Ice hockey stick
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An ice hockey stick is a piece of equipment used in ice hockey to shoot, pass, and carry the puck. Ice hockey sticks are approximately 150–200 cm long, composed of a long, slender shaft with a flat extension at one end called the blade. The blade is the part of the stick used to contact the puck, and is typically 25 to 40 cm long. Stick dimensions can vary widely, as they are usually built to suit a particular player's size and preference. The blade is positioned at roughly a 135° angle from the axis of the shaft, giving the stick a partly 'L-shaped' appearance. The shaft of the stick is fairly rigid, but it has some flexibility to benefit some shots.
The blade is slightly curved in one direction, either way, to aid in retaining or lifting the puck off the playing surface. This can be to the left or right, depending on the player's shooting orientation.
The goaltender has a slightly modified stick. The lower part of the stick is wider, the angle is smaller, and the blade is slightly curved towards the direction of the play. New goalie sticks also are made of the same composite technology as used in regular sticks.
There are numerous references to the Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia playing hockey from as early as the 18th century. There are claims from the nineteenth century that the Mi'kmaq inventing the ice hockey stick. The oldest known hockey stick was made between 1852 and 1856. Recently, it was appraised at $4 million US and sold for $2.2 million US. The stick was carved by the Mi’kmaq natives from Nova Scotia and was made with Hornbeam or also known as ironwood.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Starr Manufacturing Company began to sell the Mic-Mac Hockey sticks nationally and internationally. Hockey became a national sport in Canada in the 1890s. Throughout the first decade of the twentieth century, the Mic-Mac Hockey Stick was the best selling hockey stick in Canada. By 1903, apart from farming, the principal occupation of the Mi'kmaq on reserves throughout Nova Scotia, and particularly Shubenacadie, Indian Brook and Millbrook Reserves, were producing the Mic-Mac Hockey Stick. The department of Indian Affairs for Nova Scotia identified in 1927, that the Mi'kmaq remained the "experts" at making hockey sticks. Mi'kmaq continued to make hockey sticks until the 1930s.
Hockey sticks were mostly made from the maple or willow trees, which was also a common choice for golf club shafts and wooden tools. However, as hornbeam supplies diminished, it became more cost effective to use other hardwoods, such as yellow birch and ash. Ash gradually became the preferred medium, and by the 1920s an ash hockey stick crafted from a single piece of wood was the type most commonly used. These early sticks were extremely heavy and not very forgiving, although they were extremely durable (Hall of Famer Moose Johnson famously used the same extra-long stick, which gave him a 99-inch (2,500 mm) reach, his entire career).
There were only a handful of major developments in hockey stick technology between the 1920s and the 2000s. Foremost among these was creation of the laminated stick in the 1940s, where layers of wood were glued together and sandwiched to create a more flexible and durable design. In the 1960s, companies began adding an additional lamination of fiberglass or other such synthetic compound as a coating, which further added to the durability and usability of the stick. Also in the 1960s, players began curving the blade of the stick, which dramatically changed the physics affecting players' shots.
In the 1970s, cricket and baseball bat manufacturers began experimenting with lightweight steel alloys as a replacement for the traditional willow or ash bat. Hockey stick designers followed suit in the early 1980s, introducing first a single piece all-aluminium stick. This design was not popular, as the stiff aluminium did not have the proper "feel", and so a design featuring an aluminium shaft and a removable, replaceable wooden blade was tried. This became very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, challenging the prevalence of the traditional wooden stick for the first time.
In recent years, the aluminium stick, as well as its wooden counterpart, have largely been replaced by more advanced composite designs. Common building materials include fiberglass and carbon fiber, and some manufacturers have even explored using materials such as kevlar. Composite sticks generally weigh less than their aluminum forebears, and they can be manufactured with more consistent (and varied) physical properties than their wooden counterparts. They are, however, considerably more expensive than wooden sticks, and are not nearly as durable as the older aluminum sticks.
Over the last two decades, there have been tremendous advances in the material technology used to create hockey sticks. The vast majority of sticks are made with one (or a combination) of the following materials:
Wooden sticks are usually constructed by laminating multiple types of wood into a high quality plywood, then coating the stick and blade with thin plastic or fiberglass. Some manufacturers use fiberglass as a laminate between wood layers. Today in the NHL, only a handful of players still use wooden sticks, Adrian Aucoin, Paul Stastny, Joel Rechlicz.
The main advantage that wooden sticks enjoy today is their relatively low cost and strong base. Few wooden sticks cost more than $40 per copy, compared to $200+ for some composite varieties. This makes them a popular choice by younger and amateur players. Wooden sticks also enjoy a reputation of having a good "feel" compared to aluminium or titanium choices. The main disadvantage that wooden sticks suffer from is the relative irregularity and poor durability of the wooden construction. Wood has a tendency to warp, and over time its flex and stiffness properties will change. Additionally, being a natural material, wood also creates variations in production (even between identical patterns), and it cannot be made as "responsive" as certain composite materials (which decreases velocity and accuracy on wrist and snap shots).
