Former Orillia Terrier and North Central Predator Zac Bell has gone pro with his hockey career, just not in the way you might imagine.
Bell has racked up almost 140,000 followers combined over his social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Tik Tok. Bell shares hockey trick shots, dekes, and stick-handling techniques using his social media handle, @alwayshockey.
Bell’s content has caught the eye of the NHL, Sportsnet, TSN, Sports Illustrated, GoPro, and Apple to name a few organizations who follow and have shared Bell’s content.
In 2015, Bell won a stickhandling contest after submitting an online video of his circus-like, acrobatic, and unorthodox hockey skills that sometimes include him twirling his stick in the air, flipping the puck up, and then catching the stick in mid-air - just in time to bat the puck into the net.
“Before you know it, every 12-year-old was in their driveway practising the tricks I was doing, and I thought OK, maybe there is something here, so I just kept making new videos and they kept gaining more and more traction,” Bell explained.
“I would always play around with different moves and pick up the puck in different ways, I would practise juggling the puck in the air, sorts of things people weren’t really doing or thinking about at the time.”
After some early success, Bell decided to slowly distance himself from his social media content due to some harassing comments that were being posted about him online. Bell started focusing more on his hockey career which he moved away from home to pursue.
This year, Bell was signed to play in the National Collegiate Development Conference for the Twin City Thunder in Auburn, Maine. However, after suffering injuries to his head last season, the COVID-19 pandemic and his mother recently being diagnosed with cancer, Bell has decided to stay back at his home in Bracebridge and revisit the hockey trick shot business.
“It’s kind of a transitional period for me right now. I’m probably not going to be playing my last year of junior hockey, instead I’m full throttle strapping into the social media,” Bell explained.
Bell’s time away from the game of hockey inspired him to put his best effort into revitalizing his social media platforms.
“It kind of made me miss the game so much that I submerged myself in creating videos of myself stick handling and doing whatever I could off the ice, basically because I wasn’t allowed on the ice,” he said.
Bell’s return to social media was met with an expected mass following who seemingly couldn’t get enough of Bell’s videos, even NHL players such as P.K. Subban, Sam Gagner, and Joe Veleno became fans of Bell’s content and have even become guest stars in some of his videos.
“When that first started happening it was a shock, the past eight months have been pretty crazy,” Bell said.
“People are attracted to that entertainment part of the sport. I have people who don’t even watch hockey who follow the page now and are becoming fans.”
The Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School graduate doesn’t use any professional camera equipment or techniques to shoot the videos; he creates them himself with just his phone, a stick, a puck, and his creative mind.
Bell’s unique content has landed him sponsorships with Sher-Wood Hockey and Apple. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Apple gave Bell the opportunity to interview Vegas Golden Knights players such as all-star Mark Stone and future hall of famer Marc-Andrè Fleury.
“This has presented me with a lot of opportunities and it’s turned into my job. It’s what I do for a living now, and it's what I plan on doing for the rest of my life,” Bell said.
Bell has future goals to expand the business and even start his own Always Hockey apparel line, but the main goal for Bell is to spread positivity and keep kids having fun inside the hockey community.
“Everyone who’s grown up in the hockey scene knows it’s riddled with politics. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids who get pushed down, and miss opportunities,” Bell said.
“So I set out on my own journey to show that there are other alternative routes in this world of hockey where you don’t just have to make it to the NHL or nothing else matters," he explained. "There are different creative things you can do to have success.”
Bell hopes his content encourages youth to go outside and find creative ways to have fun with whatever it is they love to do.
Click here to watch a video of Bell in action.