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12-09-2011, 10:41 AM
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Jarick
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: St Paul, MN
Country: United States
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Materials and Construction

The first time I went to buy a hockey stick as an adult, I walked into a shop and saw thousands of them in racks. There were a handful of wood models, kind of like the ones I used as a mite, but far more colorful composite sticks just like the pros used, which were of course very expensive. I settled on a bright green composite with a separate blade, kind of like the aluminum one I used when I had last played. There were several different curves, so I just picked one that looks like a "normal" hockey curve. Of course, it turned out to be a cheap fiberglass shaft with a plastic blade that wasn't meant for ice hockey.

This is possibly the same thought conundrum that greets many new or returning players. Lots of confusing sticks that all look similar, aside from the colors, along with a wide disparity of prices. What I'd like to do is go through the basic stick types and explain the pros and cons of each.

Wood Sticks

The basic wood stick has been around forever, and it's likely the stick many of us used as a kid. The popularity is dwindling way down among professionals on down to recreational players, which is a shame because a good wood stick is a lot of fun to play with, and should be the stick of choice for any new or young hockey player.

Wood sticks vary in construction based on price. The cheapest wood sticks are simply a piece of wood with a blade glued onto the end. These are inexpensive and usually very heavy, not recommended unless you only plan on playing a few times.

Better sticks will have a lightweight core wood with several thinner layers of a heavier wood on the outside for durability and blades wrapped in fiberglass for strength. These sticks are a great choice for recreational players and kids, as they are still inexpensive but will hold up much better and tend to be lighter in weight.

Expensive wood sticks may have fiberglass or carbon in the construction and laminated wood blades for increased stiffness and durability. These are only recommended for very strong adults as they are far too stiff for most of us to use.

Aside from the low cost, wood sticks typically have tremendous puck feedback. When you catch a pass, vibrations are dampened, and you feel the puck settled on your blade. Hard passes almost seem to stick to the blade due to the additional weight. This is a huge benefit to newer players, who are still developing the ability to catch passes and handle the puck.

Unfortunately, as great as a fresh wood stick feels, they have a tendency to lose their strength very quickly. With the constant force and abuse of the puck and ice, they weaken and eventually shots will stray off target and lose velocity. The blades themselves absorb the moisture of the snow and go soft as well as develop cracks. While a newer player may use the same wood stick for several months, an elite player could potentially go through several sticks in a single game. The stronger the player, the quicker the stick wears out.

In short, I like a wood stick for young players and new players. When the player has built up enough strength and has a good understanding of shooting technique, it's possible to gain benefits from a composite stick.

Composite Sticks

Making up the bulk of stick sales the last several years, one-piece composite sticks are the way of the future. They are so named because they are usually made of a composite of materials such as graphite, fiberglass, Kevlar, and occasionally other materials as well. The ratio of these materials determines the performance, weight, and durability of the stick, as well as the price.

The cheapest composite sticks have a high fiberglass to graphite ratio, which gives high durability to slashes but poor performance. They bend and return to shape slowly, which takes speed off the shot, and often will have poor feel for the puck. They also tend to be very heavy, sometimes as heavy as a wood stick. The only advantage they have over wood is increased durability, but the higher price, poor puck feel, and lack of performance means I would not recommend them for any player.

High-end composite sticks are made exclusively of graphite, which is lighter and snaps back to shape quicker than fiberglass. These are the sticks of choice for most elite players due to their light weight and quick release. While these sticks have excellent performance, they are very susceptible to breakage, and often manufacturers will add layers of Kevlar to the shaft to prolong their life.

In addition to these ends of the spectrum, there are a number of sticks to hit various price points between them. Generally, the more expensive the stick, the more graphite and less fiberglass, resulting in lighter weight and higher performance. But even the best of these price point sticks can vary quite a bit from the highest end sticks due to construction differences.

Since the introduction of the composite stick, players have complained about the lack of puck feel. A lightweight, hollow shaft combined with a very stiff blade means a lot of vibration is transferred into the player's hands, which can muddle puck feedback for newer players. And that same stiff blade that transfers energy so well into shots will make hard passes bounce right off, unlike the dampening effect of wood. Some manufacturers will have a blade core of foam, silicone, or other materials on high-end sticks to recreate the wood feel. Again, this is another advantage to the expensive composite sticks.

Overall, composite sticks have the potential to allow a player to shoot quicker and harder as well as last much longer. I'd advise against a cheap stick for any player, as the poor puck feel, heavier weight, and lack of performance benefits compared to a wood stick aren't worth it in my opinion. But it's very easy to find high end sticks at lower prices as manufacturers are always pushing new products to market and closing out older models. That's the best value for your average player.

Shafts and Blades

Although very popular in the later 1990's, the shaft and blade two-piece stick is becoming less prevalent. This is unfortunate, because the majority of the benefits of one-piece sticks can be recreated with a proper combo, typically with a cost savings in the long-run. Players that tend to wear out and crack blades can replace them at 1/3 the cost of a new stick, and player that tend to snap shafts can replace them at 1/2 the cost of a new stick.

There are two basic kinds of shafts: standard and tapered. A standard shaft has the same size opening at both ends (for senior models, anyway), while the tapered shaft narrows at one end to accept a blade (more on this in a later article). It's important to match the correct shaft and blade as one will not fit with the other. Because manufacturers don't sell as many two-piece sticks as they do one-piece, most of the models carry over from year to year and lag the performance and innovation of one-piece sticks by several years. There are fewer price point models as well.

A two-piece stick allows players to fine-tune their rig by mixing and matching manufacturers. If you prefer the feel of an Easton blade and the kick of a Warrior shaft, you can use them together. You can combine a wood blade with a high-end tapered shaft and get tremendous puck feel with the quick release of a composite stick. And if you don't like a particular curve, you can swap it in just a few minutes.

The downside of the two-piece is the weight and balance. The blades have a long tenon that fits inside the shaft, which adds mass and weight near the end of the stick. While this might not be a lot of additional weight, adding it to the very end of a long shaft will move the center of mass far down away from the hands, which dramatically affects the balance of weight, and might impact puck handling. Additionally, manufacturers tend to innovate their one-piece models and simply carry over their older shafts and blades, so you will likely not be able to use the latest and greatest technology.

As you can probably tell, I'm a fan of the shaft and blade two-piece stick. I usually buy high-end tapered shafts that are slightly used for about 1/3 the price of retail, put in my favorite blade, and end up with a stick that has nearly all the performance at less than half the cost of a one-piece. For intermediate and recreational players, they have the best performance and value.

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