"From the Locker Room" gives you access to the NHL equipment managers and trainers who provide tips and advice on everything from equipment fit and maintenance to injury prevention and recovery. So lace up, log on and get your questions answered by the pros who take care of the pros.
Pat O'Neill is a veteran of 20 NHL seasons. Pat served as assistant equipment manager of the Winnipeg Jets from 1980-88 before taking over the head duties with the Vancouver Canucks in 1989. He achieved one of his profession's highest honors in 1996, when he received the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame's Larry Ashley Award, named after the late Canucks head athletic trainer.
And for the first time anywhere, Pat is willing to share his vast knowlege of hockey sticks with NHL fans around the world with the second installment of "From the Locker Room."
A carpenter is only as good as his tools, and a hockey player’s sticks are the tools of his trade. Whether you are a goalie, defensive defenseman, checker, or 40-goal scorer, you can’t do your job if you don’t have the proper stick.
It’s our job as NHL equipment managers to help our players perform to the best of their abilities. Among our responsibilities are the budgeting, ordering and inventory control of the many dozen hockey sticks that our players use each year.
Consider an NHL training camp with 80 hockey players all looking for sticks specific to their individual needs. Specifics -- which include length, stiffness, weight, contour, curve, color and brand. Do they shoot left or right? Do they use a composite or all-wood stick? Which manufacturer, which model, or how many do they need? What if the pattern is wrong, the curve, and the flex? What if their sticks don’t show up at all? These are all scenarios that NHL equipment managers are all too familiar with.
No two NHL players’ hockey sticks are the same. A hockey stick is like a fingerprint; every one is specific to the individual player. The idiosyncrasies of these elite players are what can make our jobs challenging at times.
A hockey player needs his tools to perform well, and it’s our job to make sure they’re there. Although the needs of NHL players are different than non-professional players, most aspects pertaining to “the tools of the trade” can be applied to any hockey player.
The three questions we most often get asked from hockey players relating to hockey sticks are the proper stick length, the blade curvature and whether a player should shoot right or left. These, like many hockey equipment queries, are a matter of personal perference. But there are general "rules of thumb" you can use as a starting point.
If you are experiencing wrist, elbow, or shoulder discomfort after using a new shaft, try changing shaft stiffness and you may notice a difference.
There is nothing that can hamper a player's performance more than having a stick that is either too long or too short. What I tell players to do when trying to determine the proper stick length for their height is to place the stick upright between their feet with their skates on. The tip of the stick shaft should line up with your chin.
But like we said earlier, the only true measure is through experimentation. See how you feel at each stick length when you are out on the ice. A longer stick may be better for defensemen to poke check the puck, and shorter sticks are more conducive to shooting and stickhandling. Some NHL players use a stick that is cut off about mid-chest height.
When it comes to the curvature of a player's stick, the NHL has strict guidelines. The distance of a perpendicular line measured from a straight line drawn from any point at the heel to the end of the blade cannot exceed a half-inch.
The face of the blade may be open (as the open blade of a 9-iron golf club) or closed (which brings the top of the blade over the bottom). An open face is more conducive to raising the puck. The closed face will help keep the puck lower when shooting. A slight curve on the blade helps stickhandling. Too many players pattern their curve for shooting only. The first consideration should be comfort in puckhandling.
The curve or face angle may be changed by heating the blade carefully with a heat gun. After heating the blade, place it in a vise or under a door and slowly bend it to your liking. Quickly place it in a bucket of ice to cool before use.
Also, a bigger curve is not conducive to a good backhand pass or shot. On our team, Mark Messier prefers a toe curve, for his quick snap shot. Peter Schaefer, in contrast, prefers a very open-faced blade which he feels helps his stickhandling.
Another stick related query that falls under the personal perference category is with whether a player should shoot right or left. Generally, a right-handed person would grip the top of his stick with his dominant hand, with the left hand being placed at mid-shaft. Thus, a left-handed shooter. The reverse applies to a person who shoots right. Young hockey players should be given a chance to try both. It is not uncommon for a right-handed person to shoot right either. Go with what feels most comfortable.
