Considering the earliest known ice skates are 4,000 years old and an early depiction of hockey as played on ice dates to the late 1700s, the hockey industry, as we know it, is relatively new. Even within the context of the first organized game of ice hockey having been played in 1875 in Montreal, what we know of today’s major hockey equipment manufacturers is fairly recent history. From the earliest skate designs to modern composite sticks, the hockey industry is constantly evolving. While some brands within the industry are ubiquitous, others have disappeared, and still others have entered the industry, offering game-changing ideas and pushing the sport further.
The Big 2
The history of the hockey industry revolves around the history of hockey skates, and no other brands dominate the industry today like Bauer and CCM. Each having introduced their own hockey skates in the early 1900s, these rivals have grown the sport and grown with the sport as it developed from a few athletic clubs sprinkled throughout cities to a top-tier worldwide sport with leagues in the most rural areas. With different origins, CCM and Bauer have followed similar paths in the past 30 years, continuously pushing innovations in skate, stick, helmet, glove, and pad technology, each company owned for a short stint by the two biggest names in sports, and still the two most popular brands at all levels of play today.
CCM was founded in 1899 as a bicycle company (the initials we know today stood for Canada Cycle & Motor Co. Ltd.), but by 1905, the bicycle market had become so saturated that CCM needed to find a new product to sell. With piles of scrap steel leftover from their bicycle production and organized hockey having become well established in the preceding 30 years, CCM “pivoted” and used that scrap steel for skate blades.
Needless to say, the skates were popular and in the next 30 years, 90 percent of all hockey players were wearing CCM skates. Nor did CCM merely boast the most players wearing their skates: Every single scoring champion in the NHL between 1939 and 1969 wore CCM Tackaberry Boots (Tacks) with CCM Prolite Blades.
CCM didn’t stop with skates. They jumped into helmet development by hiring George Parsons, a former NHL player whose career ended due to a severe eye injury while playing. With Parsons on board, CCM blazed the way in hockey-specific helmet design, developing a helmet with both eye and face protection, which was certified by the Canadian Standards Association.
As CCM grew, they introduced pads and gloves, sticks, and an entire line of accessories. In 2004, they were acquired by Reebok and rebranded as Reebok Hockey, which was then acquired by Adidas. In 2013, Adidas reintroduced the CCM brand and Reebok Hockey disappeared. Then, in 2017, CCM returned to private ownership, where it continues to be the preferred brand of thousands of players worldwide, and whose goaltender pads are arguably the most popular brand among goalies everywhere.
More than 50 years after that first game in Montreal, the Bauer Skate Company was founded in Kitchener, Ontario and a rivalry was born. Bauer hit the ground running (or hit the ice skating) and brought a number of innovations to their gear. In 1933, they introduced the first skate with a blade permanently secured to the boot. Later, in 1975, Bauer introduced the TUUK blade holder which revolutionized the easy changing of steels.
Combined with the rise of athlete endorsements in the 1960s and ’70s, Bauer’s innovations grew the brand’s popularity worldwide. Like CCM, Bauer received attention from the biggest names in sports, and eventually got bought out by a larger manufacturer when Nike purchased them in 1994. The move led to an explosive rise similar to that of CCM; only a year later, 70 percent of all NHL players were wearing Bauer skates and another 20 percent were wearing TUUK and ICM holders, for an impressive 90-percent combined market share. Not only were the pros wearing Bauer skates, but it’s likely that if you were playing at any level in the mid-’90s, from Initiation/Mini-Mites to Division I hockey programs, you were probably wearing Bauers. Three years later, Bauer earned the crown as top hockey equipment producer in the world.
In 2017 (the same year CCM went private again), Bauer also returned to private ownership, where it’s been able to continue pursuing performance innovations in products like the Nexus ADV Composite Stick (the blade with the hole in it) and the Vapor and Supreme skate lines.
Bauer and CCM are doubtless the biggest brands in hockey, but the story of the hockey industry stretches far beyond these two names.
The Last Wooden Sticks in North America
In the 1980s and ’90s, hockey stick manufacturing started moving offshore for cheaper production. But Sher-Wood held strong, manufacturing its wooden sticks in North America, at least until 2008 when they finally relented and moved most of their stick manufacturing to China. But as of 2011, Sher-Wood still manufactured some of its wooden sticks at a facility in Victoriaville, Quebec. The move made room for Sher-Wood to continue producing composite sticks in their North American facilities, extending their history, which dates back almost to the start of Bauer.
