July 18, 2012

From NEHJ: Quartet proving people wrong

By Bill Keefe

At this time of year, many high school and college students are working summer jobs and trying to stay out of the way of their bosses. 

With the support of Tim Thomas (center), founders (from left) Kyle Nickerson, Jack Brewer, Charlie Ackerman and Cam Brown have found success with their company, Prove People Wrong.

Jack Brewer, Charlie Ackerman, Cam Brown and Kyle Nickerson are the opposite. They look forward to spending as much time as possible with the boss.

They are the bosses.

Well, this hockey-playing band of brothers are the founders of a growing motivational merchandising company called Prove People Wrong (provepeoplewrong.com) that has attracted the likes of Tim Thomas as a partner and investor.

A chief executive officer, a manager and a marketing analyst all work for the founders — one of whom just finished his freshman year at Trinity College (Brewer), two of whom are committed to colleges for the fall of 2013 (Brown to Maine, and Nickerson to Dartmouth) and one who may matriculate in either 2013 or 2014 depending on his options (Ackerman).

Brewer, Ackerman, Brown and Nickerson all came together through hockey — at  Lovell Hockey Schools, the Boston Advantage, the Rivers School and the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs. Two or three of them have played together at every stop. They nearly are inseparable.

Two summers ago, while commiserating about their detractors who discounted their dreams of playing college hockey, they came up with a motivational slogan: Prove people wrong.

They ordered four rubber wristbands inscribed with the motto. The idea was that they would wear them during workouts and a look at their wrists would provide extra motivation.

The founders like to think of PPW, as they call it, as more than a company, but as a movement. The movement has spread beyond the original target audience of athletes to people facing health problems or disabilities or just been told they can’t. Largely through word of mouth and the Internet, the notion is catching on. They have more than 8,000 likes on Facebook and more than 2,400 followers on Twitter. Wristbands, T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts sell for between $3-40.

The guys have used ingenuity to get their gear to players on the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and New England Patriots, who have been spotted wearing the motivational messages.

One of the founders’ Advantage teammate’s fathers is a police officer who was on the duck boats for the Bruins’ Stanley Cup parade last summer. The guys stuffed a bag with gear and gave it to the officer, who made sure it got to Thomas. They pictured him as the ultimate story of proving people wrong after his long journey through the minors and Europe before earning an NHL starting job and winning two Vezina trophies and a Stanley Cup.

The guys didn’t hear anything until August, when Thomas’ business manager called and said Thomas wanted to get involved with their company.

“(The manager) said it really hit home with (Thomas),” Brewer said. “From there, we met with him and that’s when things started rolling.”

Investors were brought in. Capital was raised. Orders were processed through a fulfillment company, not Nickerson’s barn.

The four teenagers met with Thomas.

“He wanted Prove People Wrong to be his clothing company, not Nike or Reebok,” Brewer said.

Part of that was the guys’ commitment to giving back. They had made special gear from which they donated the proceeds to a breast cancer foundation. When Thomas joined, they made a $10,000 donation to Children’s Hospital and collectively made a visit there. Shares of proceeds now go to the Tim Thomas Foundation, which helps people in need, such as assistance to victims of last summer’s flooding in Vermont.

Each of the founders has his own prove people wrong story.

Brewer, a Newton, Mass., native, barely was recruited and got turned down from each of the prep schools to which he applied. Brewer played in 23 of Trinity’s 24 games last season and was second among freshmen in scoring.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Brewer said. “I took the year with the Advantage, with the Lovells, and it worked out.”

Ackerman hails from Bradenton, Fla., which required added effort and commitment to play hockey and also brought naysayers who wrote off the hockey potential of anyone from the Sunshine State. After the Advantage, he played for the Monarchs last season and made next season’s preliminary roster for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers as a walk-on.

“I’d go to Canada for a tournament and people would say, ‘Where do you play hockey? In the sand with beach balls?’” Ackerman said.

Brown, listed at 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds on this past season’s Monarchs roster, has heard negative comments about his size all his life. Sioux City tabbed Brown with the seventh overall pick in May’s USHL Draft; he is slated to play for the Musketeers for one year before going to Maine.

“I always hear about it,” said Brown, a Natick, Mass., resident. “You’re too small. You’re not strong enough. You’re not big enough to make it to the next level. It makes you work harder.”

Like Brown, Nickerson also has faced size issues. He didn’t break 100 pounds until after his sophomore year in high school and now goes 5-8 and 150 pounds. In addition, he was playing Division 3 public high school hockey for a relatively new varsity in his hometown of Weston, Mass., those first two years. After his sophomore season, he joined the Boston Advantage for two seasons before playing for the Boston Junior Bruins last year.