It is a common misconception that, for most players, aluminium or composite sticks make for harder slap shots. As it relates to slap shots specifically, wooden sticks have very similar properties to composite sticks, and for most players there will be very little difference in velocity between wood and other materials.
Aluminium sticks were the first non-wood sticks to appear. Most aluminium sticks consist of a shaft made of an aluminium alloy and a wooden blade or composite blade, which is held in the shaft by glue and the compression of the shaft itself. There was a time when a majority of NHL players used aluminium sticks, but today around 1% of NHL players use them.
The main advantage aluminium sticks enjoy is their unparalleled durability. It is fairly rare for an aluminium shaft to be broken or damaged, even at the professional level, and since the blades can be easily replaced, a shaft will typically last for a relatively long period of time. Aluminium sticks will not suffer wear or warping like a wooden stick, and they can be manufactured with a great deal of consistency in flex and weight. The biggest disadvantage of aluminium sticks is their heavy or hard "feel", which is a result of the relative hardness of the metal and the imprecise joining of the stick and blade.
Fiberglass, along with the traditional wood, was the first composite stick material, being added as laminate or coating to wooden sticks. Manufacturers have experimented with 100% fiberglass ice hockey sticks, but they suffered from poor "feel" and poor durability and never really caught on. Currently, there are two 100% fiberglass sticks on the market: The Warrior Disher and the Warrior Esquire.
Today, fiberglass is most commonly used as a composite with other materials, such as wood, graphite, or kevlar. Generally speaking, a higher density of material was needed in order for the players to perform.
Graphite (carbon fiber)
Graphite has become by far the most common building material for sticks used in the NHL, and it is growing rapidly in popularity for amateur and recreational players. Carbon fiber sticks were originally sold as shafts alone, much like their aluminium counterparts. "One piece" sticks, which consist of a single piece shaft and blade, have become the predominant type.
Carbon fiber sticks have become so popular due primarily to the way they combine features of wooden and aluminium sticks. They offer the classic "feel" and performance of the best wooden varieties, and the manufacturing consistency and precision of aluminium sticks, due to the material's light weight. They can also be manufactured with extraordinarily precise "flex patterns" which can aid in the power and accuracy of wrist and snap shots, and their manufacturing process makes it extremely simple to add any number of different materials and features which can dramatically change the properties of the stick (a good example of this being the silicon injections made in certain high-end sticks that are claimed to further enhance their "feel").
Their main disadvantage is their high cost coupled with their relatively poor durability. While their average life is not quite as short as their wooden counterparts, it is poor enough that competitive senior players will usually break one every week or two, which for an entire team over the course of a season can become extremely expensive. This can be a particularly nasty burden for "nonprofit" competitive teams (such as college hockey teams in the United States), some of whom have begun restricting their players from using the most expensive composite sticks.
Kevlar, most commonly used in bullet-resistant vests, has become a common component of composite sticks. Originally added to increase the durability of aluminium stick blades, it became an ideal addition to the more fragile wooden and carbon fiber sticks, and today it is a material used by many manufacturers. Properties that make Kevlar an ideal strengthening material are its tendency not to shatter like carbon fiber. Kevlar will yield; stretch permanently without exploding when the yarn exceeds its maximum tensile strength. However, Kevlar is not as stiff as carbon fiber, and does not attach as strongly to the epoxy resin in the manufacturing process as carbon fiber. Price wise, Kevlar and Carbon Fiber are similar on a cost per yard basis.
Titanium sticks are a fairly new development, and were first introduced in the shafts of the TI or Mission Titanium series. They are usually just a shaft, which will be coupled with a wooden or carbon blade in much the same manner as an aluminium stick. Other sticks have titanium added as a composite material to carbon fiber or kevlar.
Titanium is similar to aluminium in general properties, although it is lighter, stronger, and is said to have notably superior "flex" properties (due mainly to the relative thinness of the walls of the shaft).
The lie of a stick refers to the angle between the shaft and the blade. A lie value of 5 corresponds to a 135° angle, and each additional lie value corresponds to a 2° smaller angle. With the bottom of the blade flat on the ice, a higher lie value causes the shaft to stand up straighter. Typical values range from 5 to 7; most sticks now are near 5.5. Goalie sticks typically have a lie between 11 and 15.
Players usually seek a lie that will put the blade flat on the ice while they are in their typical skating stance. Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky, for example, used a stick with a low lie to correspond with his deep skating crouch and shorter height, whereas Hall of Fame defenceman Rod Langway used a stick with a very high lie number as he was very tall and tended to skate in a very upright position.
Hockey stick shafts, much like golf club shafts, are highly flexible, and this flexibility is a key component in their performance. Flex, bend, stiffness, and whip are all terms used to describe the amount force required to bend a given stick shaft a certain amount.
With most composite and alumimum sticks, their flex characteristic is correlated numerically. This number, which ranges from 40 through 160, is printed on the stick and corresponds to the amount force (in pounds-force) that it takes to deflect or bend the shaft one inch. For example, 100 pounds-force (440 N) are is required to bend the shaft 1 inch (2.5 cm) and would be labelled "100 flex". The flex rating of a stick applies to its original length and increases if it is cut to a shorter length.