Sher-Wood began building hockey sticks in 1949 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In the 1970s, they introduced sticks made from lighter aspen wood and quickly gained dominance within the industry. From the NHL to junior leagues, everyone wanted to get their hands on aspen sticks. Sher-Wood continued to lead the market into the 1980s, but the rapid growth of Bauer and CCM caused Sher-Wood to lose ground. Over the years they introduced pads, gloves, and accessories. And as of 2008, Sher-Wood is the official supplier of game pucks to the NHL.
The Young Guns
While nearly two decades may sound like a long time, brands like Warrior, True, and Stringking (all entering the hockey industry in the 2000s) are still newcomers, compared to the nearly century-long history of CCM, Bauer, and Sher-Wood. But with their entry into the market, these new brands brought new ideas and technology that has pushed the development of sticks, helmets, gloves, and pads over the past 20 years.
Warrior Sports is arguably the biggest of the “new” brands to hit the market. Founded as a lacrosse company in 1992, Warrior introduced hockey gear in 2005 and has become the preferred stick, helmet, glove, and pad brand of players all over. Ever innovating, Warrior introduced their Alpha DX sticks with True 1, Fuelcore, and Sabre Taper for improved lightweight performance, pop, and accuracy, respectively. And they combine enhanced protection with a better fit and mobility in the Alpha DX shoulder pads, resulting in a shoulder pad players have been waiting for. The future looks bright for Warrior, and future generations may look back on the maker as one of the core brands in 150 years of hockey gear.
Another lacrosse “cousin,” Stringking was founded in 2011 and made its hockey debut in 2019. Their limited introduction to the hockey market includes the Pro Grip stick, a line of mid-low kickpoint sticks that put a fresh spin on classic composite stick design. It’ll be interesting to see if Stringking follows a similar path to their lacrosse brother Warrior in the coming years.
While you may not see Stringking sticks on NHL ice yet, you’ll certainly see TRUE sticks. A number of top pros have adopted the relatively new brand, and for good reason. While True Temper Sports has been around for a century, they only entered the hockey market with their own brand in 2000. But for many years before that, they had been designing hockey sticks for other brands, and they’re responsible for many notable stick tech developments throughout the history of the hockey industry — included among the 51 patents they hold across all divisions of the company. With more than two million hockey sticks sold (though, as we mentioned, many of those were under different brand names), TRUE is a major player in the hockey industry, and deserves their place on NHL ice, and on amateur and junior ice as well.
Arguably the most interesting niche in the hockey industry is goaltender gear. Only a few of the major players have dipped into goalie equipment, which has left a hole in the market to be filled by small upstarts (sometimes entrepreneurs who are goaltenders themselves).
Mike Vaughn founded Vaughn hockey in 1982 to provide goaltenders with technologically advanced protective gear. They were one of the first hockey companies to add multiple layers of foam to their pads and helmets, which led to others following suit and what has become the standard for all hockey protective gear.
Brian’s Hockey was founded in 1984, two years after Vaughn and with a similar commitment to building custom goalie gear and stock goalie gear (that fits like custom). Brian’s originated out of a custom pro shop in Kingsville, Ontario.
Lefevre’s story dates back more than a decade earlier. Founded in 1967, Équipements de Gardien de But Michel Lefebvre (EGB), as it’s officially known – the “b” is commonly dropped from “Lefebvre” for easier display on the equipment – has been the preferred goalie gear of the top goaltenders in NHL history, including Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo, Ed Belfour, Marc-André Fleury, and Curtis Joseph. EGB was in such high demand that between 2009 and 2020, they lent their design expertise to CCM.
As brands come and go, the hockey industry continues to develop and grow, adding new technologies and even reviving old ideas. The brands are only part of the story, albeit an interesting one. From the first hockey stick to modern skate design, hockey brands have shown passion for and commitment to the sport we all love.
Timeline of Hockey Companies
|Company||Products||Year Founded as a Business||Year Started Making Hockey Equipment||Status|
|Bauer||Skates, Sticks, Gloves, Helmets, Pads, Accessories, Goaltender Equipment||1927||1927||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|CCM||Skates, Sticks, Helmets, Gloves, Pads, Accessories, Goaltender Equipment||1899||1905||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Cooper Canada||Helmets, Sticks, Pads, Accessories||1905||1933||Discontinued|
|Jofa||Helmets, Skates, Sticks||1926||1963||Discontinued|
|Vaughn||Goaltender Equipment||1982||1982||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Warrior Sports||Sticks, Helmets, Pads, Gloves, Accessories||1992||2005||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Sher-Wood||Sticks, Skates, Gloves, Accessories||1949||1949||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|TRUE||Sticks, Skates, Gloves, Accessories||Before 1920||2000||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Stringking||Sticks||2011||2019||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Brians||Goaltender Equipment||1984||1984||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|
|Lefevre||Goaltender Equipment||1967||1967||Still Producing Hockey Equipment|