Ice hockey is big business. But it lags behind other professional sports – soccer, football, baseball, and basketball. As with all industries, the key to growth is innovation. Equipment manufacturers such as Reebok are taking this seriously with the creation of the Hockey Research and Innovation Center. In this month’s LAB, we will focus on the equipment side of hockey, specifically on: the hockey stick.
Hockey has been around a long time with evidence of its origins dating to the sixteenth century. The first organized indoor game was played in 1875. Since then, many innovations have been introduced. Let’s see how a systematic, corporate innovation method can be applied to drive new sales opportunities.
I used the Attribute Dependency template of Systematic Inventive Thinking. Attribute Dependency differs from the other templates in that it uses attributes (variables) of the situation rather than components. Start with an attribute list, then construct a 2 x 2 matrix of these, pairing each against the others. Each cell represents a potential dependency (or potential break in an existing dependency) that forms a Virtual Product. Using Function Follows Form, we work backwards and envision a potential benefit or problem that this hypothetical solution solves.
Here is my attribute list:
- length of stick
- curve of stick
- flex of stick
- friction of stick (bottom)
- weight of stick
- game situation (even strength or penalty situation)
- condition of ice (smooth or rough)
- type of shot (forehand or backhand)
- force of shot (slap shot, wrist shot, snap shot)
- use of stick (blocking, hooking, checking, etc)
Here are five innovations for the hockey stick using combinations of these attributes (underlined for emphasis):
1. “Extenda-Stick:” The hockey stick changes length depending on the game situation. If the player is in a defensive mode, the stick can be extended to its maximum allowable length to allow better blocking of shots. When the player transitions to the offensive puck handling mode, the stick reverts to its optimal length as determined by the height and preference of that player. This would be great for situations when your team has a player in the penalty box where defensive play is called for. The stick length could be changed, perhaps, with a push button and spring-loading within a certain range.
Hockey sticks are either right-handed or left-handed as determined by the direction of the curve of the stick. The challenge occurs when a player wants to take a backhand shot with the back, convex side. It is difficult to control direction and speed of the puck with the back of stick that is curved the wrong way. With this new innovation, the direction of the curve changes depending on the type of shot the player is about to take. Like the “Extenda-Stick,” the curve direction changes with the push of a button or a squeeze of the stick. The would be particularly useful on the “wrap-around” attempt (demonstrated here by my son, Ryan, at age 14). This would increase goals, game interest, attendance, etc..
3. “Feel-the-Ice:” The friction on the bottom of the stick adjusts to the smoothness of the ice. Hockey players want to “feel the ice” with their stick as they handle the puck. Early in the game, the ice is freshly prepared and very slippery. That is when the stick bottom needs to have more friction. Later, as the ice surface gets rough and snowy, the stick bottom needs to be slippery. Perhaps the stick has a pad that is added to the bottom at the beginning of a period and it changes over a 20 minute time frame, going from sticky to slippery, adjusting passively to the change in ice surface.
4. “Flex-Flex:” The flexibility of the stick changes with the type of shot the player is taking. If the player “winds up” for a hard slap shot, the shaft of the stick stiffens to maximize the power applied to the puck. If the player takes a shot with the stick at a low angle to the ice (in other words, a wrist shot), the shaft becomes more flexible allowing the player to transfer power with the spring action of the stick.
Hockey players use their sticks for lots of things, but some of them are illegal. Hooking, tripping, and spearing are examples. With this innovation, the stick alerts the referee when it is being used improperly, causing a penalty. For example, if a player holds the stick parallel to the ice with the blade turned sideways and hooks the body of another player (placing pressure on the top of the blade), the stick would send a signal to the referee indicating a foul.
Perhaps the stick could detect when it draws blood!