This article includes a contest to win a "new" kind of hockey tape with customised team art for an entire roster, set up just for Bleacher Report ...a "thank you" to B/R members, writers, and staff. If you don't play hockey right now, it's a good excuse to start! [See Page 3 for more contest details, or just follow the contest link.]
~Vancouver-based equipment firm Blade Pro Products turned personal hockey dreams into an industry reality. BladeTape co-inventor and company president Richard Findlay has found partnerships with the likes of Brian Burke, Willie Mitchell, and Chris Mason on his way to making his own mark on the game with a new kind of hockey tape. [Photo: Wild-man Nick Schultz and former Canuck/current Pen Matt Cooke collide on the ice. Both players use BladeTape.]~
Over the next twelve months, we will be testing and reviewing as much hockey equipment as possible, keeping fans and players up-to-date on some of the game’s best innovations. More than that, I hope to give something back to our passionate hockey community, many of whom either play or would like a reason to start. In this instalment, a review of a new kind of hockey tape, and a contest for B/R’s hockey readers and writers to win enough customised BladeTape for an entire team to try!
Like the rest of the modern world, technology in hockey is always changing, and it can be tough to keep up. In this case I did some research, tried the product, asked random players what they thought, had others test it, and luckily gave myself an excuse to spend a bit more time playing hockey. I also interviewed the inventor, who kindly tolerated my endless questions and provided answers to all of them.
If you’ve ever played hockey or been a serious fan of the sport, you’ve probably nursed a secret wish to somehow impact the game. Visions of scoring the OT game-winner in Game 7 of the Cup Final are the norm, but well out of reach for most. But while we can’t all be NHL idols, it is possible to influence hockey from the dry side of the boards. Sports writers find a way to do it through reporting; others invent new ways of looking at the game.
I play neither well enough nor often enough to worry much about details like the tape I slap on my stick, but when I learn of any “new and innovative” type of gear it gets my attention. In this case, I found the product I was reviewing could be handy to anyone with a hockey stick, and it’s uses cover virtually every type of hockey.
BladeTape came to my attention when I noticed players with an odd-looking accoutrement on the blades of their sticks: a pair of long rubber stickers, one on each side, sometimes plain, sometimes coloured, and occasionally with pictures. Having taped countless hockey sticks over a growing number of years, I had never seen anything like it, and thought at first it was no more than a fashion statement, a new way to pimp your stick. After some digging I found that there was more to it than that. As a player the tape met a lot of my equipment needs, as a hockey buff I saw how it was already making an impact on the game, and as a writer I saw a story which illustrated one of the ways ‘average people’ can affect the bigger picture.
St Louis netminder Chris Mason's customised tape. "I tried BladeTape this summer and after the first time with it on the ice I knew I wanted to use it," was one of Mason's comments. "...Its performance is unbelievable."
Taping up has long been a part of the pre-game ritual in hockey. Ostensibly intended to grip the puck, deaden the impact of passes, and possibly even help protect the stick, it’s a small but integral part of game preparation. Blade Pro president and BladeTape inventor Richard Findlay believes he has improved on virtually all aspects of traditional cloth tape with a rubber-based replacement.
What is it, who uses it?
The tape alternative is comprised of two cross-hatched thermoplastic rubber stick-ons, one for each face of the blade. Peel-and-paste forms are applied to each side, leaving a small gap along the bottom edge. The exposed blade edge creates less friction along most playing surfaces. The raised texture grips the puck, it’s quick to attach, and the rubbery material helps cushion impact while being waterproof, “self-healing”, lightweight, and durable. The maker stands behind the durability of the tape and states on the labelling that it lasts up to fifteen games, often more, producing less waste and reducing frequency of application.
It’s an interesting list of properties which might sound like hype if it weren’t for the impressive list of supporters the product has already gained. Toronto Maple Leafs President and GM Brian Burke is a minority partner. Vancouver Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell and St Louis Blues goalie Chris Mason are faces of the product, while the company website lists a raft of pro players and teams from the NHL, AHL, WHL, QMJHL, Varsity, etc. who use (or have used) BladeTape.
Canada took gold at the 2008 IIHF Division 1 inline Championships. BladeTape would have been used at the game.
