Posted by: cedarsurf | March 1, 2010

Holy Exploding Hockey Sticks Batman

The story goes that the word hockey comes from a Mohawk word ‘Hog-he’ meaning the stick. Players would call this out pursuing a puck often made from an animal part. Hockey is as old as hunting and gathering. It is this primal aspect that captivates us.
Once upon a time, all hockey players used wooden sticks.For the longest time these sticks were made by  the players themselves.

A player would cut down an alder or hickory sapling, cut out 3 ft  sections of trunk with branches attached, and file the wood into the desired shape. These first sticks had short handles and small, rounded blades, much like field hockey sticks. Even as play became more organized and stick manufacturing moved from the woodshop to the factory, stick development was slow and evolutionary. First the blades grew longer and squarer, allowing better control of the puck. Then, the shaft grew longer so that players lost the hunched over stance of early games. However, the stick was still fashioned from a single piece of wood, which made it heavy and made the thin blades prone to splitting.

In 1928, the Hilborn Company, a stick manufacturer in Montreal, produced what is acknowledged by some to be the first two-piece hockey stick. The new design, with separate pieces for the blade and shaft, freed stick makers from having to find appropriately shaped lumber and allowed blades to be replaced when they cracked. Separating the blade from the shaft also gave manufacturers new latitude to experiment with the shape and thickness of blades.

From this sprung a host of made in Canada brand hockey sticks Hespeler, Sherwood, Victoriaville, and  Northland .

It was not until the late 1960s that blades took their largest jump in shape change when they began to take on a curve. One story, possibly apocryphal, attributes the design revolution to Chicago Black-hawks star Stan Mikita. The story tells that Mikita, frustrated during practice, was trying to break his stick by jamming it between the player’s bench gate and the boards. The stick would not break, but its blade did bend remarkably. The new curve gave Mikita exceptional control and speed when shooting. Today, every player has his own preference about the amount and placement of the curve, but all blades have it.

The next change came in the 1970s, primarily as a response to increased competition for wood supplies. During that time, foreign demand for ash wood raised prics beyond what stick makers could afford. Typically, only 10% of the wood in a shipment would be of acceptable quality for use in a stick, so manufacturers needed an enormous supply. They began to experiment with lamination as a way to use less and varied types of wood. Ultimately, the cost-cutting measure produced stronger, lighter, more responsive hockey sticks.

In recent years, sticks made of more expensive materials such as Aluminum, Aramid (kevlar), fiberglass, carbon fiber, and other composite materials have become common. In addition to weighing less, composite sticks can be manufactured with more consistent flexibility properties than their wooden counterparts. They also do not have the natural variations that wooden sticks possess therefore a batch of the same sticks will all perform roughly the same. There are die-hard NHL professionals that still like the feel of wood sticks such as Paul Stastny (Son of ice hockey Hall-of-Famer Peter Stastny).

These sticks are now used by about 85 percent of NHL players. They come in one piece or two piece sticks, with a shaft and replaceable blades.

I was thinking about sticks after watching the excellent Canada-USA Gold Medal hockey game. I was shocked at how many stick were breaking at weird and invconveneint times- for apparently no reason. What happensthe theory goes is the composite stick builds up tension in it and has no way of releasing it other than breaking. Is a compsite stick really worth this unexpected disaster?

There are no longer wooden hockey sticks made in Canada. Other manufacturers, like Victoriaville, CCM, and Easton, continue to sell wooden hockey sticks but they are made in foreign countries.

After 58 years of making the famous Quebec stick, Sher-Wood, located in Sherbrooke,  will continue to sell wooden hockey sticks but they will come from such far-off places as China, Russia, and Estonia. The game might be ours but the sticks no longer are. Talk about going out on a limb.

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Responses

  1. For somebody like myself who hasn’t seen many games in the last few decades, I was puzzled by the number of stick explosions during THE game…thanks for clearing that up.

  2. Sports Crap at your service.

  3. […] a related story of when stickgan to be sick check Holy Exploding Hockey Sticks here at Sports […]


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