Although skating is the foundation of ice hockey, it's really the hockey stick that makes things happen in the game—so buying a hockey stick deserves more than a passing nod. A player uses his or her stick to control the puck, pass, and shoot; and on the defensive side, a stick can be used to block shots, intercept passes, and cut off passing lanes. Of course, there is also an entire category of infractions, called "stick fouls," that will land a player in the penalty box, or even the locker room.
When all hockey sticks were made of wood, there weren't too many options for a player to choose from, and so buying the right hockey stick was less daunting. Different kinds of wood offered variations in strength, weight, and flex; the taper of the shaft could tweak performance; and stick blades could vary in shape, curve, and length. However, the advent of synthetic materials has led to an explosion of stick designs, giving players a dizzying array of options to choose from. When you take the time to determine the right hockey stick for your skill level, playing style, and budget, you'll choose the one that ultimately helps you perform up to your potential on the ice.
Parts Of A Hockey Stick
When you first look at it, a hockey stick doesn't seem that complicated, but modern technology and materials allow manufacturers to construct, shape, or mold each part in myriad ways. What are all the parts? Let's start at the top.
- The butt end is the top of the stick, where your upper hand holds the shaft.
- The long, straight part of the stick, from the butt end to the blade is the shaft. The lower part of the shaft is tapered to help control the stick's kick point, which is the part of the shaft that flexes the most during a shot or pass. The shaft's corners and sides can also be designed differently, to help with grip or comfort.
- The area where the shaft meets the blade is called the hosel, and it can also affect the kick point, as well as how much the blade bends under torque.
- The blade is the thin part of the stick, angled from the shaft, that controls the puck. The blade heel is the rear part of the blade, where it meets the hosel. The blade face is the forward-facing side of the blade, and the blade toe is the end of the blade farthest from the heel. The blade lie describes the angle between the shaft and the blade. You want the the bottom of the blade to be in contact with the ice as much as possible, so a player's height and stance will determine the best lie.
Hockey sticks come in two-piece, one-piece, and true one-piece models. Two-piece sticks—in which the shaft and the blade are separate components—are less popular than one-piece sticks, but some players like the ability to mix and match shafts and blades. On one-piece hockey sticks, the shaft and the blade are fused together into a single unit. True one-piece construction is available only on high-end sticks, in which the entire stick—from butt end to blade toe—is molded from advanced composites to create a very light stick that offers high performance.
Seven Things To Consider When Choosing A Hockey Stick
Buying the right hockey stick need not break the bank. While the kind of high-performance, lightweight sticks the pros use can cost up to $300, there are also perfectly serviceable sticks starting around $50. There are many options in between, of course, allowing players to find that sweet spot where price and performance meet. You can go about the initial search in two ways: either determine how much you want to spend and then look for the stick in your price range that offers the features you desire, or decide which features you can't do without and then find the best deal on a stick that offers them. Your level and frequency of play should inform this decision, as well. Weekend rec players probably care less about things such as stick weight, comfort, and durability, whereas elite players—who will have a stick in their hands many hours each week—may feel that these features are vital.
Traditional hockey sticks were made of wood, but most sticks are now made from composite materials, including carbon fiber, fiberglass, graphite, Kevlar, resins, and other materials. Stick designers can mix and match materials to reduce weight, add durability, affect flex, and more. Sticks made from wood are still available, and they are good choices for casual players or those just starting out. A heavier wood stick offers more secure handling, a better feel for the puck, and more power for shots and passes. Composite sticks transfer energy faster to the puck, offering power and quickness in a much lighter package.
The shaft of the hockey stick is where you hold it during play, and there are several options to help with grip and comfort. Which you choose really depends on your personal preference. Some shafts are smooth, while others offer special tacky sections to improve grip and control. For instance, some Bauer sticks feature GripTac, which helps the player keep the shaft from rotating in his hands during a hard shot or sharp contact. However, some players feel that "grip" materials make moving their bottom hand around on the stick more difficult when switching from stickhandling to passing to shooting. Sticks with grip technology often have "Grip" in their name, such as the Warrior Covert QR Edge Grip Composite Hockey Stick. There are also tapes and other products that allow you to add your own grippy sections to a smooth shaft.
The contours of the shaft—the corners and the sides (or walls)—can also be shaped in several ways to offer a different feel in the hand. Square corners are traditional, but you might find it more comfortable to hold a stick with rounded corners if you play a lot. However, some players feel that it's more difficult to maintain grip on a stick with rounded corners. The shaft walls can be straight or concave, and you should hold several kinds of sticks to see which feel best to you.
Perhaps most vital to the performance of a hockey stick is the flex of its shaft, which is a measurement of how much the stick bends under pressure. A stick's flex rating is the number of pounds of pressure—applied to the center of the shaft—that it takes to bend the shaft one inch. The higher the number, the stiffer the stick (for example, an 85 flex stick is stiffer than a 70 flex stick). A general rule of thumb is to choose a stick with a flex that's one-half of your body weight. So a 200-pound player should start with a 100 flex stick. You can then adjust for height and strength, going with a slightly stiffer stick for taller, stronger players. As with all things stick-related, personal preference comes into play: forwards who want to take quick shots might want a stick that bends quickly, and defensemen may choose something stiffer. However, a stick with too low a flex for a player will bend too much, making it prone to breaking.
