Way back when, before they formed a company together or built multi-faceted careers out of their passion for the game, the Stauber brothers did what many other Minnesotans have been prone to do; they fell in love with the sport of hockey.
In 1967, the National Hockey League celebrated its 51st season and implemented the first expansion from six teams to 12. The Minnesota North Stars erupted onto the hockey scene, advancing to the semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the team's first campaign and only missing out on a trip to the Stanley Cup finals after a seventh-game overtime loss. That same year most Minnesotans were introduced to the wonders of professional hockey, Del Stauber brought his eldest sons to the Piedmont Heights ice rink in Duluth and introduced them to the game that would guide their lives over the next 50 years.
A passion shared often becomes a passion spread, and none understand that better than the Stauber brothers — John, James, Dan, Pete, Robb and Bill — who witnessed their father's commitment to hockey in their local community as children. They watched as their father helped found the Piedmont program and, as they themselves say on their company website, "That passion, and the life lessons that go along with it, are what eventually lead to his sons' success in high school hockey, collegiate hockey, professional hockey and into the business world of hockey."
Duluth Hockey Company, originally founded under the name Stauber Brothers, opened its doors in 1990. The brothers built a business to offer the local hockey community, and all who love the sport, a retail option that claims a shared joy in what they produce and sell. Three decades later, DHC has grown to become one of the most well-respected hockey equipment and apparel distributors in the sport.
In the 23 years between their first time on the ice with their father and the opening of the Stauber Brothers store in Duluth, the brothers were each involved in competitive hockey at its various levels. The Staubers have cheered each other on throughout every level of the game as they have seen their family members suit up for the NCAA, NAHL, USHL, NWHL and NHL in addition to lacing up for mini-mite games and high-school contests.
"The decision to start a sporting goods business specializing in hockey was our vision to stay involved with the game and to share our passion and love of the game with as many people as we could," said James Stauber. "Although several brothers were still playing professional hockey at the time we opened our doors in April 1990, opening up a retail hockey business was our way of giving back."
While hockey was a beloved pastime for the whole family, two of the Staubers carved out a legacy on the ice as well as in the storefront with their brothers, adding another layer of depth to the family's commitment to hockey excellence.
Lake Superior State left wing Pete Stauber assisted on the championship-clinching goal that earned the Lakers the 1988 NCAA national championship, making his alma mater the smallest school to ever claim the title. After achieving the ultimate collegiate success, Pete signed with the Detroit Red Wings and was picked up by the Florida Panthers in another NHL Expansion Draft before leaving the ice to join his brothers at DHC and eventually serve as the United States Representative for Minnesota's 8th congressional district.
Taking a slightly different direction, Robb Stauber spent his collegiate hockey career between the pipes at the University of Minnesota where he became the first Golden Gopher to earn the Hobey Baker Award. In that same year (1987-88) he was named the WCHA Player of the Year for his outstanding performance. He took his on-ice success to the NHL where he donned the sweaters for the Los Angeles Kings and the Buffalo Sabres during his professional tenure.
"Hockey has been and continues to be a significant part of heritage in Minnesota," said James. "In the Stauber family's opinion, there is no other sport like the game of hockey. There is no other sport that is as genuine and humble as ice hockey. In our view, hockey possesses the most hard-working, humble and caring people of any sport. And that transcends through the parents, grandparents, coaches, players and the fans. It's pretty special."
The Stauber family has made its mark behind the bench as well. In addition to his professional playing career, Robb helped develop some of the best talent in the country as a coach. He groomed netminders as a goalie coach at Minnesota from 2000-2008, and during that time the team brought home two national titles in 2002 and 2003. He then took up the same role for the University of Minnesota Duluth women's team from 2004-2008 and helped them bring home an NCAA championship in 2008.
His commitment to the women's game continued during both his tenure as the head coach of the Minnesota Whitecaps during the 2015-16 season and his stint as a coach for USA Hockey, most notably when he served as the head coach of the U.S. Women's National Team that won gold at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship.
