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Ducks Fan Turns Broken Hockey Sticks Into Canes for Vets and Kids

Jim Pull founded Canes 4 Vets with the belief that 'there's no better way to give back than to give to those who have served for us.'

by Jenelyn Russo @JenelynRusso / Special to

Creativity can often get its start in the most unlikely of places.

For Ducks fan Jim Pull, it was while attending a hockey game that a creative idea came to his mind.

As a Minnesota native, Pull had early hockey memories rooted in watching the North Stars play. But even when he moved to Orange County as a young boy, he never strayed far from the game. Once the Mighty Ducks arrived in Anaheim, Pull's interest in the sport was renewed, and it's not uncommon to find him inside Honda Center, as he was on a fateful night in 2011.

"We were watching the game and (former Ducks winger) Bobby Ryan broke his stick," Pull recalled. "I turned to my wife and said, 'Wouldn't that make a great cane?'"

With a cane of his own by his side that night, Pull was speaking from experience. A benign tumor lodged in his spinal cord since birth had eventually forced the former high school swimmer and water polo standout to need assistance in maintaining his mobility.

Instead of letting the idea fall by the wayside, Pull decided to see if he could make something of his crazy concept. With a bit of help from a fellow fan, he obtained a few broken hockey sticks used by Ducks players and set out to give those game-worn tools of the hockey trade some new life.

It required several attempts and hours of experimenting with his router, drill press and band saw before Pull's concept took shape. He began by hand-carving handles out of ash and maple wood and attaching them to the tops of the sticks' shafts, taking care to maintain each player's original tape job when possible. The handles were then painted with colored stripes, and a rubber foot was attached to the base of the stick.

Pull carved, sanded, painted and lacquered until he found a design and fit for his cane creation that was both functional and unique. He figured if the canes worked for him, they could work for others too.

After briefly considering selling the canes to hockey fans across North America, and then subsequently running into league regulations and licensing restrictions, Pull decided the best use for his idea was philanthropic - he would give the canes away to those in need, specifically to veterans and children.

"I wanted to give the canes to vets who needed them," Pull said. "It was my way of giving back, and I figured there's no better way to give back than to give to those who have served for us. And I can't ever say no to the kids."

So in 2011, Canes 4 Vets was born.

Pull spread the word about his charity by way of a website, social media and word of mouth. As people learned about the one-of-a-kind canes, monetary donations for materials and supplies came in, as did inquiries as to how to obtain one. And after eventually making contact with both Ducks and Los Angeles Kings representatives, Pull made sure he received a steady stream of game-used broken sticks to work with, sticks with names on them such as Selanne, Koivu, Beauchemin, Perry and Getzlaf.

For each cane request he accepted, Pull incorporated individual preferences into the stick selection and construction, including shaft length and favorite team or player, taking the time to create color striping on the handles reminiscent of hockey sweater designs.

Every cane was numbered so Pull could keep detailed records on the specifications. And each cane delivery included the unused pieces of the stick, such as the blade, as well as any information he had on the time frame or game when the stick was used.

Most requests for the canes came from either the wives or girlfriends of hockey-loving veterans who had returned home from their tours of duty with new physical challenges, or from parents of young kids who loved the Ducks and were facing difficulties no child should have to face. Their intentions were the same -give their loved one a gift that would bring them joy and help make life a little easier in an otherwise difficult situation.

"I received so many wonderful stories from people saying that the canes brightened their days and lifted their spirits," Pull said.

What Pull was creating became more than just a repurposed piece of carbon fiber and graphite that was otherwise headed for the garbage bin. He was truly turning someone's trash into another person's treasure. The more canes he created, the more lives he changed. And he never accepted a dime from the recipients.

"I figure if you have to use a cane, use one that you can be proud of," Pull said. "That way, people will talk less about the injury or disability and more about the cane."

In 2015, after handcrafting nearly 125 custom canes from broken hockey sticks and donating them to veterans and children, Pull was forced to step away from Canes 4 Vets. The tumor in his spine was causing constant pain up and down his legs, requiring the use of a wheelchair, as he no longer could trust those legs to stand and use the tools of his trade safely.

"I was heartbroken to have to give it up," Pull said. "I figured I'd be doing this for 15-plus years and that there would be thousands of these canes out there. The hardest part is no longer being able to help the vets."

Pull said that over the approximately four years he produced the canes, they were shipped all over the U.S. and into Canada to veterans who fought in wars spanning from World War II to the Iraq War. These hockey sticks that saw battle on the ice found a new purpose in helping heroes fight battles of their own.

"It was a great experience, the whole good karma thing, and the act of giving back to society," Pull said. "It breaks my heart to not be able to continue it."

Pull would love nothing more than to team up with a fellow hockey fan that has a giving heart and a knack for woodworking to see Canes 4 Vets brought to life again.

Until then, Pull continues to diligently follow the Ducks, attending games whenever possible, always cheering on his favorite team in his favorite sport. He is at peace with the knowledge that he was instrumental, even if for a short while, in serving others through hockey.

"I couldn't be prouder of our vets, and I couldn't be happier than to have been able to help them," Pull said. "It was an honor to be able to give them something they could be proud of."

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