After 17 National Hockey League seasons playing for five teams that provided him with every piece of equipment he needed, tough guy forward Donald Brashear had an epiphany – and a case of sticker shock – when he had to buy a hockey stick.
“I was retired for five years, so when I ran out of sticks and I went to buy one at a store, I thought the sticks were so expensive,” Brashear told me recently. “Even though I have money, it didn’t make sense for me to pay $300 bucks for a stick just to play in the beer league.”
That breath-gasping experience launched Brashear on a mission to manufacture and sell professional-caliber, carbon fiber, high-performance hockey sticks at an affordable price.
The result was Brash 87, an upstart business that sells Brashear-designed sticks for players of all levels. He’s priced the sticks between $129 (CAN) and $189 (CAN) – about half the cost of name-brand sticks.
Brashear is the latest individual or company to venture into the lucrative and ultra-competitive hockey stick business. In 2013, STX, a Baltimore-based lacrosse, field hockey, and golf equipment maker branched off into ice hockey sticks.
In 2000, golf club shaft-maker True got into the hockey stick biz and has sold more than two million twigs since. But big-name hockey companies continue to be the big dogs. Bauer, for example, has an estimated 54 percent of the hockey equipment market – which includes sticks.
Brashear says he’s not out to conquer the hockey stick-making world. He just wants a small piece of the planet.
“It’s like you’re drinking Pepsi Cola and then there’s a new company that shows up and says ‘Listen, I want to take one percent of that market,'” he told me. “If I can get one percent of what that company is making, that’s a lot of money.”
Brashear began his quest slowly. First, he searched for a reliable manufacturer in China who could make sticks to his specifications. After personally putting prototype sticks through their paces, he began selling the sticks around hometown Quebec City and at a Toronto-area Canadian Tire store.
“In six months, eight months, I sold like close to 3,000 sticks with no marketing, no advertising, no nothing. Only word of mouth,” he told me. “I hit two markets: the parents who don’t want to pay for a stick that’s too expensive and the beer league player who wants a high-performance stick.”
He’s become a traveling salesman of sorts, lugging a few Brash 87’s with him to rinks around Quebec City where he plays hockey five times a week.
“I bring my sticks, other players take them and they realize ‘That’s a nice stick, it light,'” Brashear said. “I say ‘Why don’t you try it?’ They try it and they adopt it.”
Now Brashear is looking to expand. He pitched his wares earlier this month before the panelists of CBC’s “Dragon’s Den,” Canada’s equivalent to CNBC’s popular “Shark Tank” business reality television show. The episode should air in the upcoming season.
“The ultimate goal is to build a high-performance stick to help people save money on sticks,” he said. “It’s not something I’m doing to become a millionaire. It’s something I’m doing where I’m helping people and helping me at the same time.”
Some fans might think Brashear’s desire to sell hockey sticks a bit odd. After all, he was a player known more for his fists than his scoring touch. In 1,025 NHL games, Brashear tallied 85 goals, 120 assists and a whopping 2,634 penalty minutes – most of them accumulated five minutes at a time as one of the league’s fiercest and most-feared fighters.
The website dropyourgloves.com calculates that Brashear had 390 fights during his hockey career – 277 of them while playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and New York Rangers. He spent enough time in the sin bin that he’s ranked 15th all-time in penalty minutes among NHL players. Brashear says the frequent fisticuffs obscured his overall hockey talents.
“I shot a lot of pucks and I know a lot about sticks,” he said. “I would watch (Capitals forward Alex) Ovechkin make a move and I would try to make the same one. It would take me two years before I would be able to, but in the end I would get it.”
Brashear had the ability to light the lamp. He was second in scoring on the Fredericton Canadiens -Montreal’s American Hockey League farm team in 1993-94 – with 38 goals and 28 assists while amassing 250 penalty minutes. He had an NHL career-high 28 points – 9 goals, 19 assists – for the Canucks in 2000-2001.
“That was a fun year, I really liked it,” he told me. “I always wanted to be in different situations, and I was used in different situations. I wanted to become a better player.”
But toughness remains his calling card. When his young players were being pushed around in the Swedish Hockey League last season, Modo Assistant General Manager Peter Forsberg telephoned his then 42-year-old former Flyers teammate Brashear and asked him to hop a plane and suit up.
“I said ‘Peter, I’ve been retired for five years. Yeah, I play a lot of hockey, but I’m not in game shape like going 100 miles an hour like these kids now in Europe,'” Brashear recalled. “I said ‘We’re not allowed to fight.’ He said ‘No, but your presence there is going to make a big difference.'”
Brashear’s Modo stat line: 12 regular season games, no points and six penalty minutes. He had a goal, no assists, and two penalty minutes in four playoff games. He was a fan favorite during his nearly three-month stint in Sweden.
“I really enjoyed it…I kind of wish right after my career I had the chance to go play there to get better at the game there,” he said. “There’s so much skating, passing the puck. It’s not so much physical.”