BladeTape is applicable to ice, floor, roller, and road hockey and is used by a wide range of players and leagues. It apparently doesn’t mark up floors or walls, and the lack of tape on the bottom edge means the stick moves more smoothly along most surfaces. It is popular among the indoor hockey community and is affiliated with a number of related professionals and organisations, including Peter Dale of USA Clinics and IamAHockeyPlayer.com, the Canadian National Inline Hockey Association, rollerhockeymonkey.com, North American Roller Hockey Championships, and the OMRHA.
How did it measure up?
When I began my own limited testing in October, I found the tape easy to apply, and personally liked the way I was able to lift and manage the puck with the rubber grip. The difference of the exposed blade on the ice took a moment to get used to, but gave a smoother feel. On lacquered surfaces (floor hockey) it mimicked the glossy feel one normally has on the ice, rather than the friction which can occur with cloth. I haven’t had to change it yet, and my stick blade is still in good condition. A small slash to the tape was mended easily when I smoothed it back into position with my hand, and looks solid, almost new. My experiences confirmed BladeTape’s claims.
As with any new product, there are questions and concerns. In the course of my research and review, many people asked about various elements of the tape, so I turned around and asked more questions.
The biggest worry I heard from people was in regard to the exposed bottom edge of the blade. With traditional hockey tape, the blade is covered in overlapping layers top to bottom, heel to toe, and it is often thought that cloth tape helps protect the blade.
In street hockey there is no doubt that the bottom of a blade will be eaten away by gravel and asphalt. On the ice, skate blades make nicks and slush eats at materials. Since BladeTape’s design features a 3mm gap along the bottom edge of the blade, some wonder how this affects the life of the stick. As the pile of worn-out sticks in my garage can attest, there’s not much that will stop a wood or plastic blade from being torn to shreds on the tarmac; when I play street hockey I usually use an old stick with duct tape on the bottom (replacing it every ten minutes), or simply leave it alone (it’s that futile).
However, in ice, floor, and indoor roller hockey, with composite or wooden sticks, evidence has been gathered which suggests there may be benefits to keeping the bottom of blade exposed.
Anecdotal evidence gathered suggests conventional tape may actually cause damage to wooden blades over time, since the fabric holds moisture close to the blade for prolonged periods unless constantly changed. A third-party control group using wooden and other two-piece sticks confirmed this; wet tape led to softened lacquer, swelling and cracks, etc. Empirical evidence has also been cited which evidently shows that “the absence of tape on the bottom the blade does not significantly alter stability of the blade.” The company recommends wiping the stick blade dry along with your skate blades after a game, or for dedicated folks two coats of marine lacquer on the bottom edge of will fully protect wooden blades.
The bottom of the blade on most synthetics should be able to stand normal wear and tear without any extra protection during its product life-expectancy. Indeed, Findlay reports that his company hasn’t received a single email complaint about composite bottom-edge failure, and says that it simply hasn’t come up as an issue.
People I spoke to who had used the tape and the testimonials I read generally gave positive reviews of BladeTape. I was so inundated with good feedback that I was almost concerned I wasn’t getting all sides of the picture. A few remained unconvinced; some didn’t want to mess with their life-long hockey kit, others simply relished the ritual of the twenty-minute stick waxing. This is the usual pattern when new things hit the stage, but as team-mates start using different gear, developments progress, and more independent reviews appear, it seems a greater number of players are giving new technologies a try.
Another hockey tradition, jury-rigging will always have a place in how players adapt their gear, but that’s how rubber hockey tape came to be in the first place: a bicycle tube slapped on a stick. Finding the best personal fit is the most important thing, and so testing lots of options usually helps. Many people like to keep BladeTape and traditional tape on hand for different uses.
Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke says he likes the feel of the new tape: "I find I can control spinning pucks a lot easier with BladeTape over conventional tape...[it] makes my composite blade more like a wood stick because it softens the feel." Photo: Getty Images
So why is this a hockey dream made reality?
Richard Findlay has played hockey all his life. Eventually becoming a landscaper by trade, it would be fair to say he assumed his life would go on without ever working in pro hockey. It was through continued play and passion for the game that he eventually found his unexpected place in the hockey industry.
Vancouver rearguard Willie Mitchell is the face of BladeTape, but NHLers such as Minnesota's Nick Schultz and San Jose Shark Jody Shelley also play with it. Use in the big leagues helped make Richard Findlay's NHL dreams come true.