Stick flex is viewed as a very important characteristic by most players. Commonly, defencemen seek stiffer flex shafts, as their greater stiffness imparts more force on slap shots and improves stick-checking. Forwards will commonly seek more flexible shafts, as they require less force to bend and are thus better suited to create quick and accurate wrist shots, as well as improving passing and stickhandling.
Flex is also correlated to player strength; stronger players will often prefer stiffer flexes, as they have a sufficient amount of strength to fully bend (and thus maximize potential energy) using such shafts, whereas younger players and players with less strength will generally have more success using more flexible shafts which they are capable of bending to their optimal degree.
Until the early 1960s, hockey stick blades were typically not curved. However, in the late 1950s, New York Rangers center Andy Bathgate began experimenting with "breaking" his stick blades to impart a curve, which he found made his slap shots behave in highly erratic ways. Soon after Chicago Black Hawks forwards Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull stumbled onto the "broken blade", and subsequently began asking their stick manufacturers to create sticks with pre-curved blades.
Soon after, much of the NHL, and Hull in particular, became a proponents of the "banana blade", or stick with extreme amounts (often up to 3 inches (76 mm)) of curve in the blade. These curves made slap shots behave very erratically, and in an era in which goalies did not wear masks, this eventually became an unacceptable danger. By 1967, the NHL began to limit the amount of curve a stick blade could legally have. In the NHL today, the legal limit is 19 mm, or 3⁄4 of an inch.
Much like the shaft's flex, a blade's pattern is a very important characteristic of a stick's performance. There are three primary variables in blade design: curve, face angle, and toe.
The curve refers to the basic amount the blade curves from toe to heel, as well as the part of the blade where that curve is located. A "toe curve" means that the curve is concentrated near the toe of the blade, and it is usually preferred by forwards, who seek better puckhandling and more accurate wrist shots. A "heel curve" is generally better for slap shots, and is thus used more by defencemen.
Face angle is the angle between the ice surface and the front surface of the blade (this characteristic is comparable to the difference between the different irons in golf). A more "open" blade means that the face of the blade is turned up more sharply, and thus will cause a higher trajectory than a "closed" face angle.
The toe shape refers to the basic shape of the end of the blade, and it is typically either round or square. Square toes make it easier to pull a puck off the boards or to do "toe drags" (stickhandling moves using the toe of the blade), whereas round toes make it easier to "flip" the puck, and also offer slight advantages in basic puckhandling.
Blades also differ in length and thickness, based on player preference.
The curve of a blade is limited at most levels of competitive hockey, generally to an amount between 1⁄2 and 3⁄4 inch (13 and 19 mm). Hasty measurements can be made by attempting to roll a dime under the j blade placed face down on the ice, but accurate measurements require a "stick gauge" which measures curve precisely. Currently, the NHL limits blade curvature to 3⁄4 inch (19 mm). Being caught using an illegal stick is typically punished with a two minute minor penalty.
The genesis for this rule was the "banana blade" of the 1960s. At the height of this era, players would often simply cross the blue line and let fly with a slap shot, hoping that the bizarre behavior of the puck would beat the goaltender. In this era, goaltenders were irritated by the danger such wild shots posed to them and in response, the NHL began gradually reducing the amount of curve a blade could legally have.
In the modern game, the emphasis on shooting accuracy has largely eliminated any preference for extreme blade curves. However, hockey still retains illegal stick rules, which has become a cause of debate. The argument is that since blade curvature does not impart any significant advantage, that penalizing it is unnecessary. Additionally, coaches have used the "illegal equipment" penalty at key moments in games to win a power play, and in some cases, swing the momentum of an entire series.
The top of the shaft is most commonly wrapped with cloth tape in a manner which improves the grip on stick by the player's top hand. Most players also apply a "knob" of tape which will create a small gap between the shaft and the ice in the event the stick is dropped, making it easier to pick up the stick. Goaltenders often wrap rather large "knobs" on the ends of their sticks (sometimes up to 2 inches (51 mm) across), which makes it easier for them to poke check without losing the stick (as well as making it easier to pick up a dropped stick).
The blade of the stick is most commonly wrapped with friction tape, a cotton tape that has been impregnated with adhesive so that it is moderately sticky. This is done to improve puckhandling and to avoid water damage to the stick. Some players will also apply wax to the tape in order to increase the adhesion. Preferred amounts of puck adhesion vary among players; some players will use a regular cloth tape instead of friction tape, while Wayne Gretzky used friction tape and then applied baby powder to lower its adhesion. There is also variation in color, black being the most common choice.
Newer to the hockey stick scene are rubber, one piece hockey tape alternatives such as BladeTape. Made up of a thin layer of rubber backed with a strong adhesive, these rubber tape pads do not get wet, may be much longer lasting, and some players are of the opinion that they provide superior feel and grip over traditional cloth hockey tape.
- Brian Cutherbertson The Starr Manufacturing Company: Skate Exporter to the World. Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 8, 2005, p. 60
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- Cutherbertson, p. 58
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- Brian Cutherbertson The Starr Manufacturing Company: Skate Exporter to the World. Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 8, 2005, p. 63
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