“When I told people I was not going to play for Weston, they’d say, ‘What are you thinking?’” Nickerson said.

Prove people wrong.

As others gained interest in their four original bracelets, they pitched in and bought 1,000 bracelets. When they sold those, they bought 2,000 more. They kept reinvesting to the point where it took off with Thomas’ involvement.

“Starting a company with three good friends is a cool experience,” Ackerman said. “I’m really lucky to be able to do these things. Touching people’s lives. It’s cool that people can relate to our idea.”

Around juniors

Eight players with New England ties were among the 46 players invited to the U.S. National Junior Team Evaluation Camp on Aug. 4-11 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The group includes forwards Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass./Harvard), Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College), Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine/Phillips Exeter), Adam Reid (Northeastern), and Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass./South Shore Kings), defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass./U.S. Under-18) and Mike Paliotta (Westport, Conn./Vermont) and goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine/Indiana Ice). …

Speculation was flying after the Halifax Mooseheads drafted U.S. Under-17- and Boston University-committed forward Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) in the first round, 15th overall, of the QMJHL draft.

Eichel, who is committed to the U.S. National Team Development Program next season, told New England Hockey Journal, “I will be in Ann Arbor (Mich.) next year.”

Halifax GM Cam Russell told the Halifax Chronicle Herald that the Mooseheads had been tracking Eichel since October.

“We feel that Jack was the best player available in the draft,” Russell said. “He’s a great talent. If he was living in Quebec, he would be ranked No. 1 overall.”

The next local player was not selected until the sixth round, and it was Eichel’s Empire Junior Bruins teammate Conor Garland (Scituate, Mass.) going to Moncton with the 104th selection.

For a complete list of New Englanders selected in the QMJHL draft, visit www.hockeyjournal.com.

This was the first QMJHL draft in which each team had to select two Americans. …

Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) and the Saint John Sea Dogs saw their Memorial Cup run come to a halt in a 7-4 semifinal defeat to host and eventual champion Shawinigan. Coyle went 0-4-4 and was a plus-4 in four Memorial Cup games. Shawinigan won, 2-1, in the final over London, which included Boston Bruins’ 2010 second-round pick forward Jared Knight, who was 0-1-1 in the tournament. …

Bruins’ 2011 first-round pick Dougie Hamilton was named Ontario Hockey League Defenseman of the Year after posting 72 points in 50 games. …

Bobby Kinsella (Brockton, Mass.), the scouting director and assistant coach for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints the past two seasons, has accepted a Midwest-based scouting position with the Montreal Canadiens. Kinsella helped the Saints to the 2011 Clark Cup championship in their inaugural season and played a role in identifying and developing 2012 NHL first-round picks Zemgus Girgensons and Mike Matheson and 2011 fourth-rounder Gaudreau of Boston College. Girgensons will skate for Vermont next season, while Matheson will join Gaudreau at BC. Kinsella previously was the coach and general managers of the Boston Rangers midget AAA team and had spent five seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers as a scout, scouting director and assistant coach. …

As Kinsella leaves, another New Englander is headed to Dubuque. Forward Brandon Shea (Marshfield, Mass.) had left the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats before the end of last season. The Fighting Saints owned the USHL rights to Shea, who will be a top prospect in the 2013 NHL draft. …

Incoming Brown freshman Kevin Roy was honored as the USHL Player of the Year and named to both the All-USHL First Team and All-Rookie Team after his 104-points in 59 games for the Lincoln Stars.

Other New England-based first-team all-stars were Bruins’ 2010 draft pick Zane Gothberg, who led the league with a .921 save percentage and was second with a 2.22 goals-against average, and Girgensons, who led the Saints with 55 points in 49 games.

Indiana Ice defenseman and incoming Yale freshman Ryan Obuchowski was named to the second team after finishing tied for second in scoring among USHL defensemen with 41 points.

Another Yale-committed player, Omaha goalie Alex Lyon was named to the All-Rookie team as was BC recruit Austin Cangelosi, a forward for Youngstown, and Matheson. …

Dartmouth-committed defenseman Brandon Kirk had one assist and a plus-5 rating playing in all 12 playoff games for the USHL champion Green Bay Gamblers, who earned the Clark Cup in a decisive Game 5 by defeating Waterloo, 5-2. …

Anthony DeLuca, committed to Vermont for either 2013 or 2014, signed with Rimouski after the team took him in the second round of the QMJHL draft.

Vermont also gained a player when Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.) moved up his enrollment at BU to this fall. This led Indiana Ice forward Robert Polesello to decommit from BU and sign on with Vermont for this season.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

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