A quarter-inch may seem small to many, but it’s rather significant in the NHL when it comes to equipment.
That’s the curvature increase the NHL adopted for its players’ hockey stick blades this season – up from a half inch to three-quarters of an inch.
The expansion gives players better control of the puck when they shoot or pass.
It also gave one local entrepreneur – North Huntingdon’s Brian Poe – a significant boost to his business, The Hockey Doctor, Inc.
With the rule change, the NHL needed a way to measure the new stick blade curvatures since the old measuring tools were suddenly obsolete. The league searched and searched for a supplier until it reached Poe, who owns his own business repairing and selling hockey equipment and hockey table games.
And, of course, hockey stick gauges – a 17-inch piece of aluminum that is notched and lined, featuring a sliding gauge that helps players and officials measure a hockey stick’s curvature – measure the distance the blade bends from the heel of the stick to the toe of the blade.
“I have been making these for about 12 years now. It’s not a product a lot of people want to carry. So, I found that and tried to run with that with my business,” Poe said. “I started doing repairs on equipment, too, and branched off into other things and this is one of them.
“With the new change in the rules this year – as far as I know, I am the only manufacturer of this gauge. I guess they looked on the Internet and found my Web site and saw the gauges were available. The NHL contacted me and just asked if they knew who the manufacturer was and I said I did know him – he’s a good-looking guy actually,” he added with a laugh. “They asked if I’d be interested in making some pieces for the league. It worked out that we were able to do that. They will supply all the teams, on-ice officials and off-ice officials with gauges.”
And, Poe’s business doesn’t stop with the NHL.
“It’s pretty neat. Not a lot of people get to work with the NHL directly unless you’re a major corporate supplier like Reebok,” he said. “It’s been a blessing and also had a trickle-down effect. Now it’s gone to the AHL, ECHL and the United Hockey League because they all adapt to NHL rules. I supply all of them with stick gauges as well.”
The stick gauges, which wholesale for $23.99, have allowed Poe, who runs a pro shop at the Center Ice Arena in Delmont, to find his niche in the ultra-competitive hockey equipment market.
“This is a start. I am trying to run with that,” he said. “I am trying to look for different things. There are too many people to compete with who have sticks, gloves, tape and all that. I am trying to build something bigger and something different where I can capture a different part of the market.”
And it’s allowed Poe to turn his “hobby” into a business. Just in time, too. He works as a millwright welder at the General Motors plant in West Mifflin that is scheduled to close in 2008.
“Hopefully, it will have a long-term effect. I want to do this for a long time. I am hoping to branch off into other things, too,” he said. “I have a couple other products I am working on – hockey stick furniture and a few other training products. The plant I work in is slated to close next year, so I’d like to build this into something bigger and hopefully this will work out for me.”
Business continues to pick up for Poe, who has received orders from leagues across North America. And, he recently received an order from the National Lacrosse League for one of his products.
Poe cites the support his wife, Cathy, and their two sons – Brendan, 7, and Ian, 5 – as huge factors for his ability to break through in the hockey market.
“I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things I have been able to do without my family supporting me,” he said. “It’s nice to have that backing.”
And, naturally, he’s a big Penguins fan.
“Absolutely. From the days of Syl Apps and Michel Dion up to Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr and now Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s in my blood,” he said. “It’s good to help the NHL out in any way I can. I have been involved with hockey since I was a little kid, so it’s nice to be a part of it in a small way.”