Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 11/13/07 at 09:42 PM ET
Despondent, I swung down around Civic Center Drive, taking the waterfront route, and, through the columns that support Cobo Hall’s soft underbelly of service entrances and anonymous back doors that I could have and should have taken advantage of, I caught the top of the stack of a thousand-footer, slowly steaming upbound, just having cleared the Ambassador Bridge. I spun the car around, parked behind anonymous Chevy Corsica, and bolted for the Riverwalk, bidding a Sunday morning, “Hello” to the officers taking an end-to-end patrol, and watched the Century—it seems almost wrong to not note that it was once Oglebay Norton’s Columbia Star—gracefully, almost soundlessly churn its way toward Duluth for one more load of coal.
As I looked up toward Belle Isle, and down toward the flames slipping from the gas flares at the refineries and steel mills of Zug and the Rouge, I thought to myself, “At least the River, she never lets me down,” and headed back to the car.
There was no more perfect tune to send me home than the one that slipped out of the speakers…
I took out a loan on my empty heart, babe
I took out a loan for my patient soul
And I feel alive as long as I donʼt need you
And I feel alive as long as I keep hold
Of what I think I thought I heard you loved me
I think you thought you heard I loved
Have I been mistaken
Have I been mistaken
I feel confused about the way itʼs done
The OneGoal hockey show was billed as an event, as something that would benefit not only the industry, but also the fans, serving as a draw Downtown and a window into the world of hockey equipment.
Maybe that’s what it was on Friday, when the Red Wings were in town. Maybe that’s what it was on Saturday, when a few players signed autographs for the thousands in presence—or was it hundreds? Dozens?—before catching a flight to Chicago.
That’s not what I heard, certainly, and that’s not what I saw on a Sunday morning, where Warrior, which had to move its booth all the way up I-75 to Warren had already left, Fury was packing up, and the few exhibitors that were still manning their booths had the worn look of people stuck with their third day of “booth duty” shifts while their supervisors wheeled and dealed in the back.
A back that I, as a blogger, had been denied access to, not surprisingly, and I suppose part of that was my fault, naively thinking that at least the equipment industry wouldn’t get caught up in the “dot com” instead of the “I’m a correspondent for…”
To say that it was a Sunday I’d have to attribute to the learning curve was an understatement, as was a very simple concept—that the whole thing had been marketed wrong.
OneGoal is a tremendous organization with a noble purpose—to divert some of the trade show’s profits from equipment sales and committed orders back to growing the game itself, on a grass-roots, “let’s get kids into having fun and enjoying themselves” level. I know because I’ve spoken to the chairman of the organization, and will do so again shortly.
The show itself isn’t culpable in the fact that the public portion thereof offered some fun shooting activities for kids, a few chats with equipment reps while taking a glance at their displays, the biggest of which offered the chance to actually try on a few sets of gloves, skates, and sticks in person, and a decent set of memorabilia from the Hall of Fame, but not much else, and certainly not much in the way of actual conversation for someone who was interested in talking about hockey equipment and the industry.
That wouldn’t have happened there, anyway, because that’s not the point.
The OneGoal hockey show relied on sources to promote it that promoted it as something other than what it was—a trade show, where equipment representatives from over 50 manufacturers were looking to drum up sales and commitments to order 2008 product, some of which they tantalizingly offered up to the industry before it was available to the general public while not revealing all the technical specs thereof, and where representatives from both local hockey shops and bigger regional and national distributors were looking to garner the best deal on the product they felt would most interest the general public.
The public portion of the show was an adjunct, a series of displays from several major manufacturers, several start-ups who’ve received some widespread attention, and local organizations that are looking to drum up sales and drum up interest, and understandably so.
I had a few nice chats with several vendors on the public side of the show. The guys from Thermablade remain both excited about their product and are more than willing to talk to you for half an hour about physics, electronics, the non-proprietary aspects of their circuitry, the fact that their blades and holders are made in Quebec, not overseas, and I was impressed with the patience with which their reps answered the same old, “What about overheating? What about the life of the blade? How do you recharge it?” questions. Having held seen it in person and held the blade prototypes in my hands, having talked to the man behind the blades (that will be up shortly), and having taken a look at the physics involved, the concept is scientifically sound, and their product is not being rushed onto the marketplace.
Mission-Itech’s reps, once they understood that I was A) not some guy who was fibbing about his credentials and B) not going away, gave me a good talk about their new Reflex line of goaltending equipment, and that deserves a full write-up with some context from an industry rep, but they’ve got a really neat concept going—their X-wing pads are designed for butterfly goalies, and are a single offering, while the RX 7’s offer up three different knee breaks based upon a goaltender’s style of play—a break above and below the knee on a “soft” pad for guys like myself, who either don’t butterfly much or have narrow butteflies, a break above the knee pad but not below it or a break below the knee pad but not above it for those who prefer a stiffer pad with a little flexibility depending on their tendencies and stances, as not everybody wants pads that are anything but a wall from either above the knee or below the knee on down, and truly flat-faced pads for those who have wide, Luongo-style butterfly stances.
