I Got Wood

Posted by Kyle Kosior in Editorials on May 8, 2009 — 13 Comments

The topic of wood/aluminum sticks versus composites has been rolling around in my head for a couple years. I understand that there are pros and cons to each, and those pros and cons can change depending on whether you ask a player, a coach or an owner. In spite of the various arguments, I would like to officially come out and advocate for a return to wooden sticks.

Having watched the sticks intently for about a year now, I feel its safe to say that the harm outweighs the good in regards to composite sticks. We have all undoubtedly seen a lost scoring opportunity or a lost faceoff resulting from a composite stick breaking in half and it seems like nearly a third of all the penalty kills I have seen this year have featured one defending player skating around sans stick, as the two forlorn pieces lay discarded in a corner. I realize that the composite stick, in theory, offers a harder shot for the players but still wonder is how many guys in the NHL (or other leagues) actually make adequate use of this technology?

Alex Ovechkin’s display of shooting artistry in Game 2 of the Caps-Pens series would be the most recent example of a player who really gets everything from his composite. The wrister that he used to beat Fleury for the game winner was amazing, a combination of pure shooting power and state of the art stick technology. Now juxtapose Ovechkin’s three goals with Crosby’s, and you will see three goals that could have been scored with a floor hockey stick. To me, the goals Sidney scored were far more indicative of the majority of goals you see in today’s NHL.

With big, mobile and talented goaltenders and defensive systems that are designed to collapse to the front of the net, no more than a handful or today’s shooters have the talent or velocity to score from the perimeter. Its my contention that while the extra zip a composite supplies may add the odd goal, the number of goals lost through breakage etc. basically makes this a zero sum game.

Before you rush in to disagree, consider that at least one high profile (junior) league has considered making the move back to wood. High level discussions resulted in a variety of ideas being brought forward, but ultimately no vote held on the matter. Owners and league officials were very in favour of the switch, while coaches were on the fence. Most of these guys thought that while the potential benefits of a composite stick are basically untapped with their still growing junior players, they were still worried that a ban on the sticks might persuade some players to go elsewhere. In the highly competitive world of junior hockey, that is a very big deal.

A compromise solution was put forward that would allow the use of the sticks, but only if they player himself supplied them. While that idea was unworkable and shifts the burden to kids and parents, it is still noteworthy in that this movement may still gain some momentum in an age when budgets are tight and revenue is tough to come by. Reducing a stick budget by even $100,000 can mean a team makes rather than loses money.

Do you readers think its possible a team could lose a player over the stick they are forced to use? Is it that big of a deal? Should the players get everything they want, despite the costs to the team? I always wanted revolving three-ways featuring the Spice Girls (Ginger and Sporty, Posh and Mel B.) but realize that I couldn’t afford it long-term. As someone who has used both types of sticks, I believe that you get a better feel from the wood stick. For a playmaker, wouldn’t this be more valuable to you? As a defenseman, wouldn’t you rather have a more durable wood stick in your own zone or while killing a penalty? Wood sticks may go soft (thats what she said) but at least it can still be used to intercept or disrupt passes or shots, and likely to clear a puck.

So what is the solution here? Its obviously dressing room suicide to give composites to only a few guys, so does that mean its all or nothing?  What about incentives to players to try the sticks again? I bet a fair number of younger NHL’ers haven’t played with anything but composites since their formative years and they just might be surprised at what they had to offer. Or perhaps the move back could be incremental with a coach instituting a wood sticks only rule on the penalty kill, where a broken stick can mean disaster, especially in the playoffs.

While all of this is extremely speculative, one wonders if stick manufacturers even have an interest in making wood sticks anymore. I believe Sher-Wood has either phased out or will phase out its wood sticks, while other manufacturers I have spoken to feel that the margins available on the composites (Made for about $20, sold for about $200) is just too lucrative.

Even if the NHL does not pursue this goal, it would still be nice to see a league like the AHL, the ECHL or even a junior league take some iniative and play a year without the sticks, just to accurately measure the pros and cons. In doing so, it might take the heat off the parents of minor hockey players, who also are forced to shell out big dollars so their kids can use the same sticks as the pros. In reality, these are the people I feel bad for, because there is absolutely no way any kid has enough force to properly use a composite stick. Additionally, I also feel these kids are losing their puck handling ability due to the skill and extra attention it takes to keep a puck on these composites.