Detailed further in the company website’s “Tale of the Tape”, Findlay recounts the myriad ups and downs along the way to realising his own hockey dream. He developed the idea at the side of a rink, using an old bike tire section on his blade and discovering unique benefits. Properties were refined, a prototype built, and production rights sought. Early efforts were scrapped when a similar patent for a rubber cricket bat sleeve from 1896 was discovered; legally, the inner-tube inspired hockey-sock wasn’t different enough for Findlay to use it as his own. Piles of work, results, and refinements were shelved, occasionally dusted and reviewed over the next decade. In 2006 the work was revisited, the technology and design studied, and more improvements made, resulting in two adhesive thermoplastic pads: an original inventive step. After all that, Findlay was told that in his time away from the project, he had been beaten to the punch by an inventor in the US. “Everything I had was already patented.”
Believing fiercely in his hockey tape design, Findlay was unwilling to let more than a decade’s worth of dreams go to waste. He contacted the Pennsylvania-based patent holder, who was impressed by the Canadian’s work on the project and passion to bring it to life. Already a successful inventor, the man in PA was unable to give the tape his full attention, and after much discussion felt Findlay was dedicated to the job. A few signatures and a cheque or two later, and the whole ball of wax was owned by Findlay, though he insists of being labelled “co-inventor” in deference to the Hershey-related originator.
The advent and growing popularity and availability of one-piece composite sticks gave the product new life. Composite blades tend to be more bouncy and stiff than wooden ones, often making the puck more difficult to control, especially when received with force. Since two of the main features of the rubber tape are shock absorption and improved puck handling, the advent of the boisterously-bladed one-piece stick helped BladeTape get a foot in the door.
Findlay listened to all the tape and stick-related concerns of hockey players. Ragged tape which needed to be fixed mid-game, wet fabric and stick blades, poor puck control with composites, constantly taping and re-taping along with the amount of waste generated by doing so made the list. Once he felt he had the answers to such questions, BladeTape hit the market.
They also developed a few related products, including Grip/TipTape, which is used on the shaft as grip and on the top and toe of the blade to prevent water or gameplay damage; and Goalie BladeTape, specifically designed for goal-sticks with net-keeping needs in mind. They also found ways to ensure colours and images stay sharper, longer.
The effort paid off. Starting with smaller leagues, youth hockey, and rec teams, the new tape started to spread. Brian Burke’s involvement led to greater NHL exposure, as well as a feature by Ron MacLean on Hockey Night In Canada during the 2007 playoffs; MacLean is still seen regularly with well-used BladeTape on his stick. The product was also the focus of a full review on The Score (video link), and the endorsement of various hockey players and professionals hasn’t hurt either.
BladeTape is an officially licensed NHL product, which means it is available with team logos, and approved by the League. They currently print the emblems of 20 NHL clubs, and are working on including the remaining ten teams. The “green” implications of less wasted tape were instrumental in securing rights to use Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic designs. BladeTape is also available in a range of colours and is customisable, allowing teams and players to add their own images, logos, sweater numbers, etc.
Richard Findlay is proud of the little details he's put into BladeTape. He hopes his hockey dreams can help other players in every form of the game. [Photo insert: Jason Payne, The Province, 2008]
As with any athletic or performance equipment, product choice is personal. There is no universal right or wrong hockey kit, only personal preference. I’m not here to tell anyone what gear to use; I don’t write advertisements or jingles, and there is nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than selling things. I am here to keep the hockey community informed about anything that affects the game they love and in many cases the game they play. BladeTape is one such item, and brilliantly illustrates how it can be the simplest things which make the biggest impact. Considering the benefits I experienced, the chance it could help a person’s game, and the reasonable cost of an initial trial purchase given the length of time it lasts, BladeTape is well worth a try!
What do you think? When it comes to hockey tape, “What are YOU playing with”, and why? How much energy do you put into choosing or maintaining your hockey gear? Please feel free to ask any questions, or add your thoughts.
Want to put it to the test yourself? Here’s a chance for you and your team to try it, and tell the hockey world what you think. A random draw will win one Bleacher Report hockey reader (or writer) with a ½ Team Custom Pack, enough, they say, to last the roster (including goalie) the rest of this season. Customised artwork will also be added. Drawing will take place New Year’s Eve (31 December, 2008). Enter the contest before then! If you don't play hockey, you can tell your friends who do, or use it as a reason to start playing yourself!
What kind of hockey equipment would YOU like to see reviewed next? M MacDonald Hall is Bleacher Report's Calgary Flames Community Leader and NHL Columnist, and is always open to new ideas and suggestions. Drop a note on Mac's profile, or send an email if you have any comments or questions.