TPS started the trend with a removable and adjustable knee stack and calf channel, and each company is adding their own tweaks toward building an end product that’s still customizable by each goaltender based on his or her needs, preferences, and comfort levels. The RX 7’s had a feature that I thought was particularly interesting in that the cuff of the trapper was laced on the face of the glove, but not on the backhand, and had an adjustable velcro strap on the backhand, so pucks wouldn’t push your cuff backward, but you could have some forward flex to allow yourself to either pull the glove flush into your body while in your stance without opening up a hole, get a little more room on your wrist with which to play, pass, and shoot the puck, or in the case of goalies like myself, turn your hand inward after catching the puck…but I think more pictures would probably tell the story better, and I didn’t get the chance to snap a few while my hands were in the trapper and blocker themselves!
Those parts, good.
The fact that so many of the public reps, and even Jason Woolley, had looks on their faces that mimiced those of students who are preparing to serve detention, not those of people who represent an industry that they want to welcome you into, showed, and, again, I guess this is my failing, but I didn’t press them for interviews.
The atmosphere of a trade show, where sales are on the line and information is still at a premium, where nobody wants to tip their hand, simply isn’t a good one with which to head into if you’re looking to talk to guys who are passionate about their product and want to show it off to you…
If you’re attending a hockey trade show with a public portion, you’re walking into an atmosphere that’s completely counterintuitive to that kind of no-pressure educational environment. When people from the industry are trying to, in car dealership terms, make a guy feel lucky for buying a car that costs $18,000 to make for $32,000 because it’s “next year’s model” with new bells and whistles, and the people from retail and distribution are trying to figure out what that car does indeed cost to make, what bells and whistles are real and what ones are integrated features, and whether the competition is offering a better, cheaper, or, to regrettably and ruefully use the word, “sexier” product…
You’re walking into a poker game, and when you’ve got dealers in open competition with one another from booth to booth, and retailers and distributors making offers and counter-offers after going from booth to booth, you’re walking into an arena where you’ve got not only some hostility and resentment, but also a pack mentality.
I swear to you, I saw an industry person of prominence who I happen to know (it’s nobody I’ve previously worked with, for the record) exiting the “trade” portion of the show with a few fellow retailers—but they looked like an entourage, and all of them, the prominent person in particular, were strutting like peacocks, as if they owned the place. They were the rule, not the exception, as I began to realize, watching young guys who once played hockey but didn’t quite make it “to the show” and had taken up nice retail jobs selling equipment dressed to the nines, chests puffed out as if they were trying to impress pretty girls at a nightclub, not trying to get X amount of orders or Y amount of dollars committed to Z amount of product.
In terms of actually talking about hockey equipment with the people who made it as a blogger and person who’s genuinely interested in the stuff because I like it like some people like sports cards, bobbleheads, or even knitting—as a hobby and a subject of passionate personal interest—I could have gotten a lot more done on the phone, or on a one-on-one basis, and in the end, going to OneGoal was probably, more than anything, a waste of an 80-mile round trip’s worth of gas and the $10 in parking. When it’s not about generating sales or dollar signs, the people who make hockey equipment do more than just sell it, they make it, and to make a quality product, you have to have passion for what you’re doing. That passion doesn’t come through in a competitive, threatening atmosphere.
It’s a trade show, and somewhere along the way, the people who were relied upon to promote it started to promote it as an attraction in itself, as somewhere where you’d be able to get more information and interest from somebody who was making the stuff at whatever booth you were visiting than you would if you were talking to a sales rep at your local hockey shop.
You would have gotten a more honest answer there.
Private sales show, public adjunct. Somewhere along the way, people who were entrusted with marketing the show took the information they were given and spun it the wrong way, and those people made a big mistake, a mistake that resulted in a low turn-out for the public portion of the show, representatives who were going through the motions while having to do “booth duty” while the real wheeling and dealing was made in the back, and, from a personal perspective, an atmosphere where catering to a blogger or conveying the passion they have about the stuff they make was completely unnecessary, and if I was given access to the “dealers only” portion of the show, other than getting some eye candy, it’s a pretty safe bet to suggest that interview requests would be met with another, “Who do you work for again?”
I’d like to speak to the people with whom promoting this event was entrusted, but they’re not too interested in talking to me.
Otherwise, this is as much a personal essay as it is a blog entry, and it’s the story of one Sunday morning where a man who loves hockey equipment ended up walking out into a dreary November day, driving down the spiraling entrance/exit ramp from the Cobo roof, and he chose to swing around instead of just getting onto the Lodge, taking the long and indirect route to Civic Center Drive, and when my Pacifica hit the columns supporting the back entrance to Cobo, I caught the smokestack and bridge of a thousand-foot-long Great Lakes freighter slowly making its way up past the Ambassador Bridge.
The rest of it, you already know.
Sometimes bloggers don’t end up telling stories about hockey equipment at a hockey show because a combination of picking the wrong day and some really, really crappy marketing, but, like I said, the river has never let me down in terms of bringing clarity…as did glancing back at some of the edifices that abut it.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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