Hockey sticks hold a special place in the hearts of hockey players, and rightfully so. Not only are hockey sticks a critical piece of equipment, they are also one of the most customizable pieces of equipment in all of sports.
For experienced players, that means their sticks are frequently a source of pride. Whether it’s a specific brand, curve, grip, a custom tape job or being a key part of their pre-game routine, players devote significant time and energy to making their stick is as ready as they are for hitting the ice.
For younger players and their parents though, the long list of decisions to make when selecting a stick can lead to more questions than answers. If your player still learning about what they like in a hockey stick, here are a few tips to help you find the right twig for them.
Type of Stick
The first and most obvious decision you have to make when selecting a stick is what kind of a stick it will be. After experiencing significant change in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the stick industry has settled on wood and composite sticks as the two main options over the past decade.
Wood – Wood sticks are heavier and don’t provide the same shot velocity composites offer, but they’re still a great option for young players. They’re much more affordable, and they provide an enhanced feel for the puck. In fact, many coaches still recommend using wood sticks at the younger age groups because of the advantages they provide for puck handling and catching passes.
Composite – Now the unrivaled king of hockey sticks, composites are made of a variety of materials and provide numerous performance advantages over wood sticks including increased shot velocity, lighter weight and greater durability. Add in the fact composite sticks are heavily marketed by manufacturers and the game’s top players, and it’s no surprise why this will likely be your child’s first choice.
Of course, those benefits often come at a steep price increase as well. Composite sticks can range from slightly over $50 to nearly $300. In most cases, you get what you pay for as the higher prices usually indicate a higher the quality of materials and better performance, but top of the line sticks aren’t really necessary for youth hockey players.
Stick Size & Flex
The next step is choosing stick size, and there are four options to choose from: youth, junior, intermediate and senior. Each of the four stick sizes vary according to length, width, weight, flex and price.
Youth sticks are the smallest, being designed mostly for Mite/8U. Junior sticks take a step up in the size and length of the stick’s shaft and blade. Intermediate sticks are heavier and stiffer in flex. Senior sticks are the largest, with the stick shaft and blade reaching full size. Flex options for senior sticks range from sticks that can fit Bantam/15U players up to adults.
Stick flex is the stiffness of a hockey stick’s shaft and higher numbers represent stiffer shafts. Younger players should focus getting the right size stick, and it will typically provide an adequate flex.
Once players reach the senior stick size, flex will become more important. Most experts recommend selecting a flex that is half your body weight (ex: 100 lbs. hockey player uses a 50 flex stick). However, some players choose to adjust their flex based on personal preference and what they’re looking for in a stick, such as a forward using a lower flex stick to enhance their ability to get off high quality shots quickly.
Length of Stick
Before you walk out the door, make sure 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. (If your player is in tennis shoes, standing on their tip toes can simulate having skates on.) In most cases, players will need to adjust the length of the stick by cutting some off or adding a plug.
As players get older, the length of their stick will become more of personal decision. Some players prefer shorter sticks so they can stickhandle in tight spaces, and others prefer long sticks so they can maximize their reach.
Keep in mind that cutting off part of the shaft will affect the stick’s flex. If a player needs to cut multiple inches off his or her first senior stick so it’s the right height, it will create a stiffer stick than what was originally purchased.
Stick lie is defined as the angle that the heel of the blade and the shaft creates. 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 height while in hockey position when the majority of the blade, especially the heel, is on the ice.
While it’s important for players and parents to be aware of this and can be tested by having the player hold the stick in a hockey position before purchasing it, stick lie isn’t typically a determining factor in stick selection as most blade curves have a preset lie.
Last, but certainly not least, is figuring out right curve for the stick blade. Stick curves are sorted into right, left or straight (usually beginner sticks only). After that, stick blades vary by the total curve amount, where the curve begins, how much the blade opens or angles up and the type of toe on the blade.
Stick curves are a matter of personal preference and are often determined over time through trial and error. If you can find a retailer that offers a shooting section where players can test out different sticks and curves, that can be a great tool in helping players find a curve they’re comfortable with.
Once you find a curve your player likes, it’s important to know hockey manufacturers make mostly the same curves, but they all use different names for them. If you plan on switching brands but want to keep the same curve, make sure to reference online blade pattern charts and compare the options.