Discover more from Hockey Wanderlüst
April 8 Epic - Matthews to Mars, Scouting Essentials, Tapani Taps In
It's a Great Day for Hockey ... from Minsk to Moose Jaw
Auston Matthews Lands on Mars!
Central Scouting Essentials
Susanna Tapani: Shot Out of a Cannon
Hottest NHL Euros
An Unforgettable Video - HC Ambrì-Piotta
Name the Logo Contest
For you few remaining comp’s, time to push the button …
Auston Matthews Lands on Mars!
A little more than a year ago, a small sports performance company based in central Sweden was at a crossroads. They wanted to revolutionize skating standards through their brand Marsblade, but it had often been an uphill battle.
And then the pandemic hit!
The future appeared uncertain. Sales came to a sudden halt as lockdowns mounted and supply chains were disrupted heading into the critical spring selling season. As the young company struggled to find its footing and manage inventory and cash flow, it “had a moment.”
The reality of the lockdown and prolonged rink and league closures across the globe quickly brought players of all ages out on to the pavement to train. And in a matter of days, the Marsblade roller-frame became the hottest hockey product on the planet.
By November 2020, everything was different. Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews posted a photo training on Marsblades. What fans may not have known was that he had recently become an investor.
“It was an opportunity where he could lend more than his own brand and be more than a capital source and also share his insights on designs and overall marketing perspectives,” says Judd Moldaver, Matthews’ agent and Wasserman Hockey SVP.
“It was the confluence of training, technology, lifestyle, design, and a chance at ownership and business learnings, along with the timing, that made Auston and Marsblade a great fit,” adds Moldaver, who had become familiar with Marsblade in late 2019, but when the NHL paused its season, had more time with Matthews to look at the deal and the market opportunity.
“Additionally, some players who Auston greatly respects were involved, which also was a factor.”
Other current or former NHL players already on the company’s cap table are primarily Swedish; names like Henrik Zetterberg, Nik Kronwall, Nicklas Bäckström, Alex Edler, Anton Strålman and Gustav Nyquist.
Marsblade is the brainchild of founder Per Mårs, a former Swedish junior national team player, a 2001 3rd round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets – and a largely self-taught engineer. A handy skill when your career gets cut short due to injury in the USHL.
Mårs initially wanted to improve the quality of “off-ice” or inline skating, more closely replicating training on ice. He soon discovered a way of mimicking the movement of the radius of an ice hockey blade in an inline chassis. His invention “Flow Motion Technology,” is the technical foundation for the growing line of Marsblade brand products.
“It was Friday the 13th [in March of last year] and uneasiness had reached our office here in Ostersünd,” Mårs recalls.
“Covid concerns became real and sales had reached a low point. Early that day, a Swedish player called to ask about inline frames for his son. News was unfolding on league shutdowns and he was concerned about rinks closing. In that moment I realized for our business, the pandemic had the potential to be a flood!”
Mårs shared that his friend, Toronto-based skating coach Dan Ninkovich, told him that very same day, “Get ready Per, nobody has ice so this is your chance. I hope you have inventory.’
In the days following the NHL pause, Marsblade shipped inline skates to more then 300 NHL players and other pros around the globe. When thousands of youth players joined the rush, sales swelled by more than 500 percent between April and June 2020. Despite inventory issues, annual sales growth exceeded 200 percent year-over-year.
On the ice Marsblade is also looking to carve its place in the market and set a new standard for hockey performance. During the 2018-2019 season, Kronwall, with the Detroit Red Wings, wore an early prototype of Marsblade’s ice-holder. By next season, players may see a new generation holder that includes a lighter frame and a quick release function for steel, as well as a range of rocker options for players to dial-in preferences.
“Our on-ice testing provides solid evidence of greater power, speed out of turns and stride efficiency. We are excited to offer the advantages that our Flow Motion Technology can bring to the ice for players of all skill levels.” Mårs concludes.