Well, I’ve said enough -- now let me hear what you have to say:
Willie Everett --
How can I prolong the life of my sticks? I get a stick I really like and it begins to break.
All hockey sticks are going to wear out or break eventually, but here are a few ideas that may prolong the life of your stick.
Place an extra piece of tape horizontally (fiberglass tape is best) along the bottom of the blade. This helps the fiberglass wrap on the stick last longer, thus prolonging the life of the blade.
Two of our players, Adrian Aucoin and Todd Bertuzzi, like to wrap fiberglass tape around the length of the shaft of their sticks for added stiffness. This also helps their sticks last longer. Harry York uses a self adhesive-rubber tape substitute on his stick blade. It's placed on the sides of the blade and leaves no tape on the ice, which reduces the friction of the blade on the ice. He likes it because he says he can feel the puck better, and it lasts longer than a regular tape job.
Eric Braese -- Woodbridge, Va.:
How will a different lie affect stickhandling and shooting?
The lie is very important for optimal shooting and stickhandling. The lie means the degree of the angle formed by the blade and shaft. To see what lie you should have, stand with your skates on in the ready position (feet shoulder width apart and bend slightly forward at the waist), with both hands on your stick in front of you in a comfortable position. The blade of your stick should rest flat on the ice. Your body posture may differ while skating and shooting, but this is a good general indicator of lie.
You can change the lie of your stick by marking the area on the blade, as indicated by the excessive tape wear, and rasping or filing this area down to your required lie.
After you have used your stick in practice, check the tape on the stick to see if it’s worn evenly. If there’s extra wear on the toe, the lie of that stick is too high and the heel of the blade isn’t staying on the ice. If your missing passes under the heel, the lie will be too high. If the passes are going under the toe, your lie may be too low. The more upright you skate, the higher lie you need. Vice-versa if you bend over more. Wayne Gretzky used a 3 ½ -4 lie. The most common lie is 5, but they can range from a 3 to a 7 ½. Mark Messier uses a lie 5 ½ , because he likes to stickhandle close to his feet, and it helps for his quick-release snapshots.
Gregg Gagnon -- Biddeford, Maine:
What are the advantages/disadvantages of a carbon-fiber or aluminum sticks over regular wooden sticks?
On the Canucks we presently have 14 players that use the composite stick and only six that use all-wood. This is a personal preference of the players, and as different players come and go so does the ratio of composite to wood sticks on our team.
Today, most wood sticks are a combination of wood and fiberglass, which makes them stiffer and more durable. Some players say they can “feel” the puck better with a wood stick. You may have a better “sense” of the puck on your blade. Wooden shafts tend to be more durable than composite shafts at the NHL level. Bourque, Tkachuk, Lindros, MacInnis and Forsberg are all players who prefer the wooden or one-piece stick. Presently on our team, Aucoin, Cassels, Bertuzzi and Joseph use one-piece sticks.
Being a natural wood product, it is difficult to maintain the shaft consistency that is needed in NHL. That is why some players are moving to the composite (two piece) sticks. Composite shafts (used as a shaft-blade combination) are more consistent because of the manufacturing process. Consistency in rigidity (stiffness), weight, contour, and shape are all factors to consider.
Once you have decided on the proper stick length, place a mark on an appropriate wall at the height, and use this mark for future stick length reference.
The stiffness, as determined by a “flex rating” (manufacturers determine this by applying a 100-pound weight to the mid-point of a shaft until it is moved one inch) is very important to an NHL player. Also, some manufacturers can change the flex point to appear on different sections of the shaft. The majority of composite shafts are made of Graphite with an added Kevlar wrap for durability. Other sports products -- such as golf clubs, tennis racquets and archery equipment (bows and arrows) -- are made from similar materials. About 10% of two-piece sticks are made of aluminum. Because of excessive use and wear-and-tear at the NHL level, composite shafts are not as economical for us as a one-piece stick. At the minor hockey level, however, a player who plays once or twice a week should get a lot of life out of a composite shaft.
