Friday, May 17, 2013

Understanding Sticks, the categories

Prepare yourself!
Years ago I wrote an eight or ten page dissertation on picking out a hockey stick. It was generally well received with only a couple people calling me names in their comments while dozens of others sent me chocolates. So you might be asking two things at this point: First--did people actually send me chocolates for my review? Second--why am I writing a new article on picking out a stick if the last one was so good?

In answer to the first question, nope, no one sent me chocolates, nor did they call me names. However, over 180,000 people did read it and it remains to this day, the second most popular article in sporting goods ever published on For those of you who are scoffing at my mere second place ranking or wondering what amazing bit of writing was more popular than my stick buying guide, well . . . it was the skate buying guide which I also wrote.

To the second and even more intelligent question, the answer is pretty simple. First off, I wanted to write a paragraph that displayed both how amazing and how arrogant I am (nailed it!). Second, and more importantly, a lot of things have changed about sticks since I wrote that article nine years ago.

But if I can be serious here for a moment (I'm not asking permission, I'm apologizing for my normal lack of ability to do) I've also had an epiphany about how to make picking out your next stick a lot easier. This epiphany is pretty much what I'm going to cover in this article.

In the previous article I discussed three types of sticks: wood, two-piece and one-piece. I'm not even going to spend time on wood sticks or two-piece sticks. The wood stick is practically extinct with only two major brands still manufacturing them. The two-piece is definitely in serious decline as well. However, I still think there are three stick categories, all within in the composite stick market. That will be the focus of this article. 

I'd like to say that my epiphany came to me in a dream, or on the thundering voice of God, but for some reason, it came to me in the shower. Oddly, I wasn't even thinking about sticks or hockey. I was still actually half asleep and wondering if I'd already put shampoo in my hair or not. Suddenly, it dawned on me that there are three categories of composite sticks: economy, durability and performance.

Economy Sticks
The first category of one piece sticks is what I call the economy stick. These are your sticks which range in price from approximately $40 to $80. Almost every stick in this price range has the same ingredients of 10% carbon fiber and 90% fiberglass. By comparison to the more expensive sticks they are heavy and not as well balanced. They are however, still much better than the antique wood stick. 

When composite sticks first hit the market, you needed to drop at least $150 bucks to get one. If you were using a good ol' piece of lumber made from Aspen and hickory, the prevailing thought was along the lines of, "I could get five or six sticks for that price!" It made sense that wood sticks were still hot selling items with that sort of price differential. However, I've got entry level one-piece sticks on closeout in my shop for $34 right now. Prices just keep falling on the lower end composite sticks. Suddenly a $29 wood stick doesn't make sense.

Even the worst composite stick is likely to outlast the best wood sticks on the market. If you're still pining for lumber you should consider making the switch (feel free to bean me in the head with a puck for that pun, I deserve it)Sticks in this category are going to be the heaviest of the composite sticks. However they will typically be lighter than wood sticks. Some models might lack feel on the puck. However, they should all shoot a little better than their wood counterparts. 

These are the best choice for new players as well as old players who are transitioning from a wood stick. New players shouldn't spend a lot on their sticks until they figure out what curve works best for them. Old curmudgeons who still want wood will have less to gripe about when their newfangled contraption cost about the same as the old one.

Durability Sticks
Part of my epiphany came with the destruction of the most expensive stick I'd ever owned. As a defensive player with a mediocre shot ( and yes, I might be giving myself a lot of credit calling it mediocre), I still enjoyed the feel of my $175 stick. I did not like how it split in two when I blocked a hard slapshot with it. I realized that while the durability category didn't feel as nice or perform as well as the really high end sticks, they had a nice blend of performance and longevity . . . perfect for a player who likes to block shots as much as taking them.

Sticks in this category typically run from about $90 to $140. There is a pretty wide variety of construction options here. More importantly, this is where the manufacturers start keeping the composition of their twigs to themselves. Sticks in this price range are going to feature top secret combinations of carbon fiber, graphite and aramid as their main ingredients. Some might have a bit of fiberglass, but you're going to find significantly better materials in this class.

As a rule the weight of these sticks will be significantly lower than in the Economy selections. Some brands are offering true-one piece sticks in this category (as opposed to the norm of a bonded one-piece which is actually built like a two-piece but permanently assembled). Most sticks will have a middle of the road 3k construction blade, but some will feature a 12k or even pro quality woven construction, which makes the blade significantly more durable.

These sticks are going to perform better than economy sticks and last longer than performance sticks. For my personal style of play which features the, "I can block that shot and I don't care if it hurts," method, these are the only best choice. They also go well with the, "I don't shoot well enough to justify a $200 stick" part of my game. 

Performance Sticks
In a price point that is constantly trending upward, the performance stick should have GPS with advanced goalie avoidance software built in. It doesn't. Sticks in this category, ranging from $150 to $250, probably won't make you a better player. However, when you pick one up for the first time, it's hard not to emit some sort of sound expressing your surprise at just how good it feels. 

With impeccable balance and exceptionally light weight, these twigs can make people wonder someone filled their current stick with lead or concrete as a prank. The blend of lightness and balance makes for quick puck handling and effortless poke checks. If you're vain, it also has the possibility of making your teammates jealous of your super expensive stick.

The performance category often features new technology, such as extra long tapers for better pop on quick shots, holes to make them more aerodynamic (yeah right) or shafts designed by golf club makers. Blades are going to typically be woven for maximum durability and stiffness. Multiple densities of foam in the blade will allow for great puck feel without loss of shot power.

If you can afford a performance stick and have a high level shooting ability, owning one isn't going to hurt your sniper skills. The downside of these is they simply don't seem to hold up quite as well as the mid-level sticks.  So unfortunately the price you pay is higher and the quantity will be higher in the long run as well. Still for elite level snipers with quick hands, these are a great choice.

Winding down
The first part of making your decision comes down to determining your needs as a player. It's a lot easier to figure out your price range when you know what you're looking for a stick to do. Certainly there is a bit of overlap sometimes. Often you can find an older model stick priced down a full category. It's not always the case, but it might mean that if your needs don't fit your budget, you aren't going to always have to settle. There is even some blending of categories with brands that are offering higher features at more reasonable prices.

Your helpful hockey shop employees can certainly help you narrow down your search further, but hopefully this article has pointed you in the right direction to start your search.

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© 2013 Scott Noble
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