During a stellar 19-year NHL career, Cliff Ronning used his stick to score 869 regular season and 89 playoff points. Now he’s designing sticks to help a new generation of players take their game to the next level.
A popular member of the Vancouver Canucks from 1990-96, the Burnaby-born Ronning retired from the NHL in 2006. He then turned his hockey expertise toward fitting NHL players, earning the nickname “The Stick Doctor.” In 2009 he and Ron Kunisaki (who launched Innovative Hockey, the first composite hockey stick company in North America) formed BASE Hockey Labs – a shooting analysis and custom stick fitting business that officially opened in September 2010.
Headquartered in Burnaby, BASE Hockey also offers mobile clinics, and last week Ronning was in Courtenay at West Coast Elite Hockey Academy (WCEHA) to help local players improve their game.
Over the course of one hour, a player has his shot captured by a hi-def camera that operates at 2,000 frames per second. Proprietary software measures stick performance and characteristics.
Working with a shooting coach, the player is immediately able to analyze their shot via instant replay, and recommendations are made as to which stick (with regards to weight, flex, balance point and lie) best suits them. BASE calls it “customization driven by science.”
On Sunday, Michel Petit (Canuck first-round draft pick in 1982 and 15-year NHL veteran) was providing the coaching on the synthetic ice surface at the WCEHA facility on Hudson Road. Other former NHLers do the instructing at other locations, and Ronning notes participants benefit greatly from one-on-one time with the retired pros.
“They have a lot of knowledge and the beauty of it is they enjoy giving back to the game. They field a lot of questions. It’s hockey player talking to hockey player, so it’s an easy process.”
Dave Meiers, who co-owns WCEHA along with Chris Olson, agrees with Ronning. “My son Wyatt, who’s 15, spent time with Cliff in (Burnaby). They had Al Iafrate there. To spend an hour with those two guys, listening, talking … not just about shooting but what it takes to get to the next level and what sacrifices you have to make. For me, I couldn’t even put a price tag on that, to be honest. It was so valuable.”
Meiers heard about BASE through a friend and while he was at the Burnaby facility with his son in February he and Ronning discussed the possibility of BASE coming to the Courtenay training facility. About 20 players had their shots analyzed during the three-and-a-half days BASE was at WCEHA, and Meiers said BASE plans to return to Courtenay this winter.
Ronning says he and Iafrate were the first two ex-NHLers to become pro reps and fit NHL players. Using Iafrate’s shooting instructions in their process is a bonus for BASE participants: the 18-year NHL veteran is famous for his rocket slap shot that set the NHL Skills Competition record, which stood for 16 years, at 105.2 mph (169.3 km/h).
BASE manufacturers their sticks and sells them directly to the customer. “There is no middle man,” says Ronning, which keeps the price lower than composite sticks sold in stores. “Our breakage is way below any other stick,” he added. Many current NHLers use BASE sticks, including Mike Modano and Tomas Kaberle.
BASE customizes sticks for all levels of player. Ronning notes that while pros are looking for a stick that is the same every time they use it, young players will need to change their stick as they grow and develop. Even beer league players can benefit from using a BASE stick, Ronning said.
BASE currently operates four mobile units and is looking to established permanent facilities in other major North American cities. Ronning notes that BASE operates on a year-round basis and is visiting numerous cities this year. “We’re getting booked up everywhere,” he said of his burgeoning business.
West Coast Elite Hockey Academy, which Meiers and Olson have been running for four years in the Valley, is also open year-round except for a few weeks during the summer. More information on their programs, which include on-ice training, is available at 250-338-5919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More info on BASE Hockey is available at www.basehockey.ca. They can be reached at 1-888-728-6977 or email@example.com.