By Emily Kaplan
Andy Sutton carved out a 14-year career playing defense in the NHL, but never played a full, 82-game season. In fact, he missed more time to injury in that span than any other NHL player. Sutton, who studied engineering at Michigan Tech, always took an analytical approach.
"I was always looking for ways to restore and renew while still playing the way I wanted to play," Sutton says now. "Working with my team trainers and equipment managers, I realized a lot of that had to do with equipment deficiencies." When Sutton retired in 2012, he launched his own hockey equipment brand, Verbero. The idea was to create high-end equipment but make it affordable by "obliterating the traditional sales structure."
Before the pandemic, Sutton was playing shinny hockey one morning in Los Angeles when he noticed a women's player on the other team. "I was blown away by how powerful she was," Sutton said. "Her lateral movement, how hard she shot the puck. I never had the chance to skate with incredible women's players before."
Sutton introduced himself after the game. She was Blake Bolden, a former Boston College player who now works as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings. Sutton and Blake got to know each other, which piqued Sutton's mind once again: there was a huge deficiency in the market when it came to women's hockey. A hockey equipment company had never created and designed a signature stick for a female athlete, then branded it with her name. Sutton wanted Bolden to be the first.
"It was serendipitous, my meeting with Andy, and our vibing on a level where he was inspired," she said. "And I appreciate that. Because as a woman in this game, we're always working and pushing so hard for every little scrap. So this feels like a tremendous feat for women in hockey. This is huge, this is historical. I'm a brand now. I'm going to look back on this when I'm old and my little grandkids will have a vintage BB stick. And it will be a beautiful thing to have."
Verbero unveiled the Blake Bolden Signature Series Mercury V350 Stick in December, after a truly collaborative process.
Bolden decided on the color red because her slogan is "be bold." "Then I wanted it to be murdered out on all black," she said. "Because I think murdered out things on cars or wheels or windows looks classy, but also bad a--."
She then thought, if it was her signature stick, she should probably have her signature on it "like Steph Curry has on his signature sneakers," she said. "So I was inspired by that. I love my initials, BB, so I wanted that big and bold on the blade -- front and back."
As for the engineering? "As a defenseman, I don't like to hold my stick too tight so having a little grip is nice," Bolden said. "My curve, as I've been playing for the last seven years pro, was a huge banana curve that made my shot go really high. I wanted a curve that wasn't extremely flat, but wasn't a banana curve. It's perfect for me because I can shoot quick wristers or snapshots from the point. I can get off pucks fast from the point, and it works marvelously for me."
Bolden is one of 15 female athletes Sutton has brought into the Verbero structure. He is also working on a signature stick for Canadian national team player Brigette Lacquette (in which they commissioned a leading indigenous artist to create the art) as well as one for Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser. ("Can you believe nobody ever created a Wick stick?" Sutton said. "That's wild to me.")
For Sutton, the collaborations are all about "uplifting female athletes, making them feel heard, seen and supported." Bolden will have her own interface on the Verbero website, and is encouraged to market her stick to her own network -- from minor associations with which she's associated, to her alma mater.
Verbero will give Bolden 50% of the net profit of her sticks sold. "We give the girls an opportunity to make a lot of money, and support themselves through hockey," Sutton said. "We know we're on to something really meaningful and long overdue here. That feels inspiring."
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