By Matt Kane
DELANO When Lance Reynolds and J.P. Wright were playing in the Crow River Hockey Association and later for the Delano High School teams, a broken stick, a cracked shin guard, a dull pair of hockey skates and simply growing out of equipment presented a dilemma. A dilemma of planning a road trip to replace the faulty or undersized piece of equipment or sharpen the blades of those skates.
Reynolds, a forward, usually pointed the car east, aimed at Score Sports, a store not much bigger than a fish house on Highway 55 between Hamel and Plymouth. Wright traveled north to Play It Again Sports in Buffalo to get his skates sharpened, but, being a goalie, he opted for online shopping when it was time to purchase the wallet-busting pads of a net-minder.
Reynolds and Wright graduated from Delano in 2008 and both went off to college. After returning to Delano, they realized the kids in the ever-growing Crow River association still did not have a local place to go for their hockey needs. Reynolds and Wright decided to do something about that.
The two buddies and former teammates decided to give the kids of the Crow River association and all the other area hockey associations a place to go for something as simple as a skate sharpening or as complicated as finding the right pair of skates.
This past Saturday, Reynolds and Wright opened the doors of Monster Hockey in downtown Delano, at 144 River Street North, next to Dave’s Town Club, where they will serve as a one-stop shop for hockey needs.
“From our experience playing here in high school, we knew there wasn’t a lot around,” said Wright.
The thought of opening a hockey retail store started getting passed seriously from tape-to-tape a season ago. Reynolds explained the need for Monster Hockey.
“We identified that if you go west outside of Total Hockey (Minnetonka) and Lettermen Sports (Plymouth) that there is nothing over here for people who play hockey,” he said. “There is actually quite a bit of hockey out here Mound, Delano, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, Hutchinson, Buffalo and Waconia, even. There is an untapped market, and we are hoping to celebrate all of that hockey in this store.”
Crow River currently has more than 300 players enrolled. Orono has 400, and Mound-Westonka 250.
Parents and players were all for a hockey store that would save them on travel time and money.
“Through coaching, I have talked to parents. Moms don’t like seeing 10 kids piling into a car to get their skates sharpened,” said Reynolds, who is the Bantam A coach in the Crow River system. “They were excited to be able to drive a short distance to downtown Delano for that purpose. It will save them gas and money, and they won’t have to pile 10 kids into the car just to get their skates sharpened.”
Carol Halonen currently has four of her 11 children playing in the Crow River system. She plans on save some traveling expenses by shopping locally at Monster Hockey.
“It will be really nice to have a place in town, a place to pick up sticks or something last minute,” said Halonen Friday morning via cell phone, as she drove one of the boys to a tournament in New Hope. “It will be super handy to have it right in town.”
Monster Hockey’s location is convenient, but fickle hockey players will demand quality service above anything, said Chris Ylitalo, who has had five boys play in the Crow River system.
“If you can get that same quality of sharpening here, than it will be a plus for everybody,” she said. “The boys like it done right every time.”
Reynolds and Wright already know Monster Hockey’s survival in the hard-hitting world of hockey retail will depend on an elevated level of service.
“For these guys to be successful, they are going to have to work hard to get their name out there and show a different level of service from what you will get with the big box guys. And they will need to be more hands-on,” said John Reynolds, Lance’s dad and the owner of Monster Hockey. “It should be fun.”
Quality service and personal touch are what Monster Hockey is based on.
“The whole strategies we had planned from the beginning was to have a small-town community feel,” said Wright.
But how can a small-town store compete with a hockey warehouse?
“We provide a deep expertise, as former players, on everything from what skates and gear are right for each player to being the best place to sharpen skates for maximum performance. We are experts,’” said Reynolds. “And we also provide a personal touch. Whereas, if you go to Total Hockey, you have some kids who will mumble up to you to see if you need help. We are here to make your experience enjoyable. We have identified that as a weakness in our competitors and we are going to attack that.”
One truly unique aspect of Monster Hockey, compared to the big box stores, is that it wants to be a place where kids and adults, alike, can simply hang out, without the pressure of purchasing something.
This is evident by the dorm-room-like lounge in the corner, furnished with a well-worn sectional sofa, split in two and positioned around two flat screen televisions one hooked up to an Xbox and the other hooked up to NHL Network.
“We want kids to be able to come here and hang out with hockey people,” said Lance Reynolds. “If they have time to waste before they have to go to the rink or after they leave the rink, they can come here. If they can’t go home and they have some homework to do, they can come here to do their homework. We will have vending machines and a popcorn machine and a hot cocoa machine. It will be a nice area for kids to be around hockey people.
“It’s a place where kids can come and just hang out and talk hockey with a couple coaches and players who have been there. We can identify with these players,” Reynolds added. “The city likes that about this place.”
Skate sharpening and repair are two of the services offered at Monster Hockey. As the store grows, Monster Hockey plans to introduce Monster to Go, a service that will deliver equipment.
“They will be able to deliver equipment before hours or after hours, or if there is an emergency, one of them will hop in the car and deliver the goods,” said John Reynolds,
Eventually, the younger Reynolds and Wright would like to offer training and a place for players to work on their skills away from the arena in the 2,500-square-feet back room of the building.
The walls of the 1,200-square foot showroom at Monster Hockey are lined with new merchandise from helmets to skates from hockey’s largest manufacturers Easton, CCM and Reebok. The general hockey apparel is from Sauce Hockey, and the Monster Hockey-specific apparel is from Delano’s own Bagy Jo. Monster Hockey hopes to have NHL and college hockey apparel and merchandise in time for the holidays.
Everything a hockey mom needs to get her Mighty Might or herself ready for hockey season can be found at Monster Hockey.
And for families on a budget, Monster Hockey will stock quality used equipment, especially skates, and will eventually offer a buyback program.
During the hockey offseason, Monster Hockey will stock lacrosse and baseball equipment and attire.
Reynolds and Wright were busy all day and night last week building displays, hanging posters, stocking hockey equipment and learning the computer system in preparation for opening day. The rookie entrepreneurs admitted to feeling the pressures of starting a business from scratch.
“Lots of stress,” said Wright.
“It’s amazing. You don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes to start something like this,” Reynolds added. “We’ve never been through anything like this before; we are 24 years old. We are doing something every day, whether it’s going to the bank or building something, or something with the equipment, or talking to equipment reps.”
Last Saturday was a soft opening for Monster Hockey. A hard opening, with celebrity guests, is in the works for sometime in December, just in time for the Christmas season.
The building housing Monster Hockey has been seen nationally, as it served as a filming location in the 1998 motion picture “A Simple Plan.” Prior to its debut in Hollywood, the building was a bowling alley at one time and is the former home of Dave’s Town Club, its current neighbor.
“There is a lot of history in this building,” said Reynolds. “We hope to add to it.”