, Newburyport, MA


July 5, 2014

The future of hockey rinks

After a collision with the boards left him paralyzed, Thomas Smith thought of the Look-Up Line -- a hockey 'warning track'

It’s a game that has led to two of his horrific injuries — one that he miraculously overcame, and one that led to his paralysis.

The game of hockey is regarded by many as the best sport in the world while also being among the most violent, fastest and toughest.

And while hockey and its players have changed and made a violent game more dangerous, Thomas Smith hoped to counter that change by altering the mindset of its players.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Smith was in the process of returning to the game he loved following four dislocations in the area of his spinal chord — an injury deemed an “internal decapitation” — that, in all likelihood, should have caused his paralysis. But Smith’s relentless persistence to recovery allowed him to regain strength and play again — only to collide awkwardly with the boards, hitting the right side of his head after being tripped up during a practice skate.

“I knew I was paralyzed the second I was paralyzed,” Smith said. “I then had to find my life without hockey, but didn’t want to give up on it. I believed that we could somehow find a way to make the game safer without affecting the speed, intensity or heritage of it.”

A 2008 graduate of the Pingree School and former member of the Boston Bulldogs Junior Hockey Team based in Salem, N.H., Smith began thinking of ways to change the game for the better while avoiding altering the way the game is played.

After the idea of changing the makeup of the boards and the way in which they’re constructed was found to alter the way pucks ricocheted off them, Smith found an idea from an unlikely source — Fenway Park. As a player tracked a fly ball deep toward the Green Monster and sprinted toward the wall, Smith noticed that the player felt the warning track beneath him and quickly reached his arm out to find his position while promptly slowing down.

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