Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bauer firm focusing on safety in hockey

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TORONTO -- Bauer Performance Sports says its sales will grow as it invests in research and development for new gear to protect hockey players amid growing controversy over the climbing tally of concussions in the NHL.

Bauer is currently the biggest player by far in the hockey equipment market, and its CEO said the company will spend money on creating new products to expand its sales rather than focus on selling more of its existing gear.

Kevin Davis said Thursday that one example is neck protectors required for almost two-thirds of the one million kids around the world registered in youth hockey.

"The current solution was really big and bulky and hot and kids didn't like to wear it, so we integrated it with our base layer shirt and it's a new product for us," he said.

"That's a product that didn't exist last year. Even the industry itself can grow when new innovation comes in."

He added that the company acquired Mission Roller Hockey and Maverik Lacrosse in the last three years to expand sales into other sports and says Bauer is looking for other potential acquisition targets.

He said the company is making changes on helmets, but wouldn't reveal upcoming new features.

Helmets are a hot issue as several star NHL players, including Sidney Crosby and Dallas' Brad Richards, are sitting out much of the season due to concussions. Website theconcussionblog.com estimates 72 NHL players have been sidelined due to head injury this year.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed his concern over the climbing number of concussions and suggested the league take a serious look at the issue.

Montreal police are investigating the latest incident, which left Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty hospitalized with a severe concussion and fractured vertebra after a hit by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

Davis made the comments Thursday on new potential products as the hockey equipment maker began life as a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The newly listed shares (TSX:BAU) ended their first day at $7.45, five cents below their issue price of $7.50.

The hockey equipment industry shows some potential for increased sales.

Hockey Canada estimates fewer boys will enrol in hockey this year, but says sales to women, girls and new Canadians show opportunities for growth.

Ryan Kennedy, a writer and editor at The Hockey News magazine said the market for boys hockey equipment in Canada is likely to be stagnant in the next few years, but the market is growing internationally.

"Participation in the U.S. is continuing to go up... Another market that I know a lot of people are going after is Russia."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2011 B5

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