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Lightning Staff Has Big Hand In Gatorade Bottle Holder Design

by Melanie Formentin / Tampa Bay Lightning

It is an act that happens so frequently, it is likely to go relatively unnoticed during a National Hockey League game.

During a stoppage in play the goaltender turns around and takes a swig from his trusty bottle, sometimes even splashing some water on his face. He places the bottle back on the net, turns to face the length of the ice and the game resumes.

One wouldn’t think there’s a strategy in replacing the bottle on the top of the net, but after the league-wide installation of overhead cameras NHL officials started to think otherwise. With goalies subtly replacing their bottles at the front of the net, it was becoming harder to conclusively call goals on reviews. In the NHL, where every goal counts, this was a problem.

The resolution was to distribute Gatorade bottle holders to all 30 teams, ensuring that each netminder had a place to put his bottle when he was done using it. The bottles would remain secure at the back of the net, clear from obstructing the high-definition cameras. Although those intentions were good, a new problem arose.

In order to slip the Gatorade bottles in and out of their holders, it was necessary to hold the piece open because the material collapsed when wet. For a goaltender wearing a blocker and catching glove in the middle of a game, this was no easy task. In Tampa Bay, it was also presenting a different kind of problem for netminder Johan Holmqvist.

For Holmqvist, an athlete who is susceptible to dehydration, it became a chore to replace the bottle between plays. Instead of drinking during stoppages Holmqvist would wait until the commercial breaks to skate to the bench – a period of time that could sometimes reach up to 10 minutes between drinks. It was early in the 2007-08 season that Holmqvist approached the Tampa Bay Lightning’s equipment and medical staff to seek a solution to the problem.

“The rules said that the bottles had to stay in the holders,” Holmqvist explained. “Our equipment managers and trainer said we had to do something about this.”

What happened was a process that started at the team level and worked its way through the NHL and Gatorade offices. Assistant equipment manager Rob Kennedy and assistant athletic trainer Jason Serbus began playing with ways to keep the Gatorade holder open, looking for a solution to the problem their netminder was having.

“We were tossing around different ideas,” Kennedy said. “A wire coat hanger lining one end was one. I knew when we were looking at it we needed something rigid and the only thing we had that was moldable and easy to use was orthoplast.”

Orthoplast is a self-bonding rubbery material that is most commonly used for splints and casts. It can be form-fitted when heated and is known for being rigid, yet lightweight.

“We work with it all the time, when we’re making pads, casts or braces,” Kennedy explained. “We just used it for one other thing – used what we had at our disposal to solve the problem we had.”

Mindful of league regulations, Tampa Bay’s team of trainers and equipment managers made sure to ask permission before using the device in a game. At the same time, the NHL was still trying to find ways to ensure that the Gatorade bottles stayed towards the back of the net. The timing was right and the league said they would keep a close eye on how the form-fitted insert held up during a night of action.

After the Gatorade holder withstood a full NHL game, including a handful of significant collisions around the goals, it was time to move the process forward.

Using their network of contacts, Kennedy and Serbus got in touch with the NHL’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, Kris King, and Senior Manager of Center Ice Programs, Rich Villani. With working relationships in place – for instance, Kennedy had King as a player in previous years – a foundation of trust existed that allowed the Lightning staff to share their prototype with the league.

“Rob Kennedy called me up on one weekend and said, ‘We’ve got this problem, we’ve got a solution and we’re going to send you a quick picture of it,” Villani said. “I looked at it and thought, as always, the trainers and equipment managers that I deal with find a solution to any problem.”

With interest in the Gatorade holder insert piqued, a prototype was sent to the league. For King and his colleagues, the solution to one problem could easily double as the solution to a different problem they felt existed.

“[Everyone] understood from our position at hockey operations why we need the bottles in the holders – the whole idea of video review and losing a puck underneath the bottle – we need to be able to conclusively say the puck is in the net,” King said. “We wanted to rid ourselves of any variables, and when Tampa came up with this idea we looked at it, it made sense, and we asked Gatorade if they would be willing to help us look into this.”

At Gatorade, the main contact was sports marketing manager Jim Garofalo. Already looking to improve the functionality of their bottle holders, Gatorade was coming up with ideas to reduce the issues associated with the covered goal lines. The Lightning had presented their idea for the insert and, with Kennedy and Garofalo already knowing each other, another major step was taken in the development process.

“The guys down in Tampa came to us with an idea as far as putting an insert inside of [the bottle holder] to firm it up a bit,” Garofalo said. “We kind of took it from there, tweaked the design a little bit from the cost and durability perspective. We used a high-density foam that incorporated the same concept that they had, just to give it a bit more sturdiness.”

Finally, the process had come full circle. With all sides working together, the newly designed Gatorade holders were used at the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta. Gaining the final stamp of approval, the inserts for the Gatorade bottle holders were distributed league-wide following the break.

“They made one or two adjustments,” Kennedy said, “but it looked like our holder.”

Although a Lightning sticker that was placed within the initial prototype was left out of the final product, Kennedy and Serbus still have plenty to be proud about. With the inserts sent out, the Tampa Bay staff helped complete a project that ended up solving a problem that was identified at the team level, but also served a significant purpose to the league. Understandable, Kennedy and Serbus garnered well deserved praise for their work.

“Those guys deserve a ton of credit,” Garofalo said. “They came up with a great idea to help address the problem the league was having, and hopefully we did them justice.”

“I applaud Tampa for the initiative and taking the bull by the horns and trying to find something that worked,” King said. “From our standpoint it’s a Gatorade holder, but it’s also going to be one that the Tampa Bay guys helped out on.”

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