Every single time Derek Fortier watched his oldest son, Dillon, skate around the ice, he beamed with pride.
“You get emotional, for sure,” Fortier said. “The small steps for him were big…because for him, it was a real struggle and he was able to overcome it.”
Dillon was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was just two years old. He decided to give hockey a try at age seven after watching his younger brother, Dawson.
“Teaching (Dillon) to skate was a big challenge,” Fortier said. “It’s risky, right? And he’s not a risk taker at all. So for the first eight weeks, he’d just kind of walk and then glide. I remember thinking, ‘how am I going to get him to take a stride?'”
“Us coaches, we have 18 kids on the ice at a time, it’s hard to break down things to that level, but for his success I had to. So because I had to, it made me think of an accelerated way of learning.”
That break-down not only worked for Dillon, but for some other kids Fortier had been coaching.
That’s when the Tornado’s Edge was born. It’s a skating trainer to help kids with crossovers and edge work.
“Based on the experience in coaching and trying to teach these things, we basically came up with a device that replaced the coach.”
“The original description Derek had was he wanted to make a horse trainer, and it’s like how is that going to fit on the ice?” said co-founder and Fortier’s long-time friend Gerard Beaulieu.
The two workshopped the idea into a prototype last September, which eventually became the final product. It has already been a big hit with the kids who have used it.
“They call it the merry-go-round,” Beaulieu said. “You can see the smiles on the kids faces–they light up when they’re on the thing and that’s amazing to see.”
“I don’t think they really understand what they’re learning,” Fortier said. “They just want to go around and when you get them doing that crossover, which is not a natural thing for anybody, it’s pretty incredible how quickly they pick things up.”
The Don Hartman North East Sportsplex was the first arena to purchase a unit and now has two for users to access at its two rinks.
“It’s just so much quicker in the ability for the kids to learn,” general manager Perry Cavanagh said. “Their confidence just skyrockets and within minutes–literally minutes–(the kids’) skating style changes, especially on crossovers.”
“I think it’ll have an impact across Canada and maybe beyond,” Fortier said.