Posted at: 02/16/2013 11:46 PM
By: Mark Saxenmeyer
Minnesota parents spend thousands of dollars each season for their kids to play hockey, and for some, it's getting too expensive to afford.
Saturday night, two high school teams from the St. Paul-area ditched some of their high-priced equipment in an effort to return to the "good ol' days" when hockey gear cost far less than it does now.
The Mounds View Mustangs and North St. Paul Polars took to the ice to play the final regular game of the season, skating with $25 wooded sticks. The $250 "composite" sticks they usually use were set aside for one night only. The goal was to show you can still play competitively without spending so much money.
According to Polars Coach Jerry Diebel, "Kids aren't playing the game at a young age because of the cost of the equipment and the sticks."
Mustangs Coach Rick Thomas added, "You're probably talking $800 to 900 just for equipment. You're looking at maybe $2,000 for travel and the fees to play the game. It's got to be the most expensive sport to play."
And your average kid goes through several sticks alone, every year. Mustang player Matt Pfenning admitted, "I've gone through five."
His mother Kari elaborated, "In the past five weeks he's gone through five $200 dollar sticks."
$1,000 dollars in hockey sticks alone, which is why even hockey equipment manufacturer Dave Soderquist sees a problem. He's the CEO of Anoka-based Torspo Hockey International. "We're losing numbers (of players) in Canada and we're losing numbers in the United States," he said.
It was Soderquist's idea to return to the wooden sticks for Saturday's game. Wooden sticks haven't been used in Minnesota high school hockey since the 1990s but, "It's not really going backwards," he claimed. By embracing hockey's past, Soderquist believes it's actually an investment in the future.
Because if hockey ultimately costs less, more kids will "come to play and they'll continue to grow the sport," he said.
As Saturday's game progressed, many of the players say they were pleasantly surprised by how well they and their wooden sticks performed. North St. Paul player Justin Oliver said, "I think it's easier, like the puck's touch is better on your stick. So instead of it shooting off like it would on a composite stick it just sticks because of the wood."
Mounds View player Austin Teske said, "It's not much of a difference. Maybe a little more flex than my regular stick. But if I had a more stiffer stick it wouldn't be as bad."
When all was said and done, though, one question remained unanswered: Will this stick switch...stick?
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org