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A broken hockey stick is no longer its demise, thanks to one repair business

With four locations in North Dakota, Cal Helgeson, of Grand Forks, said he's kept roughly 2,000 broken hockey sticks on the ice, saving players and their families more than $400,000. Integral Hockey

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Cal Helgeson is gifted a hockey jersey with his Integral Hockey franchise's logo by his daughter, Alivia, on behalf of the Grand Forks KnightRiders girls hockey team.
Contributed / Cal Helgeson

GRAND FORKS — A hockey stick in pieces used to be irreconcilable. It meant it was time to move on.

Not any longer, says Cal Helgeson, a franchisee of Integral Hockey in Grand Forks, Bismarck, Fargo and Minot.

With a reputation that speaks for itself, Integral Hockey repairs damaged and broken hockey sticks to a good-as-new condition, reselling them for a fraction of the cost of a new stick. Founded in British Columbia in the 1990s, Integral Hockey has since expanded to roughly 80 franchises across the United States and Canada, including five in North Dakota and nine in Minnesota, including Bemidji, Hermantown and several in the Twin Cities metro area.

A basketball and football player growing up, Helgeson was taken by surprise one day when his son returned from kindergarten with a hockey flier.

“I told him there’s no way you’re ever going to play that game. What we know about hockey players, we weren't having that,” Helgeson said, “but he was very adamant that that was going to happen, so we just got involved in hockey at that point.”

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... what I found is everyone had a garbage can full of them. They were either making picture frames or barbecue tools or throwing them out in landfills. Everyone I knew that I’d talked to had a stick to fix.
Cal Helgeson

As his son continued hitting the ice season after season, and his other children got involved, too, Helgeson himself took a keen interest in the sport, joining his first novice team at 35. It wasn’t until 2016 when his family had their first broken stick.

“I was there and in less than 14 seconds, I had $600 laying on the ice in four pieces,” Helgeson said. “I knew there had to be a better way for parents and players at that time.

With new sticks running as high as $350, Helgeson felt there had to be a way to repair hockey sticks instead of outright replacing them. Two years later, in 2018, he found Integral Hockey.

“I spent the summer and fall [of 2018] studying the numbers of players and broken sticks in the area, and what I found is everyone had a garbage can full of them,” Helgeson said. “They were either making picture frames or barbecue tools or throwing them out in landfills. Everyone I knew that I’d talked to had a stick to fix.”

In January 2019, he kicked off his own Integral Hockey franchise from his home in southeastern Grand Forks. With a quick burst of business, he expanded into Bismarck and Minot in 2020 and into Fargo in 2021.

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Each of these hockey sticks were once broken on the ice. A repair from Integral Hockey's Cal Helgeson in Grand Forks makes it difficult to tell.
Contributed / Cal Helgeson

How do Integral Hockey repairs work?

No matter where the crack or break occurred, Helgeson said it’s almost always repairable, and when it’s back in a player’s hands, the difference is hardly noticeable.

When a break happens, players or parents can drop off or ship their sticks to Helegson. He said he normally starts getting calls, texts and emails on Sundays, as the weekend of sport draws to a close. Realizing that these players tend to prefer their sticks, he quickly initiates the repair process.

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Working mostly from within his three-stall garage, Helgeson uses Integral Hockey’s patented process to repair the sticks. Though he wouldn’t share much about the top-secret repair, he said the repair consists of applying a hollow-core carbon fiber sleeve over the break and using aerospace and composite technology to fill any cracks, bind any breaks and bring the stick to a good-as-new condition.

“The process that we use allows the stick to have no noticeable difference in flex, weight, balance or kickpoint of these sticks,” Helgeson said. “We don’t take that technology out of the stick, we take the delamination and these factory defects in the carbon fiber out of it, and repair it with our process.”

Integral Hockey claims their repairs work so well, they’ll even offer a guarantee.

“[The repair process] allows us to come back with a warranty that the market isn’t used to — a lifetime warranty on our repair,” Helgeson said. “There really isn’t another market out there that we compete with to this day and age. It’s a process that we’ve driven [competitors] out. We stand for integrity in our process.”

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Helgeson said the sticks he repairs come from a wide variety of players and leagues, ranging from the NHL down to youth hockey. After the broken sticks are repaired, players can purchase their sticks back for roughly half the price of a new stick, or can leave them with Helgeson for other buyers to purchase.

And while hockey players can be picky about their equipment — Helgeson jokingly calls some players “divas” — he noted that the repair process typically only adds fewer than 10 grams to a hockey stick, most of which weigh around 360 grams.

The change in weight is so minimal that he believes it should make no difference to a player’s experience. Plus, the reviews are glowing.

Ex-NHLer Andre Dore — who played a seven-year professional stint with the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Quebec Nordiques — was so impressed with Integral Hockey’s products, that he launched his own franchise.

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“Until now, it’s been the one piece of hockey equipment that could not be re-used. After extensively testing repaired sticks, I found they behaved exactly like a new stick and did not lose any characteristics,” Dore said. “I’m convinced that all hockey players who try it will feel the same way.”

Helping the pocketbook and the environment

Though the financial savings Integral Hockey has provided to players and their families since its inception is sizable, Helgeson made clear the company’s impact goes far beyond a monetary one.

By the end of 2022, Helgeson estimated that his four North Dakota locations will have serviced “well over” 2,000 sticks. With an average savings of roughly $200 for players purchasing repaired sticks, he’s saved players and their families an estimated $400,000.

“Hockey is an expensive sport, and when you’re talking about a $339 new stick and I’m selling them back for $140, there’s $200 you can save,” Helgeson said. “When you’ve got guys who are going through a half-dozen to a dozen sticks each year, those are some real dollars.”

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After Integral Hockey's Cal Helgeson repairs these broken hockey sticks to a good-as-new condition at his Grand Forks home, he'll sell them back to players in the community at a huge discount, keeping some extra cash in the consumer's pockets.
Contributed / Cal Helgeson

Across all locations, Helgeson estimated Integral Hockey has saved over 100,000 sticks and saved roughly $20 million in expenditures from players.

Helgeson said that means the same number of sticks have ultimately been kept out of landfills, preventing more than 80,000 pounds of fiberglass and processed carbon out of the ground, since both have limited recycling capabilities.

Putting all the benefits together, Helgeson said he’s grateful to have gotten into the line of work.

“It’s such a great opportunity to be able to work with all of these guys and the communities to put the sticks back on the ice,” Helgeson said. “If we can stop making barbecue tools and we can fix these sticks and give them back to these families — what we give back to the kids and the community, it really evens the playing field for everybody.”

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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