Why Are So Many Hockey Players Left-Handed?
With an estimated 90 percent of the population right-handed, some hockey fans have wondered, "Why are there so many left-handed hockey players?" After all, the percentage of hockey players in the National Hockey League who shoot left-handed can be 60 percent, or even as high as 70 percent. But it's not that hockey is somehow the realm of the left-handed—it's more a matter of hockey players learning to play the game with a shot that goes against their normal dominant side. Kind of like a right-handed baseball player learning to hit from the left side of the plate. And a lot of hockey players shoot left-handed.
Until the curved blade was introduced in the 1960s, hockey sticks were ambidextrous. But with the curved blade, manufacturers had to begin making left- and right-handed sticks. Major hockey stick manufacturers today, on average, sell two left-handed hockey sticks for each right-handed stick in some markets, with more lefties coming from Canada, while Americans still favor the right-handed shot.
Left-Handed Hockey Players in the NHL
At the NHL level, there is nearly a two-to-one ratio of left-handers to right-handed shots. In January 2018, the NHL website listed 803 players for the 2017-18 season. A quick check of the players' bios shows 306 are right-handers and 497 are lefties. That works out to 38.1 percent of players with a right-handed shot, and 61.9 who shoot left-handed. This year's NHL statistics are in line with the past decade. According to the website Hockey Reference, for the five seasons prior to this year, from 2012-13 to 2016-17, 62.1 percent of players shot left-handed versus 37.9 percent who played right-handed. And the five years prior to that (2007-08 to 2011-12) the percentages were nearly identical, with 63 percent of NHLers shooting lefty versus 37 percent using a right-handed stick. There is a difference, however, among players from the United States and those NHLers from Canada and the rest of the world. In the 2017-18 NHL season, 225 of 373 Canadian-born players shoot left-handed according to a search on Hockey Reference. That's slightly more than 60 percent. For American-born players, the number drops to 109 of 217 players or slightly more than 50 percent.
Left-Handed Shot in the United States
The United States doesn't swing as far to the left as does Canada or the rest of the world, but there are still more left-handed hockey players than you might expect, considering only 10 percent of the population is left-hand dominant. Based solely on the number of hockey sticks sold in the United States, the percentage is about 60 percent. Many kids don't have much choice in the matter, particularly in the United States. Often a kid picks up their parent's or older sibling's hockey stick and learns to play the game with it. The number of left-handed sticks sold goes up in places where hockey is popular and trails off pretty sharply elsewhere. One theory is that many kids in the United States have already held a bat or other sports equipment and naturally defer to that inclination without being shown how to hold the hockey stick. Other times, parents go to the sporting goods store and, because their kid writes with their right hand and throws a baseball right-handed, unwittingly tell the store clerk, "my kid is right-handed, so they need a right-handed stick."
Left-Handed Shot in Canada
The number of left-handed people in Canada is not different than in the United States, and the reason so many right-hand dominant Canadians shoot left-handed isn't easily understood, but a few theories may explain it. One holds that the age at which a youngster first picks up a hockey stick influences hockey handedness, which in Canada can be just moments after birth, or so it may seem. But in the United States, it's likely to be several years later. At a young age, it may be more natural to hold the end of the stick with the dominant hand. In addition, Canadians are encouraged to develop ambidextrous skills early. It's widely taught in Canada to play with the strong hand at the top of the stick and the weak hand down the stick. The Canadians say the strong hand is more useful in stick handling at the top of the stick, as well as better able to produce power for a wrist shot.
Left-Handed Hockey Player Role Models
But there's more to it than that. Kids are sponges, and watching their favorite player on television shoot from the left side will make many kids want a left-handed stick. While American kids might grow up watching LeBron James, Tom Brady, or Clayton Kershaw on the television, Canadian youth are much more likely to be watching Sidney Crosby, or another left-handed hockey player from Canada. On the other side of the ocean, in countries where hockey is popular—including Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and Slovakia—left-handed players outnumber right-handed players. Studies have shown that left-handed players tend to progress further and faster and, for those who reach the NHL, do so more quickly.
Despite the fact that more high-level players are shooting left-handed, and the evidence suggests a left-handed shot can help talented players advance in their careers, the ability to get the puck past the goalie seems to favor right-handers to a slight degree. Of the top 10 all-time scoring leaders, 6 are right-handed shots, as are 15 of the top 25. Apparently, the scoreboard doesn't care which type of stick you're using.