I really want to hear reader’s takes on this issue. Does anyone even care? Do the potentially harder shots out-weigh the constant breakage at seemingly the worst possible times? What about the costs to the teams? Should kids use them? Do you agree with the European countries that have banned the sticks for U-16’s? Lets have a good discussion about this.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    It is a good subject and we have talked about it from time to time with my buddies that I watch the college games with. I was over at Scheels a few days back and picked one of these things up they don’t even feel like the hockey sticks of old.

    I will say that I miss the aluminum and woods sticks and I am tired of watching all of these composite sticks break all of the time. I also hate sound of the slaps shots from one of these sticks. Heck just think off all the all-pros that used woods sticks; Bourque, Neely, Coffey, Kurri etc…

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Kyle

    Good points Goon. Especially considering what a player like Bobby Hull could do with an old wood twig. I still think that the potential benefits of these sticks are only realized by a fraction of today’s players.

    If I am a set-up type centre, I think I would rather have a wood stick just for feel and face-offs alone.

  • Jarick

    There’s a few pros and cons to composite, but the big reason they are used is the lighter weight, which makes stick handling and generally moving the puck quicker and easier. In addition, they load up faster for a split second quicker release on shots, which can be the difference between a goal and a save, especially with the size of goalie pads and the quick reflexes of NHL goalies.

    Let’s think about it. If wood sticks really were that much better because they are more durable (which they only are in terms of snapping, not in terms of long-term usage), wouldn’t more centers and defensemen use them? If it meant you would always have an advantage on the draw or on the PK, wouldn’t they be far more common?

    The benefits must outweigh the positives for NHL’ers to overwhelmingly choose composite.

    If teams don’t want to pay for the supply of sticks, that’s fine, let the NHL’ers buy them. But if money were a concern, I’m sure a team would rather get an extra 5 goals each year for the $50-75,000 it might cost between composite and wood.

    Composites can be made more durable, but NHL’ers still prefer lighter sticks to durability. I’m sure certain players pick out sticks for durability (Warrior comes to mind).

    Bottom line is, we want more offense, not less. I’m sure if wood sticks had an advantage, they would be used. But the technology has helped and will continue to improve. I would much rather aim to reduce the size of goalie equipment than reduce scoring chances.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Kyle

    Jarick, while I am certainly willing to concede they are lighter (anyone ever have to lug a Titan around?), I still think that many players use them because they are the accepted or cool stick on the market.

    Hockey players are still human, and the desire to have the same twig as the other guy has to be pretty strong.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Drew

    If I was a player, and for those of you who have ever seen me play hockey I assure you I am not, I would use a composite stick during the first two periods, and a regular stick during the third, for the theoretical reason that a broken stick resulting in a turnover may cost me more severely in the 3rd period than in the first two stanzas. It’s the same logic that would see me use an illegal curve (.com) in the first two periods, but not in the third when a penalty would be especially detrimental. (Are you listening Marty McSorley?)

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    I remember when the cool new stick on the market was the Brett Hull Silver Easton.

    By the way, amazing usage of “that’s what she said”.

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  • Bob Roberts

    Are goaltender’s sticks all composite too? Suddenly occured to me I’d never thought about it. Theirs is a position where a broken stick is more likely to lead to a goal, so if they do use composites they must be different I’d guess. Yes? No?

  • Missourimike

    I don’t think goalies sticks are. I’m pretty sure they are made of wood.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    If I was a hockey player I wouldn’t be helped by wood composite or Alum because I would be a non-skilled energy player. I think composite today’s sticks could be likened to the Drivers of today, think what Jack or Arnie could have done with a big headed graphite shaft driver with a nice metal head. The sweet spot is huge with these things and you can really tee it up same with the composite sticks…

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Kyle

    You can get goalie sticks in composite or wood. I believe the composite goalie sticks run close to $300 though. I also cant really speak to their durability either.

    Anyone think a coach will institute a wood only on PP or PK anytime soon? I would bet we see it at some level in the next year or two.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    My buddys kid is a goalie and the sticks are in the 250-350 range and I broke two of them in one week. Expensive. I think they were composite as well.

  • Missourimike

    The question is does changing the equipment that Stars of today use make the records they break any less spectacular. I mean most of the records from the 80’s won’t be broken anytime soon anyways because of how much the game has changed but does this place an * beside records that get eclipsed?

    In swimming for example Phelps used new technology (in the bathing suit design – how can u improve speedo’s? and surpassed Spitz’s Olympic medal total. Does it make it less impressive than had he competed wearing what Spitz wore?