USA Hockey has always believed that hockey is for everyone.
That sentiment means a lot to National Team Development Program equipment manager Jake Visser, who has teamed up with Requip’d to send the team’s broken hockey sticks to be repurposed.
Visser first learned about Requip’d during the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS) and the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers (SPHEM) conferences about 10 years ago.
Cole showing off one of the Requip'd BBQ sets
“I first met them at the conference when they were just starting out,” Visser said. “I met John Ufland [founder of Requip’d] and over the next year, I really started thinking about it. At that point in time, our teams were just throwing broken sticks into the dumpster.”
Ufland and Eric Bourgoujian came up with the original concept as they watched expensive carbon hockey sticks being thrown into the trash when they played hockey. They wondered if they could do something with the sticks. They started partnering with teams and manufacturers around North America to upcycle hockey sticks into BBQ sets.
“Neither of us were in the manufacturing business, this was just a side business for us,” Ufland said. “Every day we learned something new, but we continued to forge ahead.”
In October 2021, Requip’d was sold to ABLE Force in Richboro, Pennsylvania, which is run by Brian Damiani and Mike Fitzgerald. ABLE is a nonprofit that employs adults with special needs and continues the mission to repurpose broken hockey sticks into unique items.
“For me, it was one of the most important things as I was building the company for 10 years,” Ufland said. “To hand it off to Mike and Brian, it was a no brainer. It comes from a place of passion and they want to provide for this underserved company. It’s an amazing transfer of ownership. I can’t say enough good things.”
Damiani and Fitzgerald first crossed paths 16 years ago when Damiani was coaching Mike’s son as part of the American Special Hockey Association, which provides people with disabilities a place to learn and play hockey. There are currently 119 registered teams and over 5,000 registered players in the United States.
“Mike’s son has been on our team every year along with my son, Cole,” said Damiani. “We have always wanted to make sure these special needs athletes have activities they can do, and we first started down the path of special hockey.
“The hockey community is very different. They are very accepting and willing to help. We want everyone to have an opportunity to play the sport of hockey.”
The duo started ABLE Force about three years ago. They started with an auto detail shop and have since added a shredding company, a fulfillment center for boxes and Requip’d. Right now, they are using the hockey sticks to make BBQ sets, bottle openers, snow brushes, plungers and a goalie paddle ring toss game.
Fitzgerald said ABLE employs just over a dozen part-time employees, with the goal to hire up to 50. Having multiple businesses gives their employees the chance to learn different skills.
“We are able to match the skill sets of our adults and teach them across the board,” he said. “It’s such a key component of what we do.
“It is a model that can be done anywhere. They get to come in and work in one area and can shift to another area to get more hours. They really get to learn and grow, and it gives them a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging.”
The impact has been very positive, especially for Mike’s son, Shawn, who works in the shop. He had an opportunity to attend the SPHEM/PHATS conference this summer and help drum up business for ABLE Force.
“At the convention, Shawn would joke with a ‘Go Flyers Go’ when the teams would come by. It was all about the banter for him and the engagement was so cool,” Fitzgerald said. “The interaction with the equipment mangers is so positive. They were able to meet us and meet Shawn. They could put a face to the organization and what we are doing.”
Since its inception, Requip’d has repurposed over 100,000 hockey sticks. In addition to the NTDP, they work with over 100 hockey clubs, including teams in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and NCAA.
Shawn smiling at work
Jack Hughes' half of the record-breaking puck
Over the course of 10 years working with Requip’d, there is one special project that sticks out for Visser. In March 2019, Jack Hughes set the NTDP all-time points record with 190 and Cole Caufield set the NTDP career goals record with 105 on the same score. Since it was just one puck, Visser wanted to do something special to commemorate the moment.
“I took a hack saw and cut the puck in half and I reached out to John,” Visser said. “We had him make a frame for both players and then, I attached the puck to the frame.”
The NTDP's partnership with Requip’d has been a win-win for both sides.
“It’s an added bonus that they are working with individuals with disabilities, so they have a meaningful job,” Visser said. “Initially, we started to keep the sticks out of the landfill and with our two teams, that is close to 600 sticks per year. We have probably sent close to 5,000 sticks to them over that time.”
Cole Caufield's portion of the famous split puck
Every stick donated makes a difference for Requip’d, according to Fitzgerald.
“The more sticks that we collect, the more products we can make and the more people we can employ,” he said. “Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are a growing segment of the population. There is an 82% unemployment rate among this group. Please help support these adults and give back to the community.”
For more information on Requip’d, visit their website here.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.