Waterloo Region is known internationally as ‘Canada’s Technology Triangle’, and is often associated with the high-tech sectors established in the area. Though this is a critical part of our identity, the term actually stems from Waterloo Region’s long history in adapting technology and innovation across all industries – including Advanced Manufacturing. With the Stanley Cup Finals well underway, it serves as an appropriate time to explore the innovative history of the Waterloo Region using the game of hockey as an example.
Hockey equipment company Bauer was established in 1927 in Kitchener and can be credited with manufacturing the first one-piece hockey skate in 1933. Prior to this, the skate blade and boot were not fixed in place. Bauer would remain a major producer of hockey equipment through being acquired by Nike in 1994, rebranded in 2006 and then sold again in 2008 – returning to the Bauer name brand. It is the major supplier to both teams currently in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Town of Hespeler, in Cambridge, began producing the ‘Hespeler’ hockey stick in the 1930s. Legends Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky are among the many NHLers who used the brand. The company was bought by Cooper (makers of the ill-fated Cooperall) then by Bauer, later bought by Nike. Nike then moved to close the stick producing location before 6 long-time employees purchased the assets and opened Heritage Wood Specialties. Though Canadian-made wooden sticks are a rare sight at the professional level, Heritage Wood Specialties continues to produce them.
The latest Region of Waterloo hockey inspired innovation comes from the University of Waterloo: Hockey Robotics. Perhaps it is no surprise that UW would pursue this market with its former President (and current Governor General) David Johnson’s history with the sport. This recently created company uses their puck shooting robot, SlapShot XT, to mimic a player’s shot, thereby testing the durability of the different materials used in hockey sticks. As the heavier wooden sticks have been largely replaced by composite models, cost and breakage has become a major issue among players of all levels. SlapShot XT is certainly able to push the limitations of any stick as it is capable of shooting pucks up to 110 mph. For reference, Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara set the hardest shot (by a human) record with a 105.9 mph slapshot at the NHL All-Star Game in January 2011. No word on a possible competition between the two.