5. Kick Point
While flex is a measurement of how much the hockey stick's shaft bends, the kick point describes where the shaft bends most during passing and shooting—and this has a big impact on performance. There are two basic kick points, low and mid, although there are variations of each, and some high-end sticks promise dual kick points. When the shaft bends during a shot, it stores a lot of energy that can be then transferred to the puck in the form of power. However, the higher the bend occurs on the shaft, the longer it will take for the shaft to "recover," or get back to straight again. This affects the speed with which the puck will leave the shooter's blade.
Snipers who want to get off a snap shot from the slot as quickly as possible will want a low kick point. The shaft bends closer to the hosel and recovers very fast, so the puck comes off the blade faster. Defensemen who are more focused on sheer power for slap shots from the point usually opt for a mid kick point, which stores more energy in a longer segment of the shaft.
6. Blade Style
Because the blade is the part of the hockey stick that actually controls the puck, subtle variations in its shape, angle, and size can greatly affect shooting and handling performance. There are quite a few options for a player to choose from:
- Curve: The puck will naturally find its way to the most curved section of the blade, so where the deepest part of the curve exists along the blade determines where the puck will come to rest. There are three basic curve configurations. A blade with a heel curve holds the puck toward the rear of the blade. This means that the puck has to travel farther to come off the end of the stick, which makes for a slower release time. However, the puck also has more time on the blade to build up power and velocity, making for a stronger shot. A toe curve, where the puck rests closer to the front end of the blade, allows for a lightning-quick release and improves handling and control. If you like to dangle, you'll want that puck near the toe of the blade. A mid-curve blade offers all-around good performance in a wide variety of situations, making it the most versatile choice.
- Face angle: An open-face blade—which operates like a pitching wedge in golf (although not as dramatically)—makes it easier for a shooter to get the puck higher very quickly on the forehand. If you plan on shooting mostly from close range, you might want an open-face blade to help you lift the puck into the roof of the net from the top of the crease. A closed-face blade keeps the puck lower and is more accurate. Roofing the puck from close range requires more effort and a longer follow-through, although a closed-face blade is better for stick-handling the puck.
- Toe shape: The toe of the blade can be square or rounded. Most players prefer a rounded toe, which allows more fine control of the puck, especially if you use toe drags as a game strategy. However, a square toe makes it easier to get the puck off the boards and offers more surface area for blocking shots in the defensive zone or knocking down long passes in the air.
- Blade Length: There is no standard blade length on a hockey stick, and different manufacturers have different definitions of "short" or "long." But there are some general principles that should help you choose the right blade length for you. The shorter the blade, the faster the shot release. However, shorter blades generate less velocity on the shot because the puck has less time on the blade to gather momentum. A shorter blade also makes puck handling easier. A longer blade offers a slower release but more power. A longer blade also makes it easier to receive passes and offers more surface area for blocking shots and cutting off passing lanes. A medium length blade offers a compromise for all-around good performance, when it comes to power and control.
- Lie angle: The lie is the angle between the shaft and the blade, where the goal is to keep as much of the bottom of the blade against the ice as possible. A stick's lie is given a number between 3 and 8—the higher the number, the more upright the stick. The most popular lie is a 5, so if you're buying a hockey stick for the first time, you might want to start there and see how it feels. If you skate in a crouched position and like to handle the puck away from your body, a lower lie might work for you. If you skate upright and prefer to keep the puck close, you might want to try a stick in the 6 or 7 range. When you are testing lies, keep in mind that you are taller on skates, which will affect the angle. Ultimately, you know that you will have chosen the proper lie if the bottom of your stick blade is worn evenly along its length. If there's more wear and tear at the heel or the toe, you might need a different lie.
7. Overall Stick Length
Measuring a hockey stick to ensure it is the right length for a player is easy. The standard method is to put the toe of the stick on the floor between the player's feet with the shaft running parallel to his or her body. The top of the stick should reach the player's nose, when he or she isn't wearing skates. (Skates on, the stick should come up to the chin.) Hockey sticks can be cut to length, or you can add an end plug if the stick is too short. These are general guidelines, and a player might find that he or she actually prefers a slightly longer or shorter stick.
This is a lot to think about, but you can make choosing the right hockey stick easier by thinking about your playing style. Is your goal to be a center forward whose priorities are puck-handling and quick shots from close range, or are you a defenseman who needs to be able to pick up the puck off the boards, block shots, and take slappers from the point? Perhaps you are a more versatile player who needs to do a lot of different things well. Once you know what you will be asking of a hockey stick, you can start to look for the models that offer the features you need. There are many great sticks on the market in a wide range of prices, and an informed player can find the one that's just right and will propel his or her game forward.