A note: Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to bump into some remarkable entrepreneurs who I have advised through my work with Yaffe Sports Ventures. From time-to-time, I will share some of these success stories of emerging companies and provide updates on their progress. KMY
Slap Shot …
Team USA won the 2021 World Junior Championship in Edmonton. Wednesday, USA Hockey announced that Providence College head coach Nate Leaman will again lead their WJC entry for 2022, again in Alberta, in an effort to repeat.
Central Scouting Essentials …
Dan Marr is the Director of the Central Scouting Service (Bureau). An office that provides periodic rankings of future NHL prospects, with more than 20 full or part-time scouts working in North America and another half dozen scanning the amateurs in Europe. Hockey Wanderlüst caught up with Dan to ask him three timely questions.
Simmer (RS): The IIHF just revealed it plans to sync up with the NHL rulebook. What obvious or subtle benefits potentially arise from this change from a scouting standpoint?
Dan Marr (DM): If a player is already familiarized with the playing rules utilized in the NHL and North American leagues, then he has one less transition distraction to deal with when he comes to the NHL. Being familiar with the rules will especially benefit younger players’ development, who need to be at their playing best in order to earn a position on an NHL Club.
RS: Who influences the Central Scouting Bureau prospects lists and who makes the final decision on who is ranked where? Is the process different for North American and European prospects?
DM: NHL Central Scouting ranking lists are the result of year-long evaluations of prospects by full-time staff who are each responsible for one specific region and whom each perform “cross-over” scouting trips into the other regions to assess those identified prospects.
The ranking is initially done by region with the opinion of that region’s scout having the most impact. Then a comprehensive list is compiled by a voting process to put together a preliminary view, which is then followed by hours of discussion and professional arguing over the final order. All in all, the scouts are respectful of others opinions and everyone has the chance to voice their opinions. A similar process takes place with our International Department (European Scouting Services – ESS) which is headed up by Göran Stubb.
RS: With approximately 30 percent of the NHL made up of Europeans, how much has that changed/is changing how teams staff and cover the European leagues?
DM: The scouting landscape has not significantly changed when it comes to European coverage as good hockey players are always recognized and appreciated on a global basis no matter where they play. The NHL brand has received much broader international exposure over the past couple of decades, and the game and league continues to expand which generates playing opportunities at all levels and exposes more players for scouts to evaluate. Scouting in Europe remains a high priority for all NHL clubs as evidenced by strong attendance of NHL personal at all international tournaments and events, and the high number of Europeans drafted each season.
Shortly, Wanderlüst paid subscribers will receive our first video edition of “5 Minute Major”, featuring a European scouting conversation with the legendary Mr. Stubb. Plus a written profile.
Susanna Tapani: Shot Out of a Cannon
When Team Finland released their women’s World Championship roster, they listed the players by position, followed by their team name in brackets.
Nothing unusual about that.
Except when you got down to Susanna Tapani. There was no team. She’s only played one game this season and that was with the Turku TPS U18 boy’s team.
Well, one game of hockey. Her RNK Flyers won bronze in the Finnish ringette league by beating Kiekko-Espoo in the 3rd place game. Tapani - a four-time ringette world champion – scored five goals, including the OT winner. (For the uninitiated, ringette is very much like hockey, but with a bladeless stick, a rubber ring instead of a puck, and no body contact)
“It’s been a strange season,” Tapani said during Finland’s pre-Women’s World Championship video press conference. “My plan was to play with the same U18 boys’ team as last season but there was a change of plans, and while I was looking for a new team, the pandemic shut down almost all series and I ended up playing only ringette,”
She had to change her plans because TPS had a change of heart. Actually, a change of policy.
“Having said that, I’ve probably practiced hockey better and more than before. Last summer, I skated with a group of players that included NHL’ers, KHL’ers, and Finnish league players, and when the NHL was on their pause, I got to practice with NHLers again,” she said.
