A Montreal auction house was offering a quirky set of hockey sticks, one from every NHL player to score 500 goals. Only 42 players have made it into the elite “500-club” — still, that’s 42 sticks. Not a problem if you’re the Hockey Hall of Fame. A challenge for a trim Toronto semi.
Next morning he awoke to good news; he had won!
Then, the bad news. He had won.
Where would he ever put them? They would be delivered in six large crates, each stick bubble-wrapped and as thrilling to unveil as a Christmas present — “Oh my God — Gordie Howe! You’ve got to see this! Oh my God look — Bobby Hull! Whoa — Rocket Richard!” daughter Monica recalled hearing over and over from upstairs after the Purolator van arrived. Even the driver was tickled by the legendary cargo.
But . . . then what? They deserved a proper display where they could be enjoyed without being damaged.
“They’re more than just pieces of equipment; these are game-used sticks with amazing individual stories to tell and it’s the kind of gift you want to share,” said Scanlan, who was born under a Stanley Cup sky the night the Maple Leafs won in 1951 — his dad was at the game. Hockey has been in his bones ever since.
The sticks were all so different, from the warm wooden Northlands and Sher-woods of old-timers like Gordie Howe and Stan Mikita to the cool aluminum of Wayne Gretzky and space-age composite of Jarome Iginla. Look how much tape Joe Nieuwendyk wrapped around his handle. And why was the shortest stick Jari Kurri’s? The guy’s six feet tall.
“Howie Meeker always said a shorter stick gives you better puck control,” pondered Scanlan. “If there’s one thing I noticed by having 42 sticks of the best players, it’s that they’re shorter than I would have thought.”
The basement, Scanlan decided, would be reborn as the Hall of Hockey Sticks.
His wife Sharon, who figured there were worse mid-life impulse buys, decided a basement reno could be a good thing.
They had no idea.
Designer Lisa Barry remembers getting that odd email.
She had done such a great job on their kitchen, wrote Scanlan, was she up for something a little less conventional? Could she do justice to 42 used hockey sticks of assorted age, shape and size, some with tape falling off, some with autographs on one side, some with blades curving left, others right, some not at all — but all cherished artifacts of Canada’s favourite sport? While not the actual sticks used to score the 500th goals, each had been used by a player who reached that milestone, and to Scanlan, they were living history.
In a heartbeat, Barry agreed. “I’m not a hockey person, but I love anything that gives me pause — and that did. And Tom’s passion was infectious.”
In the months that followed, this little team designed what may be Canada’s most unusual micro-museum. Out went the old basement carpet and their grown son’s bedroom and in came a display wall with each stick perched on a puck placed on a white Plexiglas base, lit from below to look like ice.
Each stick has a brass plaque and can be lifted off and handled — with white gloves. The folks at Classic Auctions warned that the three enemies of old hockey sticks are light, moisture and human handling. Already the white tape on Gordie Howe’s blade is falling off (he scored his 500th in 1962) and his autograph has all but disappeared.
Still, being able to hold them was crucial to the Scanlans; their basement museum had to be interactive. They wanted Sharon’s own dad to be able to pose with the stick of his hero Frank Mahovlich, the only one of the bunch with the player’s nickname (“The Big M”) stamped right on.
To protect the sticks from the dust of renovation, Barry’s team made an exact replica of each one out of foam board so they could play with the arrangements, from the oldest (which belonged to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who scored the league’s first 500th goal in 1957) to the newest (Jarome Iginla, January 2012), with room for the tallest (Mats Sundin, 2006) and making sure features like Jean Béliveau’s (1971) graceful autograph was on the side of the stick facing out.
“I liked the idea of having it active and dynamic,” said Barry, whose experience making documentary films is something Scanlan believes helped her grasp the stories the sticks could tell, if displayed just right.
To Barry, it has ended up “a little bit man-cave, a little bit art gallery.”
You can learn a lot about how the game has changed over time by the chronological order in which they’re displayed. The oldest, the king of the sticks, belonged to Rocket Richard and still bears the label of Raymond Hardware Ltd.
“I like to think just maybe The Rocket trudged through Montreal snow to the hardware store,” said Sharon, who can’t imagine today’s superstars doing the same. “Seeing sticks that are so well-used makes the history seem so alive.”
Look how tightly and evenly Rocket Richard and Jean Béliveau wrapped the black tape around their blades.
But few old-timers netted 500 pucks compared with the new generation. After Richard’s, it would be five years before Gordie Howe matched it and another eight before Bobby Hull joined the club.
The more Scanlan researched his sticks, the more stories he discovered.
He’ll tell you Gretzky reached 500 goals in less time than anyone else — just 575 games. It took Rocket Richard 863.
“And Lanny McDonald scored his 500th goal with only four games left in his career — I love that. Ron Francis took the longest — 1,533 games — but it proves what can happen in life if you hang in there long enough.”
He feels badly for Glenn Anderson, who came so close — 498 NHL goals.
He knows which players scored their 500th goal as part of a hat trick (Béliveau was the first); who scored their 500th on an empty net (Gretzky is one) or in overtime (Sundin is one), and how many are in the Hockey Hall of Fame (30.)
Sixteen were autographed when he got them, but that number is changing.
Signing the stick
“Here comes my stick!” Phil Esposito called out as he spotted Scanlan’s son, Darren, in line at an autograph-signing in Toronto last fall. Some people brought jerseys to be signed, others photos, but this was the only stick.
When Scanlan took Sundin’s to be signed, the beloved Swedish star yelled, “Look at the curve on that baby!” Did Sundin remember when he might have used this one out of all the sticks he has played with? Sure: 1990-91. He was with the Nordiques; the wording on the stick is bilingual.
Same with Mahovlich. When Scanlan went to get his stick autographed, Mahovlich pegged it as probably around 1970, near the end of his stint with Detroit.
“They know their sticks,” marvelled Scanlan. “They’re everything to these dudes.”
The ultimate Canadian home reno has become a budding local attraction. Hey, my brother’s in from Vancouver; he’s a huge hockey fan, can I bring him by? Our son is a huge Joe Sakic fan — could he come and pose with the stick? My in-laws are in from Ottawa . . . my brother is here from Prince Edward Island . . .
When the three grown kids threw a party for their twenty-something friends, “Everyone was taking photos and posing with sticks of their favourite players,” said daughter Laura. “It certainly wasn’t your average party.”
For a time, Sharon wondered whether they’d made a mistake.
“I thought, holy mackerel, everyone else is downsizing and here we are creating this whole space that we’ll never want to leave — are we shooting ourselves in the foot?
“But it’s actually a really nice space where we still watch TV and relax,” she said.
“It’s just that we have a bit of Canadian history in the basement.”