MONTREAL, QC — Sometimes the invention of a groundbreaking new product doesn’t come as the result of someone setting out to be an innovator, but rather from the discovery of a need and the realization of a solution to fill that need.
Such is the story of Blocker Sleeve, a Montreal-based company and product founded by Marco Marciano, the video and assistant goaltending coach for the St. John’s IceCaps. “Before games, for sure you have a warmup but you don’t have those perfect kinds of shots during warmup. Especially in minor hockey, you know, minor hockey maybe they have two to five minutes warmup, so goalies don’t always have the time to have a proper warmup.”
Watch any hockey practice and you’ll see goaltenders going through typical drills like taking shots, working on slides, body position, stance, and tracking the puck. But what about off-ice training? Besides strength training, netminders spend a lot of time working on hand-eye coordination by juggling tennis balls or bouncing them off a wall. “You can catch a ball on your glove side, but it’s not really the right movement on your blocker side,” says Marciano. “The main thing is quickness, like, tracking and doing the proper movement.”
About eight years ago, Marco began to think about ways to help the athletes he trains improve their spatial awareness, coordination, and speed on the blocker side. He developed the Blocker Sleeve as a tool to practice their technique with equipment they can use alone or with a partner.
The name is self-describing: it’s a “sleeve” fitting on top of a goalie’s blocker which they can then use to deflect specially-designed balls that adhere to the sleeve instead of having to chase them after bouncing off. Check out a demonstration of the product in the video below, featuring Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Bernier.
By developing a product in Junior and Senior sizes, and ensuring that it fits on almost any manufacturer’s blocker, Marciano found a niche market for giving goalies a real-life way to improve their skills beginning around 10 years old. “The way they track it, the way they also, their reaction of getting there, the puck movement to put the puck in the corner for control on rebounds.”
Marciano trains Fleury and Bernier in the off-season and used their feedback to improve the Blocker Sleeve until it was ready for production about two years ago. “For me, I’m very lucky. I work hard but, you know, to have the chance to work with great goalies, working with great coaches to get better every day,” says Marco.
He started as a forward in hockey as a youngster, then tried playing defense for a while before deciding goaltending was his passion. Marco’s parents sent him to Vladislav Tretiak’s goaltending school in Montreal, which he says helped shape his work ethic as an athlete. “He [Tretiak] was the main guy who taught me about off-ice drills and tennis balls, and reaction stuff with using my hands and my feet.”
Marciano soon decided to give up playing hockey, however, and began coaching Midget AAA in Laval, QC at the age of 17. He went on to be the goaltending and/or video coach for a number of QMJHL teams before landing a position with Hockey Canada, where he coached with a few different teams including the Olympic Women’s Team who won gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His most recent career move came in 2013 when he joined the Montreal Canadiens affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, which is now the St. John’s IceCaps.
“To be a goalie you have to be very strong mentally, and you’re by yourself. Yeah, you’re in the team and it’s a team sport, you have players in front of you – but when you have a bad game or a bad day, you’re by yourself and you have to be in your own zone and find a way every day to always be on top of things,” states Marciano.
Despite having a growing list of NHL and AHL goaltenders under his tutelage who use his product, Marco believes helping kids improve is one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur and coach. “To see kids improve every day, for me that’s the biggest pay,” he says. “You see them achieving stuff and you’re, like, pretty happy to see them succeed.”
His hard work has paid off, and Marciano can now boast that his product is available not only online at the Blocker Sleeve website, but also in Canadian Tire stores across the country as well as select Canadian sporting goods stores. In addition, Marco encourages customers to email him directly with questions or suggestions and even offers training videos for purchase to ensure proper technique. “They buy it, the videos and all the tips we give them make sure they do it the right way,” he says.
His idea may have been born out of necessity for a better training technique, but with the Blocker Sleeve Marco has found a way to help goaltenders around the world fine-tune their game whether they’re just getting started or are already playing professionally. It’s a point of pride for Marciano which he says gives him plenty of inspiration to keep building on his success. “To see kids using your product and having a smile – sometimes I have kids or parent send me videos or pictures by email and they say ‘Hey my kid tried your product and they love it!’ It makes me smile and makes me also try to find better drills, better tools, or make Blocker Sleeve better.”
To listen to the full interview with Marco Marciano, click the audio player below.