Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota is the “State of Hockey,” but even that’s being put to the test this summer as the Twin Cities is in the middle of a brutal heat wave.
While we’re experiencing daily heat indexes of well over 100 degrees, one booth at the State Fair has hockey on its mind and relaying that to all of its customers. Kids are getting into hockey skates, practicing their strides and gliding on a surface that looks as if it’s ice.
But how is it possible in this heat? It’s through a product called synthetic ice being offered by the company D1 Backyard Rinks, which has offices in St. Paul. It started up about a year ago by Mike Miller, who calls himself a “back-burner hockey parent.”
The company is selling summer’s version of “ice time” on its surface at $3 for 10 minutes, far cheaper than any ice time during the winter hockey season. The surface is a high density plastic that is about 90 percent comparable to actual ice. Miller’s son, Dustin, who is also part of the business venture, said it’s not much different other than a few obvious things.
“It actually takes a little more effort and energy to skate on the synthetic ice so when you go out on real ice you’re stronger and faster,” Dustin Miller said. “The technology has been there for 20 years, but now we’re able to do this because plastic is now a more affordable product.”
It even sounds like ice when you’re on skates and you start and stop. The only difference is you’re not kicking up shards of ice from the blades of your skates.
Dustin Miller said it’s perfect for somebody who wants to set up a makeshift rink in their basement or garage. You can do whatever you want with it between just having a space big enough to shoot pucks, or have a full-fledged rink to perfect that skill set. They sell 4 feet by 8 feet sheets of synthetic ice for about $270. To get a decent size rink on your property, it will cost you about $4,500.
“We provide backyard garage or basement ice rinks. Whatever folks flavor is, have a nice product set for that. The material has really grown in popularity in the last five years and we’re excited about the products we have.”
The installation, according to their web site, is so easy that a child could set up a sheet of ice big enough for skating in less than 20 minutes.
“It’s really just for anybody who wants to skate,” Dustin Miller said.
So why have a set up at the Minnesota State Fair? It gives the company, which still considers itself a start-up, exposure to a large base of people who all have something in common: They love to skate or they love to play hockey.
Dustin Miller said through the first five days of the State Fair, they’ve had more than 2,000 customers come through and try the surface. That’s an average of about 500 people per day. It help that the synthetic ice sheet is covered by a tent to keep skaters cool in the hot and humid conditions at the State Fairgrounds.
Dustin Miller said it’s a good surface for any hockey player to use so they can keep up with their fundamentals, whether it be skating strides, stopping or stick handling. They provide a lubricant that should be applied to the synthetic ice to maintain it after it’s been used several times. The synthetic ice itself, they said, is good for up to 10 years.
The D1 Backyard Rinks State Fair booth is located on Randall Avenue south of the Progress Center and is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Ten minute skating sessions cost $3, and they provide skates and socks. It also has the feel, albeit on a smaller scale, of an NHL facility with advertising along the boards, hockey signs, dasher boards and makeshift locker rooms.
“The kids get out there and really you just see a bunch of smiles on their faces,” Dustin Miller said. “They’re just happy to be out there.”
Mike Miller is hoping that translates to more demand for the synthetic ice sheets that are just like being on the real thing.