Imagine, for a moment, you are in the thick of a Minnesota winter. It is -10°F, and you are surrounded by a thick flurry of snow, which traps you and your canoe on an icy lake of hopelessness without any chance of paddling for safety. Wait, something does not seem quite right; why are you in a canoe on a frozen Minnesota lake in the midst of winter? Dale Kicker, of Branches Canoe and Kayak Paddle Company, must have had a similar thought when the idea of manufacturing an ash hockey stick crossed his mind.
Summer sales from canoe and kayak paddles sustained Branches nearly five years before their first wooden hockey sticks were introduced at the 1987 Canadian Sporting Goods Association Show in Montreal. Branches became an instant success and quickly became a national leader in both the manufacturing and production of hockey sticks in addition to manufacturing all of Louisville's pro sticks from 1989 through 1991. “Innovative product innovation” was the Branches’ motto which led from their advancement into replacement blades to the production of carbon composite sticks in 1991, notably beating hockey stick manufacturer Easton to the market by three years.
In 1993, Branches Hockey sales escalated when their sticks were adopted by such distinguished players as Alexei Semenov, Pat LaFontaine, and Owen Nolan. Notable games were actually able to boost sales overnight, such as the 1997 All-star game where Owen Nolan scored a hat-trick against Dominic Hasek in what came to be known as the “Babe Ruth pointing goal”. Branches became the go to stick of the NHL. Don Cherry of Hockey Night, in Canada, after noticing every player at the face-off circle was using a Branches stick exclaimed, “This isn't Hockey Night in Canada, this is Branches night in Canada!” Annual sales of Branches nearly quadrupled over the next years; but, with the increasing popularity of their hockey sticks came the ever-increasing demand for production of sticks.
In 2001, Bending Branches needed a financial boost to keep their growth ongoing and was turned over to entrepreneur Mark Kravik. However, with the increasing popularity of aluminum and composite shaft hockey sticks came the decline of wood. By 2003, Bending Branches Canoe and Kayak Paddle Company became just that: a paddle manufacturer. They dropped the production of hockey sticks altogether and so ended their fifteen-plus year stint in hockey history.
Dale Kicker and Mark Kravik continue to operate Branches Canoe and Kayak Paddle Company, which, since 1994, is based out of Osceola, Wisconsin.
-Dan "The Wisconsin Hockey Fan"
Share with friends:February 14, 2012