Recent numbers show about 260 players today in the NHL use one-piece sticks and just over 300 use some form of composite. Messier, Sakic, Modano, Yzerman, Kariya and Hull are players who prefer the two-piece stick. These sticks are more conducive to the quick release snap shot. Brett Hull uses an 85 stiffness, which has the most flex. A 120 flex-rating is about the stiffest, with the 110 being most common. A stiffer shaft may be better for slapshots, where a more flexible shaft is better for wrist/snap shots. If a shaft is too stiff, it could cause vibrations that may cause soreness in your wrists, elbows, or shoulders. These vibrations are not as common in wooden shafts.
The blades for composite sticks are made of similar materials as the all-wood stick blades. All wood or wood-laminate combination blades are wrapped with fiberglass and sometimes re-enforced with graphite. Some manufacturers make an all-graphite blade as well, which seem to be more durable than an all-wood blade. Steve Kariya and Donald Brashear both presently use the graphite blade.
Ron Vilhauer -- San Jose, Calif.:
What's the difference between "pro model" and "production model" sticks?
The main difference between a stick or blade made for a professional hockey player is in the “finishing” of the process. Each stick or blade is hand made one-by-one. Special care is taken in the final sanding stage to make the stick “made to measure” for that particular player. These SOP (special order pattern) sticks are often sanded thinner than a regular production line stick.
Overall stick or blade weight is a big factor for an NHL player. Production model or “retail sticks” can be much heavier (by as much as 4-5 ounces), than the SOP. Other differences may include the color, specially shaped or shaved handles, or the players name or number on the stick. There also may be a difference in the type of fiberglass used. Kevlar, carbon-fiberglass or clear fiberglasses are all combinations that may be used. SOP’s are usually stiffer than production models, not because manufacturers often use more Kelvar in pro blades, but because they are thinner, they are not as durable and will not last as long as a “retail” blade.
Tokar -- Minneapolis, Minn.:
I am a goalie and have noticed for several years other goalies using sticks that have what is called the "Curtis Curve." What are the advantages of this style of stick? Also, when selecting a stick, what should you pay attention to before buying (quality control)?
Martin Curtis from Ontario, Canada invented the goal stick with the “Curtis Curve”. It is currently made by the Christian Bros. Inc. hockey stick manufacturer in Warroad, Minn. The curve has nothing to do with the blade, but rather the shaft of the goalstick. The “S” bend in the shaft relieves the wrist angle of the goalie, allowing the goalstick’s paddle to lie flat when placed horizontally on the ice. The curve at the top of the handle provides more leverage when using two hands to handle and shoot the puck. This curve also helps prevent getting the end of the stick caught up in the net and makes it easier to pick the stick off the ice. Andy Moog, who recently retired from the Bruins and is now our goalie coach, was one of the few NHL goalies that used this goalstick.
As far as the aspect of quality control when buying a goalstick, you should consider a few ideas. First, make sure the lie is correct for you to assure proper blade wear. Second, make sure the stick is the proper size for your level of competition. Third, try to apply the quality/affordability ratio, which means, the most expensive stick isn’t always the best.
Adam Petrin -- Winnipeg, Manitoba:
I've been told that white hockey tape is better on the top of the stick and black tape is better on the bottom. Is there a difference?
Taping the blade of your stick allows you to get a better “feel” for the puck and to cushion the puck so it stays with the stick better while stickhandling, passing, and shooting. Some players believe that black tape makes it tougher for the goalie to see the puck.
Every NHL team today has tape to match the color of their uniforms. The Canucks use white and black at home, and black on the road. Although black tape is the standard color for stick taping, some players choose white or colored tape as well. Taping your stick has various advantages, but the best advantage for you is to experiment and find out which “taping style” works best for you.
Many NHL players use a “gauze” tape for their top-hand stick grip. This is the same tape used on tennis racquet handles. This type of tape reduces some of the perspiration from the glove. Gauze tape also comes in various colors and thickness.
Some players rub the reverse side of the tape (the glue side) on their shafts for a “sticky or tacky” feel, to give them a better grip. To make the “rub-roll”, which is the term used to describe this application, simply wrap some tape “sticky-side up” around a 6-8 inch piece of hockey stick. Current Canuck players Donald Brashear, Mattius Ohlund and Harry York are now experimenting with a product that has a “friction grip” built in to the shaft.