Steel blades cut through ice. Carbon boot fibers groaned. Sticks tic-tac-toed pucks before firing with the accuracy of army snipers. These were the sounds from my “office,” which on this day was the Tampa Bay Lightning home rink.
I watched as one of my pro players Marty St. Louis went through drills. He was one of the most agile players in the league. He could stop on a dime, and turn on a Bluenose (that’s the racing schooner on the back of a Canadian dime, eh). I saw him take a shot and hoped that this time we got his sticks just the way he liked them.
My first big task as a pro hockey rep with Easton was to try to get Marty to change the color of his sticks. Sounds easy, right? Well you try telling a guy who’s in the top tier of all-time points to change even an undergarment, much less his sticks.
Easton hockey didn’t do commercials or print ads, they spent their money trying to get the pros to use their product. Every time a pro hockey player with an Easton stick scored a goal and raised that stick in the air, it was a “free” commercial or print ad. It helped when the stick being raised was one currently for sale at your local store.
Marty had been using a stick that we stopped selling about 5 years prior: besides the old model graphics, it was a canary yellow color that no one else in the pros was using. Our pro plant in Mexico had to order this color just for him.
For the retail market, Easton changed their sticks every year: names, colors, graphics, engineering. For the pros, they preferred them to be up-to-date, but would often put new colors and graphics on an old model stick for guys that refused to try a new model.
I couldn’t talk Marty into the blue or red options we had that year, even though the blue was a good match with his team colors, so I went for a graphic change. At least the stick will look like a newer model on the outside, I thought. “But same yellow, yeah?” asked Marty. “Same yellow,” I promised as I wondered what curse words my plant manager would offer for this bit of news.
Upon receipt, Marty noticed a part of the new graphic, just a few inches in length, that was looking up at him from the top side of the new sticks. He said it might be a problem but he’d try them anyway. He was a good sport- so much so that I think he won the Lady Bing Trophy more than once.
The Lady Bing is not, as it may sound, a trophy for the best cross-dressing Bing Crosby impersonator. No, this is a trophy for the player with the most sportsmanlike conduct throughout the season. Not an easy thing to accomplish, keeping your cool, when you’ve got sticks, and shoulders, and sometimes fists coming at you. Especially for someone like Marty, who was one of the shortest guys in the league, and probably took more elbows than shoulders.
He came off the ice frustrated. The new graphic was too much of a distraction for him, and now he felt like the flex was off, and the curve needed to be bigger…. I could hear the curse words from my plant manager all the way in Mexico.