As a pro hockey rep, I was tasked with getting as many NHL players into Easton gear as possible—by any means necessary. This was the Wild West; like the drug rep days before regulations. There were bags of cash, flat-screen TV’s, golf clubs, even boats and bicycles being thrown around as bribes. I was kind of a cross between Jerry Maguire, the guy at your local sporting good’s store, and a government official in a 3rd world country.
The first day on the job I got a call from my boss: “Kirky, bring your hockey bag, we’re skating today.” I tossed the smelly bag of old hockey equipment in my car, already warmed by the Southern California sun. In the halting traffic, I saw people of all stripes. Most looked like they were late for something they weren’t looking forward to doing anyway. I breathed in and took a bitter whiff of dried sweat and leather coming from my hockey bag. Usually, the odor was not too pleasant. On this day, I smiled as I took in that melancholic smell of games past, and realized… I was going to work.
I walked into the locker room and saw the shine of new equipment and a rack of colorful carbon fiber hockey sticks. I embarrassingly put my old wood stick to the side and dropped my tattered bag. Yes, I was still using wood in this new age of carbon fiber. I looked over at a familiar face and nodded.
Ned Goldsmith was a friend of mine from youth hockey days. He was a goalie back when goalie pads were basically giant leather mops. They absorbed ice and sweat, and nearly doubled in weight during play. Back then, Ned was as thin as a scarecrow, so this extra weight couldn’t have been good for his game. In fact, I could always score on him at will.
Ned was a thinker and a tinkerer and he decided that there had to be a better way. Growing up in the 70’s, fashion and technology were fusing right before our eyes, and Ned was smart enough to use it for more than just plumage. He hand-stitched polyester fibers over new foam-core materials for protection to create his own lightweight goalie pads. The first pair wasn’t much to look at, but it caught the attention of other goalies who were tired of being weighed down, and before you knew it, Ned had a business going.
Fast-forward to many years later, while working at Easton, Ned figured out how to make a stick out of woven carbon fibers. This became the one-piece composite stick that 99.99% of the NHL uses today. The stick that I was hired to sell, among other things. The stick that had revolutionized the game. The stick which I had yet to adopt into my own game.
For me, it was always out of my budget and hard to get used to. Sure it was light, but it was also bouncy. With my old wood stick, I was able to catch any pass and make plays from delicate to explosive. With the new carbon composite, I felt like I was playing pond hockey with someone else’s stick.
So the first thing they handed me that first day of work: three different composite sticks. “We’re testing these babies out today, Kirky. You need to tell us how each of these plays.” Fortunately, I wasn’t alone on the ice, since I spent more time trying to control the puck than comparing and contrasting sticks.
Ned was in goal. It was surreal to be shooting a puck at my old friend, with the stick he invented, and getting paid for doing it. And Ned, with his new-fangled goalie pads and a few more muscles now, actually stopping me cold more than once!
Coming off the ice, one of the other Easton employees looked at my beat-up old leather skates and shook his head. “What size skate are you?” I hadn’t bought skates in so long, I had to think about it. “I’ll set you up with some composites,” he said referring to the new carbon-based skate that was a byproduct of the stick technology.
By our next session, I had composite skates that weighed less than a pair of leather shoes, gloves that were as comfortable as ski mittens, and a brand new bag to put all the rest of my new equipment in. Needless to say, the ride to the rink was a bit less musky that day.