NHL Business Notebook: Sabers wear custom Rick Jeanneret skates to honor retiring broadcaster

On Thursday morning, Rasmus Dahlin saw posts on social media featuring custom SkateSkins that Barrett Hayton wore during warmups before the Arizona Coyotes game against the Dallas Stars.

It was a meaningful gesture and moment of remembrance for Matt Shott and Leighton Accardo, both of whom held special meaning to the Coyotes and passed away after battles with cancer, and for Dahlin it was an indicator that if he asked, he’d also be able to sport a custom look for a special occasion during warmups.

So he reached out to Matthew Keeler and Nick Ciavarella, who run SkateSkins out of Buffalo, and asked if they could get something together for Sabers players in honor of Rick Jeanneret, the long-time broadcaster who is retiring and was calling his final game Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Keeler, who handles most of the design work, spent all of Thursday evening working on a design with Jared Halt. On Friday afternoon, around 3 pm, he delivered them to Dahlin’s home in Buffalo. That evening, multiple players wore the skates honoring Jeanneret.

It’s been a marquee week for SkateSkins, a nearly 2-year-old brand that creates and sells reusable decal graphics to customize skates. It’s officially gone from a passion project for Keeler and Ciavarella to NHL ice.

SkateSkins made their professional debut last spring during the 2020 IIHF World Championships with a trio of Latvian players wearing custom designs. Since then, popularity has soared. They’ve received team orders from the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins and the PHF’s Buffalo Beauts, while the Golden Knight mascot has worn custom SkateSkins during the pomp and circumstance of a Vegas pregame show.

The Golden Knight mascot was the soft launch into the NHL, while Hayton became the first NHL player to wear them during warmups this week against the Stars.

The Coyotes were one of the first teams interested in SkateSkins after they saw the custom AirJordan skates that Keeler and Ciavarella created with sneaker artist Dakota Wiley in early 2021. Keeler and Ciavarella then met with Coyotes Chief Brand Officer Alex Meruelo Jr. and head of PR Rico Ripoly back in February of 2022 to discuss getting the product onto NHL ice. That put the plans in motion for Keeler and Ciavarella to work with Hayton and Coyotes forward Loui Eriksson on custom designs.

Hayton’s SkateSkin was a mix of personal style and tribute to Shott and Accardo. Shott died after a lengthy battle with cancer in December and was a key figure in the Arizona hockey community and the Coyotes’ director of amateur hockey development. Accardo was inducted into the Coyotes ‘ring of honor in 2021. She was the Coyotes’ 9-year-old Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador who signed a one-day contract with the team and passed in 2020 hours before the Coyotes were planning to have her on the ice before a game one more time.

Keeler and Hayton discussed various elements of the design throughout the process, with the key emphasis on honoring Shott and Accardo, who are both featured prominently on the outside of the skate.

Eriksson wore a pair of SkateSkins commemorating his 1,000th NHL game in the Coyotes’ season finale on Friday night. As part of the design process, Eriksson sent pictures of his tattoos with his four children’s names to Keeler, who worked to include them in the design.

The next step for SkateSkins, which Keeler and Ciavarella run under the umbrella of a company called Just Dishin, is getting them on NHL ice after warmups. At this point, they don’t have approval for game use from the NHL, and usage during warmups has had to be approved by the league, but the interest from players is creating a demand that the league may soon not be able to ignore.

Keeler and Ciavarella met with players in Vegas at the NHL All-Star Game back in February and several expressed interest in the product and getting their own design. Others have reached out separately, and the number of calls increased after Hayton’s pregame look in Dallas made the rounds on social media earlier this week.

When they launched SkateSkins, initially showing off the product on social media channels like Instagram and TikTok, Keeler and Ciavarella noticed a heavy dosage of negative comments and detractors. Those types of comments have been drowned out over the past two years, and overall they say the company has grown sales by 50 percent in each of the past two years.

In addition to growing sales, getting the product used after an NHL opening faceoff is the next big hurdle.

“Hopefully soon,” Keeler said. “The players are ready to show their personality with this. I hope they let them. ”

Krug family looking for another title

Torey Krug is continuing his quest for a championship next week when the St. Louis Blues open the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild, and he’s hoping to join his brother, Adam, who has already begun celebrating.

Adam is the coach at Adrian College, which won the Division III NCAA Championship this spring with a 5-2 win against Geneseo in March. The team won 31 straight games after losing the season opener.

For the brothers, who are eight years apart, hockey has been the subject of weekly, if not daily, conversation.

“We talk often, we break things down and we discuss the game,” Torey Krug said. “We’ll talk about my game, about our power play, and how things are going. I like to watch as many of Adrian’s games as possible, so we’ll also talk about his games. It’s fun to put on the coaching hat a bit. ”

For Adam, this was his first chance to win an NCAA title in two seasons after COVID canceled the past two Division III national tournaments. Last season, without a national championship to play for, Adrian was able to schedule games against Division I opponents looking for games, and against the United States National Development team in Ann Arbor, Mich. Those contests, Adam Krug said, were a bit of a launching pad for Adrian going into the season and the only game they lost, on opening night, came with some of the best players in COVID protocol.

The success at Adrian has put Adam Krug in an interesting place in the coaching world because the college hockey ranks are about to go through a wild coaching carousel.

Marquee jobs are now open at Boston College, Boston University, and Michigan State. Adam has a connection at Michigan State already – Torey played there – while the fallout from who gets the BC and BU job could create another desirable Division I openings. Adam is confident, but coy about his intentions. He’s happy at Adrian but also isn’t shy about stating he’s willing and ready to move up in his coaching career.

Torey, on the other hand, is a much more energetic pitchman for his older brother.

“He should be a Division I coach,” Torey said. “No doubt about it.”

Jersey ad update

The St. Louis Blues became the fifth team to reveal a jersey ad sponsor on Thursday, announcing Stifel had signed a 5-year deal with the team. The patch will be on home and away uniforms.

The Washington Capitals (Caesars Sports Book), Columbus Blue Jackets (Safelite), Pittsburgh Penguins (Highmark Blue Shield), and Vegas (Circa Sports) have already announced at least one partner. The Capitals and Golden Knights will have different road jersey ads, which have yet to be finalized because NHL rules only allow teams to sell sportsbook advertising on jerseys for home markets.

NHL teams have a choice of where to place the patch, and thus far all five teams have made a decision to put it on the chest as opposed to the shoulder. That was expected because the concept of a shoulder patch was more of an add-on to the deal as a way to find flexibility for some more traditional teams that didn’t want a sponsor on the front of the jersey.

(Photos: Matthew Keeler and Nick Ciavarella / SkateSkins)

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