks organization underwent a massive change.

The Pacific Coliseum, which had been home to the Canucks since their NHL inception in 1970, was to be their home rink no longer as the team moved to and began playing out of GM Place.

This shiny new arena was state of the art with many new amenities that the team and the fans became accustomed to in a jiffy. Overall, the transition from one arena to another was a seamless one and the Canucks were thought to be done with the Rink on Renfrew.

Turns out that while GM Place was an improvement in many ways, the Pacific Coliseum still held the edge in one aspect of its arena and recently Vancouver's engineering department incorporated that into the Garage.

When the Canucks hit the ice this Saturday to face the Edmonton Oilers, GM Place will feature new aluminum boards and an innovative acrylic glass system that is a take on the old school setup the Pacific Coliseum had, only with a twist. Instead of intrusive aluminum stanchions holding things together, clear posts will adjoin the glass.

"It's a great system because It's way more forgiving," said Al Hutchings, the director of engineering for the Vancouver Canucks. "The actual acrylic in this will move up to two feet at the top when its hit and it's actually incredible to see how much it moves and the sound in the bowl is going to be louder, it'll be a new experience."

The Pacific Coliseum also had an acrylic glass system, one with obstructive aluminum stanchions, but when the Canucks moved to their new home it featured seamless tempered glass. It was thought to be a distinct upgrade over the old design, it would move just as well upon impact and it made the rink as a whole more attractive both for the fans in attendance and those watching on TV as there were no more annoying stanchions blocking anyone's view.

The problem was, according to Hutchings, that system just didn't live up to all the hype.

"There was different generations of it, we had improved it a couple of times, but still the overall problem with the seamless system is that the glass had the means to move, but the overall force that was needed to overcome the initial inertia was just too great. It just couldn't perform as everybody had hoped it would."

A rash of injuries to the Canucks over the last few seasons, some of which may have been prevented with more forgiving boards and glass, caused management to re-think the system GM Place was using and in early 2008 they decided it was time for a change.

It was determined by the Canucks players and staff that American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Stars, was advanced in the design of their boards and glass system, so Hutchings and his crew went down to the Lone Star State to get a first hand look at the possible prototype. Turns out it wasn't just good, it was above and beyond what they had envisioned.

"We watched two 240 pound guys go into the boards during a game and man it was exciting," Hutchings said. "Here if you got hit like that, possibly somebody wasn't getting up. Down there they jump back up and they're in the play again."

The bottom line for the proposed change was the protection of the players and after seeing Dallas' system at work, they immediately began planning a change for GM Place.

The Canucks contacted Cascadia Sports Systems Inc., a company out of Port Moody that had done wonders to the arena in Dallas, to design and manufacture a new system and as things started moving along it looked as though it might be in place for the start of this season.

Not many people were fans of the gaudy stanchions at the Rink on Renfrew, so Hutchings made a point of going above and beyond with the composition of the new ones. This is what led to the late installation as specially designed clear posts had to be manufactured by a company in Toronto.

"They're what we wanted to go with, they're much more flexible that the aluminum stanchions so that makes the acrylic system more flexible again. Plus we were also concerned with the fans' sightlines so going with the clear posts improves that a lot. That was a big selling point for us."

From conception to completion the project took a little longer than planned (they polished things off on Oct. 17th), but Hutchings believes players and fans alike will relish the change.

"It's really exciting because this stuff really moves. If you're in the first couple of rows, you're in the game. And it's loud, basically if there's a hit in the corner, the glass is moving up at centre, it moves that much.

"We'll have to pay more attention to cleaning, we may have to change it out more often, it does mark up but again, you've got to give on something to get the protection for the players."

Hockey's a tough game and players aren't usually timid about dishing out or receiving hits, with this new, more forgiving system in at GM Place, they just might start throwing their weight around a little more often.

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