This Minnesota Training Center Wants to Change the Economics of Hockey
Hockey season is underway in the state of hockey and, for many parents with a skater under their roof, the sport’s return can result in two things: a reinforced need for air fresheners and a heavy hit to one’s bank statement.
The latter outcome is one of the reasons why two Minnesota entrepreneurs, Andy Blaylock and Scott Brokaw, are looking to franchise their hockey training facility, Competitive Edge Hockey. Arguably the St. Louis Park-based center’s most unique offering is also its most exclusive: a slanted disc of synthetic ice, known as the Crossover Flywheel. The machine, which spins up to 20 miles per hour at an incline between 12 and 38 degrees, is the only product of its kind in the world that's available for commercial use.
Both Blaylock and Brokaw claim the Flywheel is improving young athletes “quantifiably.” By practicing crossovers—a critical hockey technique in which a player crosses their outside skate over their inside skate to sharply turn and accelerate—players are becoming faster and more nimble on the ice.
Yet the Competitive Edge owners believe their unique product can do more than improve players—it could make hockey cheaper to play.
“Ultimately, we want to change the economics of hockey,” said Blaylock, who built the Flywheel in the early 2000s. “The traditional mindset [in the hockey community] is if you’re not on the ice, you’re not going to get better as fast. And that’s simply not true. In any other discipline, whether it be academics or ACT prep, you will find a place to meet an instructor and you’ll pay that instructor. With hockey, you find time on the ice and you will pay for the instructor and pay for the ice, so you’ve doubled the cost. With our system, you take away that doubling and you just pay for the instruction, primarily.”
Vital to the Flywheel’s training regiment is video review. Without having to step off the machine, Brokaw and other Competitive Edge trainers can pull up video of a skater’s performance mid-session to correct mistakes on the fly.
“As somebody that’s got a habit, you can’t necessarily understand what’s going on very easily—you can’t feel it,” Blaylock said. “And so you’re able to sell them on the fact that there’s an issue by showing it to them.”
More than anywhere, Blaylock and Brokaw believe something like the Flywheel would excel in warmer climates, such as Las Vegas, California, Texas and Arizona—all of which are home to an NHL team and some of the largest growth areas for the sport.
“The reason something like [the Flywheel] hasn’t caught on in other markets is insane when you think about it,” Brokaw said. “Ice in California is around $600 an hour on the high end. It’s around $180 here and less in the summer. It can be really hard to get high quality reps isolating an individual skill out there [on the ice], but it’s really easy [on the Flywheel].”
Especially as demand for ice time rises as more players take to hockey in southern states, the Competitive Edge duo believe it’d be a “no-brainer” for ice-strapped hockey communities to offer off-ice training on the side.
Most of the skaters training on the one-and-only Flywheel are between the mite and bantam hockey groups, or ages 6 through 14. Yet, even professional players like John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and former Minnesota Wild forward, claim to have experienced the benefits of the Flywheel firsthand.
“I only wish I had Competitive Edge at my disposal in my younger years,” said Madden in a testimonial. “I used the Competitive Edge training system to prepare myself by getting my legs back under me in terms of strength, power, and endurance and also in terms of tuning my technique. Thanks to that training I was able to jump in and contribute right away for the Florida Panthers.”
(Shortly after his training experience, Madden took an ownership interest in Competitive Edge and is now the facility’s co-owner alongside Blaylock and Brokaw.)
The machine has also helped give rise to players like Rem Pitlick, a 20-year-old Plymouth native now playing for the Golden Gophers. “The stuff we do [at Competitive Edge] really prepares you for on-ice situations,” he said in a video by the local training facility.
The concept behind the Flywheel, Blaylock said, came to him in summer 2002 when he and Brokaw were still students at the University of Minnesota. “One of our friends was working at Acceleration, which is the firm that kind of pioneered the skating treadmill,” he said. “I asked what they were doing there to [practice] crossovers and he said they were just having skaters get on a shoes treadmill and step sideways, which is a gross approximation of the technique.”
In seeking a way to train crossovers, Blaylock eventually constructed the first Flywheel and, a year later, demoed it at the State Fair.
“On the original Flywheel, there was no hydraulics to adjust the incline, there was no motor. So you had to push the entire mass of the surface to get it going,” Brokaw said. “It was probably 1,500 pounds.”
“And it’d take about 15 seconds to get up to speed, by which time you’re relatively exhausted and then trying to show people how you can do crossovers on it,” Blaylock added.
Fairgoers were fascinated by the machine, Brokaw recalled, as Andy showed it off every half hour at the Fair. “He probably lost 15 pounds doing that over the 12 days,” he said.
With an improved Flywheel on the floor, as well as ice rinks, a skating treadmill and other drill zones, Blaylock and Brokaw are readying a franchisee search for their business. Currently, the two price a Flywheel above $100,000, but with it aim to sell a larger training package and facility concept so rinks can model their space similar to Competitive Edge.
Within a year or so, Blaylock and Brokaw hope to bring in serious buyer interest.
So far, most of the inquiries Competitive Edge receives, Blaylock said, are for their Flywheel. Typically two to three people a year, from Canada all the way down to southern U.S. states, have asked about buying one of the spinning machines for their rink or team.
Said Blaylock: “The hardest buyer is going to be the first one.”