The group included Rasmus Ristolainen, Kaapo Kakko, Mikko Rantanen, Tarmo Reunanen, Alexandar Georgiyev, Kaapo Kähkönen, and Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen’s father Ismo, a former Finnish league player and a coach, ran the practices for players based in Turku. He was also the one to invite Tapani to join them.
“She’s been skating with us for years. She’s also done off-ice workouts with the guys. Susanna is a fantastic athlete,” Lehkonen told Hockey Wanderlüst.
“We had two-hour sessions in which we skated for the first hour and had puck battles for the second hour,” Tapani said.
“I tried to get her a spot on the U20 team with [the other Turku team] TuTo, but that didn’t work out,” says Lehkonen, who has a past as TuTo’s men’s head coach. “I’m sure that not only would she have kept up with them, she would have been an asset to the team.”
Lehkonen set Tapani up with a weight trainer because he was worried “that she might break herself” working on her own. He also took special interest in Tapani’s goal scoring and shot.
“She’s had the tendency to make plays when she could’ve taken a shot herself and this off-season she added 20 km/h to her shot. The goal was to hit 140 kmh, but she didn’t quite get there … yet.” Lehkonen adds. “But it did wonders for her shot and scoring instincts to scrimmage with top-calibre goalies [like Kähkönen and Georgiyev].”
Lehkonen’s not worried that the long pause from playing games would hold Tapani back in the upcoming Worlds.
“She’s an exceptional player, and it’s not her first World Championship. I’m sure she’ll hit the ground running,” he says.
Pasi Mustonen, Team Finland’s head coach, agrees.
“She’s got such a high ceiling,” Mustonen points out. “She’ll be our first-line center. Of course, her situation hasn’t been optimal compared to last season when she played with the TPS U18 team, but at the summer camp she was our best player by far.”
Next season is especially important, with the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing less than ten months away.
“I hope she can find a team next season so that we can get the best out of her,” Mustonen adds.
“I’ve had my sights set on the Olympics for a while,” Tapani says. “The Worlds is a good step on the way. I expect to play my best hockey here.”
Eight Team Finland players will make their Worlds debut, among them 15-year-old Sanni Vanhanen from Tampere. Team Finland plays their first game of the tournament on May 6, against Canada.
1. The Hottest NHL Europeans - March 31 to April 7
🇷🇺 Artemi Panarin (NYR) - Eight points in three games. 2.67 points per game.
🇨🇭 Kevin Fiala (MIN) - Eight points in five games, with six on the power play!
🇩🇪 Leon Draisaitl (EDM) - Seven points in three games. 3 power play points (PPP).
🇷🇺 Kirill Kaprizov (MIN) - Five goals, seven points in five games. Five PPP.
🇸🇪 Linus Ullmark (BUF) - That’s right, Buffalo! 3 games, 3 wins, 1.95 GAA, .935 %
2. Bye, Bye, La Valascia
HC Ambrì-Piotta in the Swiss National League is moving to a new arena next season. See the tribute video that transcends all language barriers.
3. Gagarin Cup Semis:
SKA St. Petersburg is up 1-0 in the first period as we speak (Thursday) in Game 4, trying to avoid being swept by CSKA Moscow.
Game 4 of Ak Bars Kazan and Avangard Omsk (leading the series) is Friday.
4. Name the LOGO: (answer Sunday)
5. Answer to Sunday’s quiz:
The Question: What Stanley Cup winning head coach and longtime hockey executive was the captain of a team that won a World Championship in the 1950’s?
The Answer: Harry Sinden captained the 1958 Whitby Dunlops, representing Canada, to the World Championship title in Oslo, Norway. Sinden later coached the Boston Bruins to the 1970 Stanley Cup, left the sport to go into private business for a couple of years, before returning to coach Canada at the 1972 Summit Series and then take over as Boston’s General Manager. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 in the builder’s category.
See you on Sunday.