In mid-January 2009, Derek Zike, a fifteen-year-old hockey player playing Midget AAA hockey crashed head first into the dasher boards in Ann Arbor, MI. He immediately fell to the ice and was unable to move. Paramedics were called and Derek was rushed to the U of M emergency room. Derek had suffered a burst fracture of his C5-C6 vertebrae. Today, Derek remains a quadriplegic but his indomitable spirit allowed him to graduate from the University of Miami (OH) and he is pursuing his master’s degree. Derek and the other young hockey players who have suffered this same catastrophic injury are is the inspiration for SAFIR Hockey dasher boards.
The SAFIR story...
Derek and his tragedy inspired this past five years of research and development that will soon become a movement in the world of ice hockey safety. ZiKap, Inc. was founded in 2010 by Marc Kapsalis. Marc was Derek’s coach in 2009 when the tragedy occurred. In the early spring of 2010, Marc remembers the spot where God inspired him to pursue a product that would prevent or significantly reduce the chance of this tragedy from happening to other players and families. "I was on my way home from the rink, and stopped at a stop sign. I looked over to my right and looked at a guard rail, and that's when it happened..."
Marc contacted a number of well-known engineering schools in the hopes they might have interest in pursuing the project. There was interest but not the enthusiasm Marc hoped for. Marc then contacted fellow West Point hockey teammate and friend Jim Knowlton. Jim was the Athletic Director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. RPI engineers were excited to take on the Dasher Board design project. In their Multi-Disciplinary Lab, for the next two years, a group of 10-12 RPI senior engineering students enthusiastically worked on potential designs, built and tested materials and various prototypes.
Partnership with Dr. Dean Sicking
During the first year of work at RPI, Marc sought additional experts to work on solving the problem. He "google searched" impact and sports and found Dr. Dean Sicking, who was reknown in the world of impact and had revolutionized road safety and auto racing with his inventions. After introducing himself over the phone and telling Dr. Sicking that he would have no idea who he was, Marc explained what he was trying to do. Dr. Sicking in an effort to manage Marc’s expectations, explained that he had 80-100 phone calls asking him to work on projects over the past 8 years or so, but he had only taken on four of them. Not discouraged, Marc went to meet with Dean, and they have been partners ever since.
Development and Testing
Final design testing began in 2012 in Nebraska, continued in an on-ice test in Chicago, and continues today in the new state of the art research and testing lab at UAB. Recent results show an improvement of 40% +/- 5% in energy management and absorption when compared with the current standard system. The Discovery Channel in Canada got wind about our revolutionary concept and did a feature story on their show, “The Daily Planet” which aired all across Canada in Oct. of 2013.
Road Trip to Manufacturing Companies
Based on numerous successful tests using a Hybrid III instrumented dummy, Marc and Dr. Sicking met with the top manufacturers in North America. The trip was a great success and virtually every company seemingly enthusiastic about the new potential game changing technology. Becker Arena products in Minnesota and president Jim Becker saw the vision and the possibilities for SAFIR. The groups have been working together, and Becker will likely be the first and exclusive manufacturer of SAFIR in the US. "Once our final design is complete and testing shows the 25-50% improvement we insist on, we will bring the product to market. The test results show we are at 10% better at energy management than current systems, but we dont just want to be the safest. We insist on being so safe WHile we have the safest product on the market in the next couple months
Since 2011, Dr. Sicking along with his engineer teams at University of Nebraska (2011-12) and University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) (2012-2015), have designed, obtained patents, built prototypes and tested the product that will be brought to market in the spring of 2016.