Jason Kacures grew up playing hockey in a small town just north of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
A lifelong resident of the state, he knows finding just the right hockey stick can be a critical factor in any player’s development. From the flex to the curve, skaters can spend hours sorting through racks to find the one that’s going to help them perform better.
Now a project coordinator at TRUE Hockey with more than 17 years in the hockey equipment industry, Kacrues will often spend time at local hockey games in order to assess the company’s success. He’s got a close eye on who’s using TRUE’s products, and how they’re enhancing each player’s performance.
“That’s the main thing we’re about,” Kacures said. “We want to find ways that we can bring some common-sense technology to the hockey equipment industry, and get the players playing better. We want them using something that will bring them a benefit.”
In a hockey hotbed like Minnesota, Kacures can get feedback on hockey sticks and equipment right from the source almost immediately.
“From a marketing standpoint, it’s great to get that info just from going to a game,” Kacures said. “It speeds up the process from a development standpoint as well.”
For more than 16 years, TRUE had sampled hockey sticks or made production runs for other companies in the market. It wasn’t until about four years ago that the company decided it wanted to bring something to the market with its own name on it.
While the TRUE brand was already known as a top golf shaft manufacturer, finding success in the hockey industry wasn’t a given.
Just ask Steve Ulseth. As a former player for the University of Minnesota and now a Regional Manufacturer Sales Representative based in Minnesota, Ulseth knew it could be tough to break into an established market.
“Hockey players tend to be very traditional,” Ulseth said. “Like anything else, there are brands that are the overriding leaders and makes it very difficult to get in. You have to earn your stripes in the retail industry.”
Thanks to a commitment to innovation and growth, TRUE has found success with the introduction of new technologies, such as its signature XCore technologies and ZPalm gloves.
If a player doesn’t like the stock standard palm that comes in any glove, they can just swap it out and put in a softer or thinner feeling palm.
“We want to bring something that has some story and possibility that will make a player play better or more comfortable,” Kacures said. “We constantly take a look at the hockey market and how we can make a product better. When we figure we have a product that is going to make a player better, that’s when we’re going to bring it to market.”
"It’s just a night and day difference in using our product. To hear that kids are performing better because of our products, it’s just awesome to hear that."
When those products do make it to market, TRUE ensures there’s consistency in quality control.
The company controls its own manufacturing, so consumers can ensure they’re getting quality products made from premium materials.
“If we introduce a technology with our sticks, that technology actually goes throughout the whole line,” Kacures said. “It’s not a matter of we have one stick that has all the bells and whistle. We’ll leave the mainstay in the whole line.”
Kacures knows consumers appreciate the uniformity. From dealers to parents in Minnesota, he’ll often receive feedback—especially from the younger market.
“Their parents will contact me and rave about their players that started using one of our youth sticks or one of our junior sticks,” Kacures said. “Their shot velocity went up exponentially, or their overall performance. It’s just a night and day difference in using our product. To hear that kids are performing better because of our products, it’s just awesome to hear that.”
A former hockey player himself, Ulseth also sees a wide range of players using TRUE’s products.
“We have some technologies that change the feel of the puck on the stick.” Ulseth said. “You see an instant change in a shot. We have a huge focus on the youth level right now because we have a blade technology that helps that group handle the puck better.”
In a state like Minnesota, Kacures and Ulseth knows the way they do business is special.
They’re often reminded just how small the hockey world is as they run into old teammates and friends in the industry. Unlike some places, the culture in the state of hockey emanates a strong sense of community and opportunity.
“Minnesota culture is very unique because it’s built around association hockey,” Ulseth said. “Kids play with kids form their own neighborhoods. Many people in the U.S., where hockey isn’t as significant, come from different zip codes to create teams. That’s what makes Minnesota so unique. It’s oriented around home. That’s why it’s a great place to start with new products.”
From Mites to pros, TRUE knows just how important it is to continually innovate and grow the hockey community.
“Hockey is a great sport,” Kacures said. “We want it to continue to grow and we want kids to have fun. And the best way for kids to have fun, is by helping them perform the best they possibly can.”
Steve Ulseth served as a captain for the Minnesota Gophers. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota Athletics.