Where are they now: Cliff Ronning

Cliff Ronning proved critics wrong when he overcame his size to play in the NHL and he's doing it again off the ice in a new venture.

Wednesday, 01.09.2010 / 12:00 PM / Features
By Andy Radia

Cliff Ronning was one of those kids who were always told that they were too small to play big-time hockey.

But Ronning, one of the shortest players to ever a dawn a Vancouver Canucks uniform, proved, that in hockey, skill can overcome size.

“The first thing coaches and scouts look at is the size of the kid,” says the 5’8 Ronning. “But if someone has talent, even if they are small, their skill will show. The cream will always rise to the top.”

Ronning toiled in the Blues’ organization for four years before being traded to the Canucks in 1991 as part of a multi-player deal.

In Vancouver, Ronning’s star did rise to the top. He became an offensive force with the Canucks and was an integral part of the ’94 playoff run. After six seasons, 1,137 games, and 869 points with the Canucks, he left Vancouver in 1996 and played for 5 different teams before retiring in 2006.

The ‘hometown boy’ is now back home; this time as an entrepreneur. Ronning, 44, has teamed up with former Easton executive Holmes Ghassemi, and Innovative Hockey’s Ron Kunisaki to launch Base Hockey Labs – a hockey stick design and manufacturing firm.

The company’s unique business model is based on the following premise: In the game of golf, it’s commonplace for golfers to spend hundreds of dollars to have their clubs custom fitted and sized - so, why not in hockey? Why don’t hockey players do the same for their sticks?

Ronning and his partners set up a 4,800 square foot facility in Burnaby’s Lake City area, where hockey players of all ages can come to purchase Base hockey sticks customized for optimal performance. The custom stick design process includes a video analysis of a player’s shooting style and skating drills, with Ronning himself, on an in-house synthetic hockey rink.

“By changing things in a hockey stick such as the curve, the lies, and the size you can really improve performance,” he says.

“I know a lot of people in hockey have been waiting for something like this for a long time.”

Base Hockey Labs, which officially opens for business September 7, is already planning for expansion. Ronning has spoken to ex-NHL’ers Darrin Shannon and Steve Dubinsky about the possibility of building similar facilities in Toronto and Chicago.

Success, however, may not come easy for this new venture. The hockey stick industry is highly concentrated and dominated by only a few large firms like Easton, Bauer/Nike, and CCM.

But for Ronning, this is familiar territory. Once again, he’s a small player competing against giants; once again, he’s out to prove that size doesn’t matter.