TORONTO A small group of National Hockey League players are to begin testing heated skate blades designed to cut down on friction and allow players to move faster and save energy.
Manufacturer Therma Blade Inc. of Verdun, Quebec, is in talks with the NHL Players' Association, and eight to 10 players are set to begin trials in mid-November.
NHL officials plan to monitor tests closely before determining whether the blades may be used in official matches.
"It's the same procedure we use for every new product. We will talk closely to the players after the trials before moving to a game situation," said Kris King, a former league player and senior manager of hockey operations at the NHL.
A resistor in the blades is powered by a rechargeable battery and regulated by a microprocessor located in the heel of the skate.
The resistor heats the blade to 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit), or just above freezing point, and thickens the film of water between ice and blade that acts as a lubricant and makes skating possible.
Inventor Tory Weber first got the idea of using a heated skate when he slipped on some ice in Calgary, Alberta, in 1985. Weber had just put on a pair of running shoes that had been resting on a heater.
Although the idea is simple to understand, one of the main problems in bringing it to fruition was obtaining a compact and durable power source, said Alain Hache, a physics professor at the University of Moncton, New Brunswick, and author of the book "The Physics of Hockey".
Hache said tests showed the blades cut friction between blade and ice by 50 percent.
"The new skate could allow players to go faster, or stay on the ice longer, or a combination of both. When players get tired towards the end of the game, it could enable them to keep the same tempo," Hache said by e-mail.
In a recent article on his Web site, Hache said the heated blade is one of the most important developments in skate design since the steel blade was invented in 1850.
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is an investor in Therma Blade and predicts the blades "are going to revolutionize hockey."
"I see Thermablade being popular equipment among NHL players," Gretzky, currently coach of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, says on his Web site.