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Local hockey coach opens synthetic ice skills lab

With more than a dozen teams competing for ice time at the River's Edge in Davenport, Jake Toporowski carved out a space for athletes to work on their skill

You might drive by it without even knowing it's there. Behind a door that says "Square and Round Dance Hall" in downtown Bettendorf, they're dancing alright. But it's a dance of a much different kind. A dance with skates and a puck. 

Welcome to the JT23 Hockey Skills Lab. 

For Jake Toporowski, hockey is in his blood. 

"I've been doing clinics and stuff probably for about two to three years," said Toporowski.

A former WHL player, now coach, pouring into young athletes where he learned the game. 

"The best part is seeing how they can grow," said Toporowski of the kids he trains. "Seeing where their game can go. Some of the kids you can tell they've taken off." 

He launched his own business and space in the middle of a global pandemic. 

"Ice is such a scarce resource here," said Toporowski. "We have the one sheet at River's Edge. We have 16 teams in our association. So we try to fit all 16 teams on the one ice. It can be difficult at times." 

So the ice at the Skills Lab is different. 

"It's basically plastic that you can skate on," said Toporwoski. "It's lubricated somehow that you can skate on it." 

It's white, slick, has shavings that look like real ice, and it feels like it, too. 

"There's a few steps where you might catch yourself and go 'Ope, I'm on synthetic' but for the most part it translates very well." said Toporowski. 

You won't see thick gear or a zamboni between his four walls.

"It should last for a long time," said Toporowski. "All I do is sweep it, probably everyday or so and vacuum it to just to keep the plastic shavings that look like ice shavings off the ice." 

But you will see the same grit and skill as if it were the real thing. 

"We don't do power skating because it is different from ice but their shooting and stick handling has taken off and it's fun to watch," said Toporowski. 

His skaters can hardly tell the difference at this point. That makes his unique approach and surface that much more fun. 

"I just enjoy teaching them the skills." said Toporowski.