Former NHLer and Canuck stalwart Cliff Ronning was in Parksville last week, as he and his Blades Hockey were busy helping out with Henry Acres Hockey camp and spreading the word about proper shooting technique.
“It’s something I started about two years ago; it’s a hockey stick company that kind of fits the hockey stick like golf clubs,” Ronning explained easily during a break.
Ronning has partnered up with former NHLers Al Iafrate, Jeff Friesen and Glenn Anderson, “so we have a lot of ex-NHL guys involved.”
Iafrate still holds the record for the hardest slap shot ever recorded at 108.1 mph which didn’t go into the books as it was done in qualifying during the NHL All Star Game.
His shot of 105.4 mph at an All-Star game stood as the record for 18 years.
“But Al was using a wood stick; Al is a big part of our company because of his shooting ability, and we’ve really dissected his technique and worked with other guys to help players shoot better.”
Born and raised in Burnaby, the 5’8” 170 pound, left-shooting centre was selected in the seventh round (134th overall) by St. Louis in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft and his NHL career spanned 18 years. A fan favourite, Ronning spent four seasons with the Blues, six with the Vancouver Canucks (1990-96), three with Phoenix, four with Nashville, and closed out his pro career with the Islanders.
Along the way he also played a season in Italy and suited up for Team Canada on the national team.
Ronning helped the Canucks on their memorable run to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, where they eventually lost in game seven to the New York Rangers. Ronning played the seventh game with a broken hand.
He was a fan favourite wherever he went, and as evident by his interaction with the young players at Oceanside Place, his passion for the game hasn’t wavered.
“Excellent,” he answered quickly when asked how it’s going, and explained, “what we do different is the opportunity to try the stick cut off at the right height, try the different curves before you buy it … we also provide the opportunity to learn how to shoot properly and then from there you become a better player, so …”
He spent a lot of time with the kids that filed through, giving them tangible tips.
“There’s stuff that we’ve learned using high speed cameras that tells us right away what the kids are doing wrong and it gives them feedback. Base Hockey is not just hockey sticks,” he said, “we also do shooting camps, shooting clinics; we do shooting clinics for teams; we’re working with two NHL teams right now — we were with Columbus last year, so it’s pretty well getting endorsed by the NHL. The NHL is realizing there’s pitching coaches in baseball, goaltending coaches, and now Base Hockey are shooting coaches for a lot of teams.”
Ronning and his upbeat assistant were were all business as they gave a steady stream of kids some tips and a sample of the stick they should be using.
Ronning said what he’d seen here in Oceanside was the same thing he sees pretty much every where he goes.
“I’ve seen probably 50 kids come through here right now and probably four were really dialled into how big a difference (the proper stick) makes for them … so there’s 46 kids already that could use a bit of a tweaking, of what flex they should be using, what length they need, or what curve might help them … to at least get the sick to where its close, so it’s not like way off the map; you don’t want kids using sticks that are totally wrong for them.”
Being raised on the Mainland and having played his junior hockey career in B.C. with the New Westminster Bruins, “the Island is a like a second home … the people absolutely love hockey here and they’re passionate about it, and that’s why we come over here all the time.”
Asked if the game has changed and Ronning chuckled and said, “it’s totally different, the strategy’s different and the game’s not as wide open as when we played but its still a great game to watch.