Where coloured hockey sticks began

He was once a pro boxer who went home to work in a dry cleaning plant, with an 11-year-old son who played hockey. Dad painted his son’s sticks so that if somebody swiped one it would be easy to identify in the small town where they lived.

“I painted one shaft red and another blue,” he explained, “and it looked like a piece of masonry, not impressive at all.”

His boy had an idea.

“Try and make one like my sweater,” he said.

The result was the first coloured hockey stick that reflected team colours, anywhere, and maybe the first coloured hockey stick, period. The painter’s name was Mickey Tomiak (or Mickey Temple in the ring) and you won’t find him in the archives of hockey sticks or boxing…at least I couldn’t.

The day I interviewed him about his “invention” in his home town, just north of Winnipeg, Tomiak’s coloured hockey sticks were something of a novelty, used only by his son’s team: the Selkirk Youth Council. Pro hockey was slow to accept new ideas in those days and coloured hockey sticks weren’t on its radar. Why would they be? The standard wooden sticks with nothing more than the manufacturer’s identity (usually Sher-wood) in black on the shaft, plus “L” for left and “R” for right, had been just fine, thank you. Coloured sticks were untraditional, gimmicky and players didn’t really have to worry about having their sticks swiped.

Tomiak’s motivation was genuine.

“I hated to see young kids, crying because someone had stolen their sticks after a game,” he said. “This way, there shouldn’t be any trouble because each stick is painted with the team’s colours.”

He took out a patent, bought sticks at retail prices and started painting 100 a day in his workshop with the idea of turning it into a fund-raiser for the youth council: “I’m not in it to make a buck.” He dared to think one day all teams would use coloured sticks, even in the NHL.

Since this was in the early days of coloured TV, Tomiak modified the paints to reduce the glare on his prototype.

“They were too brilliant,” he said.

Just like his idea. He dulled them down and tried them out with the Hamilton Red Wings, a junior team sponsored by Detroit (Tomiak was a friend of Detroit executive Jimmy Skinner). Before long, the Wings were flying him to Detroit, sticks in hand. About the same time, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion of the Montreal Canadians heard about them and asked Tomiak if he could have two for his sons. Detroit’s general manager, Sid Abel, took the idea to the NHL’s Rules Committee where it was tabled because stick deals were made far in advance.

Now I’d like to tell you that Mickey Tomiak made a fortune for the Youth Council but the fact is I don’t know. All I know is that within a few years coloured sticks started showing up everywhere, including the NHL. I moved to another newspaper and never saw Mickey again.

But I like to think I saw his sticks.