Whatever happened to the wooden hockey stick?
Posted by Dean Holden at March 8th, 2014
by Andrew Chapman, 24 February 2014
The Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia, Canada making ice hockey sticks in the late 19th century.
Technology has had a profound impact on the sporting world and it is the reason for the sudden disappearance of the wooden ice hockey stick.
Over the last decade, there have been large advances in the technology of the ice hockey stick. Material, manufacturing and structural advances in composites have allowed manufacturers to create an ice hockey stick that combines the properties of wood and aluminium to improve performance. However, as with anything, there is still room for improvement.
The Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia, Canada are said to be the inventors of the ice hockey stick and may have been playing ice hockey as early as the 18th century. They carved their sticks from ironwood and recently, one of their ice hockey sticks from the 1850s was appraised and sold for US$2.2 million. As ironwood supplies diminished in the 1920s, ash became the preferred material. In the 1940s, a more flexible and durable laminated ice hockey stick was created in which layers of wood were glued together. In the 1960s, companies added an additional synthetic compound as a coating to further increase the durability of the stick and players began curving the blade to improve shot performance. Aluminium sticks became very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thus challenging the traditional wooden stick.
The advent of composite technologies has revolutionized many sports, ice hockey was no exception — many of the old designs have been swept away in a wave of carbon, fiberglass and kevlar. Using a combination of materials results in performance improvements because of the stick’s decreased mass and increased durability. Although these sticks are more expensive and have a limited effect on the performance of non-professional ice hockey players, most players have switched over to them, regardless of age or skill level. Currently, less than 10 NHL players (<2%) use a wooden ice hockey stick, and the numbers in minor ice hockey are even lower. One key issue is that of durability and an up-and-coming company, COLT Hockey, appears to have found a solution: nano-materials. COLT Hockey says that their sticks are 50% stronger than elite composites and, given their recently successful kickstarter campaign, their innovation could be the next big advance in ice hockey stick design.
Despite these advances, there will always be an opportunity for improvement, no matter how developed a sport and its equipment may be. How long will it be until we are asking, “what ever happened to the composite ice hockey stick?”
Cutherbertson, B. (2005). The Starr Manufacturing Company: Skate Exporter to the World. Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, 8, 50-65.
Ernst, M.E. (2014). Composite Technology and the Hockey Stick Revolution. Illumin, 15(1).
Laliberte, D.J. (2009). Biomechanics of ice hockey slap shots: which stick is best? The Sport Journal 12.1. Academic OneFile. Web: 30 January 2014.
N.A. “COMPANIES DEFEND NEW-AGE HOCKEY STICKS; BREAKAGE SEEN DURING NHL PLAYOFFS GIVES FALSE IMPRESSION, EASTON VICE-PRESIDENT SAYS.” Record, The (Kitchener/Cambridge/Waterloo, ON) n.d.: Newspaper Source Plus. Web: 30 January 2014.
About the Author:
Andrew Chapman is a Canadian student who is currently working towards completing an MSc in Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom. He previously completed a BSc in Kinesiology at Laurentian University in Canada. He is an avid sports enthusiast who has an interest in sports technology and innovation. Andrew puts high importance towards continued education and research, with the mindset that there is always more to learn and something that can be improved. He has a background in baseball and tennis research, in which he focused on performance improvements and injury reduction. He enjoys playing all sports and is always eager to join in on a game with friends and/or volunteer his time towards helping others on and off the sports field.
Feel free to contact Andrew Chapman if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his LinkedIn page for more information about his academic and professional experience.
<Call me anti-technology when it comes to sticks, but I still believe a wooden stick is perfect for all amateur levels of youth, male and female, as well as most professionals! Especially true for minor hockey kids learning the game… parents, don’t fall for the marketing hype and peer pressure! Little Johnny and little Suzy will not receive any benefits from composite sticks; in my opinion it will impede their ability to pass, receive and shoot! Not too mention cost you an arm and a leg!
As told to me by many NHL coaches, only the top couple of players on NHL teams – ‘the shooters’ – may benefit from the added velocity generated by composite sticks! According to these same coaches, accuracy is negatively impacted (both when shooting and passing). Think about how many shots in a game does one get? 2-4? While the rest of the time, players must make passes, receive passes and dribble – all actions that happen far more often than shooting! I personally feel that composite stick users suffer from decreased ‘feel’ (pucks bounce off composite sticks more so than wood… can anybody tell me why on earth goalies would want composite sticks? To give up bigger, more uncontrollable rebounds?) Ah, technology… I long for a left-handed wooden Sherwood 3020 made in Canada with a very subtle curve, or better yet, a red and white Titan TPM 3010 straight from the factory in Finland! I need a time machine! – DH>