The Dinosaur and the Wooden Stick
Posted by Dean Holden at December 25th, 2014
by Kevin Hartzell, 26 November 2014
I haven’t been around much the past number of years, so there is lots I have to catch up on. I had some time last Friday afternoon, so I decided to visit a hockey superstore. I looked about the store at just about everything. Beautiful store, I thought to myself. I took an extra special look to see if/and or how many wood sticks make up the stick rack inventory in today’s world.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a solid, but small group of wood sticks. Titan and Sher-Wood were both available. They are longtime wood stick brands. I felt them. I smelled them. I flexed them. The old dinosaur was happy. They looked and felt like solid sticks. The sticks were priced at about $35 … not bad, I thought.
Just some 30 feet away, there was a small crowd of parents and young players. They were shopping the youth brands of composite sticks. I walked over to observe their shopping. They were looking at a number of composite sticks.I looked at the prices– $119-$139. As I watched, I thought, “$35 vs $119 … I know where my kids would be … back at the wood stick rack.”
I know writing this puts me at the risk of sounding like the dinosaur I probably am – the older generation fella who thinks the old days and old ways are best. I am just saying, $35 vs. $119, for a youth hockey player? I am not debating the technology. Be it golf, racquet sports or hockey sticks, there is no doubt that technology makes a difference. But for who? That is the key question.
I don’t need the world’s best computer, for example. I post and save pictures. I write. I surf the Internet. The $200-$300 computer works just fine. I don’t need the $800 version that might better serve the graphic designer or other high-end professional. Yet it appears when it comes to hockey sticks, young families have bought into the idea that they need the higher-end stick for their son or daughter.
What does technology in a stick do for any player? Technology allows one to shoot it harder and I suspect provides a consistency for accuracy. But, and without getting into the minutia of shooting, strength and accuracy, etc., and how technology helps all these factors, let me ask this question: How many players at any level make their mark, bring their value to the team based upon their shooting ability? And the answer is: not very many. Some players score goals at or near the net. Some don’t score much at all. Very few score goals the Mike Bossy/Jari Kurri way – with superior shooting ability. I would argue that most players on most teams could use wood and not miss a beat.
I don’t believe most players need sticks that shoot harder anyway. Most players need to be able to give and receive a pass. From my experience and still to this day, wood is softer in that it has less of a kick-point in the shaft. Think of that very aspect of the stick – the kick-point in the shaft. The kick-point serves to propel the puck, but it also serves to “kick” or vibrate a pass off the stick. Even for a moment, this is loss of control. I know from conducting drills with the new technology sticks, passes are more difficult to catch.
Hockey stick technology has followed the technology of the golf industry. Better technology can propel the golf ball further and the hockey shot harder. Fortunately for golf, the golfer does have to catch a pass first; they are simply hitting an object not in motion. In hockey, we most often have to catch it first.
At the end of the day, skating, tenacity, passing and pass-catching ability count for a whole lot more in the make-up of an effective hockey player. There is also no question that the technology in today’s sticks can make a difference for the right player. I am not debating that here. I do know, however, that there is a price attached to everything. $35 vs. $100+ … I would be a hard-working parent in convincing my son or daughter that the $35 wood stick is plenty sexy.
<Funny, I have talked to a number of NHL coaches over the past fifteen years and to a man, they all felt the composite sticks were detrimental to 98% of the players on each of their teams. They all said there were one or two players – at most – per team who benefited from the added velocity of the composite sticks (the shooters / goalscorers.) The rest of the team, these sticks negatively impacted their passing, receiving and overall puck handling ability. And there are far more instances in a game where players pass, receive and handle the puck than actually shoot or get credited for shots on net.
I was told of a study done at a local college with the male and female hockey teams in the early to mid 2000’s (but haven’t been able to source it!) I know technology has changed even since then but as I recall, the findings stated the men could should marginally harder with the composite sticks, but were far less accurate. It made no difference in velocity for the women, plus they were less accurate. So even if you can shoot harder, if you don’t hit the net, what’s the point? The study did not examine passing, receiving or puck handling.
It is a huge marketing wave that has pushed aside common sense. I see it from my Timbits (learn to play; 4-6 years old) to my junior and senior high skill academies (grade 7-12): composite sticks, almost all too stiff and too long (not many junior or intermediate sticks either; most cut down senior sticks!)… not to mention that when they are cut down, it further increases the stiffness! In short, the worst possible tools to learn how to pass, receive and handle a puck!
Many people say, “I can’t find wooden sticks anymore” but I say they they aren’t looking very hard! I can buy wooden sticks (and do so for myself and my two kids) at the local Source For Sports Stores or Canadian Tire. They have junior, intermediate and senior models. Granted, not a huge selection of choices, but you only need one to fit you!
Parents, do your kids a development favour and save yourselves a tonne of ca$h… buy a wooden stick, cut it off so it stands up between the bottom of their chin to lips range when they are on skates, and leave the sexy, expensive sticks at the store! When they score 50 goals in 40 games, you can reconsider. Merry Christmas! – DH>