Walk into a locker room before a hockey game at just about any level and one of the first things you will see is players taping their sticks. It doesn’t take long to notice the special and sometimes superstitious treatment players give their sticks.
Whether it is always taping heel to toe, covering the toe, taping the shaft for extra grip or the type of knob they use, hockey players can be very picky. And it all starts with picking the right stick.
Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you need a new hockey stick.
The first decision you will have to make when selecting a stick is what size it will be.
"There are four options to choose from: youth, junior, intermediate and senior," states Andy Ulseth, Store Manager for Total Hockey in Edina. "The four stick sizes vary according to overall size, weight, flex and price."
Youth sticks are the smallest, being designed mostly for mites and other young beginning hockey players. Junior sticks (squirts) take a step up in the size and length of the stick’s shaft and blade. Intermediate sticks (peewee) are heavier and stiffer in flex. Senior sticks (bantam & up) are the largest. The shaft and blade are full size and flex options range from suiting bantam players up to adults.
Keep in mind that the age levels listed are general guidelines. It is more important to base the size of the stick on the player’s size and strength. Tip: selecting a flex that is half your body weight is usually about right (ex: 100 lbs. hockey player uses a 50 flex stick).
Type of Stick
Composite – The advantages of composite sticks are obvious. Pick one up and you can tell immediately that it is lighter than a wood stick. A trip to the ice and the first thing a player will notice is the extra velocity or “pop” the composite provides. The materials of composite sticks have also been shown to be more durable than wood sticks.
"Don’t forget about the cool factor," reminds Ulseth. "Kids watch their favorite college and NHL players using these sticks, and it definitely impacts their opinion."
Price can be an issue with composites as they regularly cost five times the amount of wood sticks. Another disadvantage is the reduction in “feel” the players have with the puck on their stick.
Two piece – Two piece sticks are made of the same materials as composites, but the blade and shaft are bought separately. Two pieces present a middle of the road option in terms of weight, velocity and price.
"Most people that use two piece sticks do so because of the ability to change blades," observes Ulseth. "It can help people save money, especially when players are trying to find a blade pattern they like."
That same quality leads to the biggest disadvantage for these sticks as the two segments create an additional disconnect between a player’s hands and the puck, reducing the amount of feel players have.
Wood – Enter the favorite option of thrifty parents and old school coaches. Yes, wood sticks are heavy and don’t provide the same velocity composites do. However, they are also much more affordable and provide unparalleled feel. Players that have issues catching passes or stick handling because the puck constantly seems to bounce off their stick may want to consider using a wood stick. Although no stick can completely fix these problems, wood sticks provide more give, better feel and can help players develop puck skills.
Stick lie is defined as the angle that the heel of the blade and the shaft creates, as the angle increases so will the lie. This is important because the lie of the stick will determine the player’s hand position in relation to his or her body as well as the amount of blade a player has on the ice at all times. A proper lie will position a player’s upper hand comfortably at his or her hip while in hockey position when the majority of the blade, especially the heel, is on the ice.
“Don’t put too much weight on the lie though,” warns Ulseth. “Each blade curve comes with a designated lie. It is more important for players to get the right curve than a certain lie.”
Length of Stick
Before you walk out the door, it is important to consider the length of the stick you plan on buying. It is usually recommended that a stick should go up to a player’s nose without skates on and around the chin with skates on.
“Be sure to keep in mind most sticks require some sort of adjustment to be the correct length,” points out Ulseth. “And when you cut sticks, you change the flex of them.”
For instance, a player that cuts four inches off his or her first senior stick has created a stiffer stick than what was originally purchased.
Players often spend the most amount of time picking the right stick blade. Blades come with a variety of different curves to choose from. Even worse, manufacturers name the patterns differently causing many players to use an eye test, which isn’t the most reliable.
“Manufacturers make all the same curves,” emphasizes Ulseth. “You just need to figure out which pattern correlates with the type of curve you like. Say you have been using a Backstrom (Bauer) curve but you want to buy a Reebok stick. Reebok labels the same curve Crosby.”
Another factor that can be difficult to figure out on your own is kick point. Each company usually has two lines of sticks: low kick point and high kick point. You won’t find that information on the stick, but most salespeople will know the difference.
“Kick point gets overlooked at times because it isn’t labeled on the stick,” highlights Ulseth. “For some kids that’s fine, but at higher levels, players should be considering it. Lower kick points provide players with a quicker release while higher kick points are better for booming shots from the point.”
Note that many of these subjects come down to personal preference. Players should go through a trial and error process to figure out the stick that fits their game and can help maximize performance.
From a psychological standpoint, the most unrealistic the expectations lead to the most intense disappointments.
“Don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s the coach’s fault or the Dman’s fault or the ref should've called a penalty. Help them see a pathway out w/ optimism.”
Failure is a part of life. But what happens after that failure is just as important.