It took a dream and a lot of perseverance for Randy Exelby to get where he is today, and thanks to his efforts Arizona has a premium hockey equipment outlet which had its beginnings nearly 25 years ago. Exelby, a former National Hockey League player, is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops providing hockey equipment to players of all levels.
Growing up in Toronto Ontario Canada, Exelby was introduced to the game of hockey at a very young age and after playing junior hockey, he found himself at Lake Superior State University getting a college education thanks to a four year scholarship. During his time with the Lakers, Exelby was drafted by the Montreal Canadians organization and later traded to the Edmonton Oilers organization. After spending some time in the NHL, Exelby was sent from Edmonton to the International Hockey League’s Phoenix Roadrunners where his love for the desert began. “I really enjoyed my time with the Roadrunners,” said
While hockey has grown, so has the equipment that goes along with it. Just a few minutes after entering any one of the Behind The Mask stores and it is evident they are stocked floor to ceiling with everything any hockey player could need or want. From skates to sticks to goalie pads to a variety of accessories, Behind The Mask is truly your one stop hockey shop. “During our first 30 days I think we had $900 worth of sales and our inventory went from probably and 400 to now, quite a bit with total square footage between all three location at around 13,000,” said Exelby. “I think because we were the only real people selling hockey equipment in Arizona and I had some background in the sport companies like CCM and Bauer were more than happy to take a flyer on us.”
Behind The Mask has also expanded to a mobile service to provide hockey equipment to those who live in the outlying areas of Arizona. The mobile van travels to Prescott, Flagstaff, Lake Havasu, Yuma and Tucson throughout the year providing access to not only ice hockey equipment but inline equipment. “It’s really kind of neat when pull into a community we are kind of like the ice cream truck in the middle of summer,” said Exelby. “The kids in the community coming running out to our truck excited, they even help us unload the van.”
Peoria store, which is now inside the AZ Ice Arena is our largest,” said Exelby. “Our goal in expanding our business was to locate close to where people could get to us easier, so we settled on Peoria, Chandler and Scottsdale.”
The growth of professional hockey meant also the growth in youth hockey, which was a perfect fit for Exelby and Behind The Mask. Hockey in Arizona over the past two decades has grown to levels that many including Exelby could never have imagined, including this year the addition of American Hockey League in Tucson, the Coyotes top affiliate the Tucson Roadrunners, the rise of Arizona State University to a NCAA Division I program and having the number one overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft in Auston Matthews. “I think it is great the way hockey has grown in the valley,” added Exelby. “It was really nice that the team down in Tucson decided to go with the Roadrunners name too.”
Like everything in the world, hockey equipment has evolved and inflation has taken its toll; however Exelby is quick to point out that while most view hockey as an expensive sport, there are many affordable options for players of all skill levels. The latest and greatest in skates now retail for $900, but Exelby says the improvements made in those skates have also improved the quality in the less expensive models, making a very nice pair of skates available for under $200.
While hockey equipment sales are prominent at Behind The Mask, Exelby says the growth of the Arizona State University NCAA D1 program has spurned large amounts of apparel sales. “It’s kind of funny but they (ASU Sun Devils) are our number one apparel seller,” added Exelby. “It’s really amazing how much national attention Arizona has gotten not only because of the Coyotes but, Sun Devils too.” The Sun Devils are always a topic of conversation anywhere Exelby travels and many people come into Behind The Mask to purchase Sun Devil apparel to take back to cold whether destinations according to Exelby. “We actually sell more Sun Devil hats, t-shirts and hoodies than we do Coyotes, “added Exelby.
When arriving in the Scottsdale Behind The Mask, as many people that come for equipment also come to see the companies number ambassador Sasha, the loyal, friend and personal German Shepard. “Sasha is kind of the star of the show,” said Exelby. “It’s really funny, if I am gone for a weekend someone will come in the store the next week and not care where I was but instead chew me out because Sasha was not there.” Whether it’s new equipment, a new lid, skate sharpening or just a visit with Sasha, hockey players, parents and fans can be proud of the Behind The Mask and certainly the man behind the mask.
Exelby. “I can remember Saturday nights where we would draw 10,000 (fans) and they would be loud and cheering for every save I made, even if it was a shot from the red line.” Exelby’s love for Arizona continued to grow and following his professional playing days he made the Valley of the Sun his permanent home. Once firmly rooted in the desert, the next step was to decide what he was going to do for the rest of his life. “I always had a passion for sporting goods, so in 1994, I opened Behind The Mask,” added Exelby. “The first store was in Peoria, a small 400 square foot store and we really didn’t know what we were doing.” The first store was really more about inline hockey than ice hockey; however with the arrival of the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes from Winnipeg in 1996 ice hockey began to grow in the desert. As ice hockey continued to grow so did Exelby’s dream and Behind The Mask, which now includes stores in Chandler, Scottsdale and Peoria. “Our
The Man Behind The Mask Brings Hockey Equipment to the Desert
By: Scott A. Strande, Senior Writer
In addition to his passion for retail, Exelby, a former goalie, just completed his 30th year of his annual goalie school. “We have had a lot of fun and success with the camp,” said Exelby. “We had 40 goaltenders this year at the Ice Den in Scottsdale so it’s been a lot of fun.” Exelby’s passion for the sport of hockey has made him a bit of a folk hero in the desert and that is represented by the sheer numbers of players, parents and now grandparents he has touched over the years. “What I think is really nice is to see the third generation of Arizona hockey players coming into the store,” commented Exelby.
When looking to the future, Exelby thinks not only Behind The Mask is in the right place but so is the state of hockey in the desert. “Of course we would all like to have big hockey superstores, but I don’t think they make sense financially,” said Exelby. “You know these massive stores like Sports Authority and Sports Chalet that had these massive stores, they just didn’t work out, so for us we are really a niche business and I think our stores are just the right size.” Behind The Mask also offers internet sales which Exelby says is growing and doing well, however the personal attention is something Exelby and his staff do not ever want to get away from. “I really like the fact we have more personal relationships with our customers, than just over the internet,” added Exelby. “We have a lot people come into the store from places like Boston that say they maybe bought a stick online from us and now that they are in town they just want to come see our store and meet us in person.”