With so many ties to both the local and national hockey communities, it comes as no surprise that Stauber Brothers, (rebranded as Duluth Hockey Company in 2015) chose to create strong partnerships with other hockey entities in Minnesota. They sponsor the annual UMD Fan Favorite award for both the men's and women's hockey teams at Minnesota Duluth, collaborated to enhance the Minnesota Wild's retail branding and partnered with K1 Sportswear, which is the official licensee of most major collegiate and junior hockey leagues.
"Having many family members who are alumni of UMD, having our store in Duluth and having several family member play for UMD, it was a perfect match to partner with the Bulldogs," explained James. "With the Minnesota Wild being our beloved NHL team, we thought that helping them brand the Wild's Hockey Lodge in Northern Minnesota made perfect sense. Lastly, with one of North America's largest hockey jersey and socks manufacturers located within 20 miles of Duluth, it seemed appropriate to build a strong partnership with our friends at K1 Sportswear in Cloquet."
Duluth Hockey Company's commitment to promoting the growth of the game continued as this January the organization partnered with the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to sponsor the 2020 Minnesota Cup, which took place Jan. 4-5 at AMSOIL Arena in Duluth. The UMD Bulldogs emerged as the tournament champions, defeating Bemidji State 2-0. James and Emma Stauber represented DHC, presenting the All-Tournament awards and dropping the puck at Sunday's championship game.
"First and foremost, [sponsoring the Minnesota Cup] gave us an opportunity to give back to the women's game," James said. "We have been following the Women's WCHA since its' inception and to have the opportunity to support the event in our hometown made perfect sense for DHC ownership.
In a small way we were able to help make the event memorable for all participants. The Women's WCHA is probably the most competitive college hockey league in the world and being involved with this premier event was important for us to do. It is a great venue for all hockey fans."
DHC offers its customers more than just a passion for the game of hockey and the products they provide. The company exhibits a commitment to furthering the prominence of women's hockey in the media and in the heart and minds of the young girls who have become today's women's hockey greats.
When asked about what is most crucial for the continued growth of a strong female presence in the sport, James responded, "The key will be how well the hockey community supports and brands the girls and women's game. In today's social media driven society the girl's and women's hockey venue has an endless array of competition. We have to continue to showcase girl's and women's hockey at the absolute grass roots level. We have to compete against other extracurricular activities to get young girls involved and help them build their own love and passion for the game.
The task of growing the women's game falls on the shoulders of all those who love the sport in different ways. DHC has the opportunity to further develop women's ice hockey on the business side and has already shown a patter of support. They believe "having Brand Ambassadors for the sport who reach out to the families of daughters in every large and small community will be extremely critical for future growth and success," which is why they have chosen to follow through on such a task.
The WCHA has pledged itself to the same goal of promoting women's ice hockey and is thrilled to have displayed the excellence that girls and women alike have brought to the sport for the past twenty years. As we move forward into the next twenty, we look to facilitate an awareness of what has been done and what we still need to accomplish to foster the game's growth.
As a company in line with the same goal, DHC knows that women's hockey "is still in its' infancy. The ladder of success is pretty high and we won't get to the top unless we take small and encouraging steps along the way. We must insist on building strong partnerships with companies and entities that can ultimately help us take those steps. If we can build win-win scenarios huge success will follow."
The Stauber family has been encouraging the growth of hockey, both women's and men's, in their personal and professional lives for decades. Whether they are on the ice, behind the bench, or serving the greater community, the Staubers and Duluth Hockey Company epitomize the passion and dedication that makes the sport of hockey and all those who love it a cut above.
"The hockey community is a very, very special group of people within our broader community," Stauber shared. "Without them, we do not have a business and we do not have people we can share our passion with. For DHC, there is no real connection to the people without the game of hockey."
The family's generational commitment to the sport continues to this day as eight of the Stauber grandchildren have played or continue to play hockey, and five have worked or still work with DHC.
As James Stauber concluded, "The DHC motto speaks for itself. 'Family, Friends and Hockey.'"