Giving it their best shot
Hockey training entrepreneur Karl Robb hopes to score big with high-tech tutoring on putting the puck in the net.
oronto Maple Leafs sensation Auston Mathews knows how to score. After netting his 35th goal last season to break the Leafs rookie record, the man he bested, Wendel Clark, remarked: “When you watch him shoot, he’s going low, between the legs, blocker side. He’s playing the percentages.” What does London’s Snipe Academy, a new, state-of-the-art, hockey shot training facility have to do with Mathews, an Arizona-born superstar? The “percentages”, the “going low, between the legs, blocker side” that Clark was talking about are a direct result of Mathews growing up in the desert, training hours a day in an indoor facility very similar to the one Karl Robb, 38, has built in London’s west side. “Mathews shot thousands of pucks, hour after hour,” explains Robb. “That’s how he became a superstar in a nonhockey market. I’m doing that here now. If you shoot enough pucks in a strategic way, over and over, you see results, just like Mathews.” Robb’s Snipe Academy began like many entrepreneurial quests: He uncovered a need that led to an opportunity. While coaching his Bantam AAA team in London, Robb’s keen eye for the finer points of the game revealed that though his team was fast and played a disciplined, structured style, they had problems finding the back of the net. They lacked pure goal scorers. At out-of-town tournaments, he would notice kids with amazing shots. His curiosity led him to the Notre Dame practice facility in Indiana, where the Chicago Blackhawks hold their training camp. There, he noticed a puck shooting training device called The RapidShot — a machine that feeds pucks to the high slot where players then shoot at a targeted net. The machine tallies shooting velocity, release speed and accuracy. Robb’s first thought when he saw the machine was: “Is there a business here?” Turns out, the answer was a definite, “Yes!” “We started talking and learned that many pro teams have facilities dedicated to shooting pucks. We toured some in Toronto, Cambridge. We took the best of everything we saw, the machines, the techniques, and the style of the facilities and moulded them into our Snipe Academy,” says Robb. All of the Snipe Academy’s workouts are done on skates and the facility is built on training ice, a composite material that mimics the feel of an ice surface. Robb’s training staff all come with accomplished goal-scoring resumes. One of his trainers, London-born Aaron Dartch, holds the London Nationals’ alltime goal- and point-scoring records. The drills vary from shooting accuracy to quick release, rebound skills to faceoffs. Robb says he creates new drills by watching how the NHL’s best score goals — one originated with a Sidney Crosby top-shelf rebound goal from close range. “We’ll create new drills, get them on video, and play them on an HD television in the practice facility so our students can watch, mimic and learn.” One of Robb’s main goals when envisioning the design of the facility was to have a professional feel. The lounge area is clean, spacious and decorated with signed jerseys and autographs. There are showers and a Gatorade machine. Profiles of the academy’s coaches adorn the wall and a large HD television hangs in the corner. “The places I toured, many of them had a dirty couch in the corner for parents to sit,” says Robb. “I wanted ours to have a Starbucks feel. We have Wi-Fi and a coffee machine, so parents can get work done while their kids train. It’s all about comfort.” Robb’s love of hockey is clearly on display at his facility. So too is his love of London and the local hockey community. “The scene here is tight,” says Robb. “It’s a new concept and people are really catching on. Parents tell me all the time about their kids’ shots improving. Seeing players get better is what it’s all about for me.”