It is the hockey stick through which the player manipulates the puck and dictates the flow of the game. It must complement the play style, skills, and physical characteristics of the player.
As such, choosing a hockey stick can seem daunting. However, as this article will show, it is relatively straightforward to select a hockey stick that suits your body, play style, and budget.
The Anatomy of a Hockey Stick
A hockey stick comprises two primary components – the shaft and the blade. The shaft is the long, straight upper part of the stick, typically 150 to 200 cm in length, which is held by the player. The shaft can vary in length, cross-sectional shape, flexibility, and, importantly, kick point. These will be covered in detail later in this article.
The blade is the narrow lower part of the stick, attached to the bottom of the shaft at an angle of around 135°. The blade is used to contact the puck. The blade is composed of the heel, which lies closest to the shaft, and the toe, which lies farthest from the shaft.
The blade’s face is the forward side of the blade, and is curved to enable easier handling of the puck. The lie of the blade describes the angle between the shaft and the blade, and is typically determined by the height of the player and whether they prefer controlling the puck closer to, or further from, the body.
A hockey stick may be sold with the shaft and blade as separate components (a two-piece model), but more commonly will come as a one-piece model. A one-piece stick comes with both blade and shaft already fused, and will typically be more balanced, lighter, provide better feel for the puck, and permit harder shots.
A “true” one-piece is a stick whose blade and shaft were not constructed separately and then fused, but rather was produced in a single piece. These are typically top-of-the-line sticks, and provide even greater benefits in weight and handling.
Choosing a Stick: Initial Considerations
The first consideration for an absolute beginner at the game would be the handedness of the stick. Handedness is determined based on the hand lowest on the shaft; players who hold the stick with the right hand under the left are therefore right-handed, and vice versa.
Many beginners will have already played some other bat, racquet, or stick sport, and it is usually the case that their natural handedness in hockey will be the same as in those sports. This is not always true, however, and in all cases, the most natural and comfortable option is typically the correct one. Being able to handle and test a stick in person is necessary if you are unsure about your own handedness.
As with all purchases, budget is often the main factor in deciding on a stick. For those playing several times a week or at more competitive levels, a more expensive stick might provide more value. However, this factor is fundamentally a personal choice, and there is no budget that inherently matches a specific frequency or level of play.
Budget will affect the quality of materials and construction available to you, but regardless of the price you pay, it is possible to find a stick at nearly any price point with the right features for your game.
Hockey sticks were once made exclusively from wood, but most sticks used in the NHL are now constructed from carbon fiber. The most common materials used today across all levels of play are carbon fiber, fiberglass, and wood. Many sticks are produced with a combination of these materials, with some incorporating Kevlar, aluminum, and other more exotic components.
While wooden sticks are still an option, carbon fiber or composite sticks are nearly universally superior in most aspects. Wooden sticks usually comprise several layers of wood, typically of different types of wood, which are fused to form a laminate plywood. Many modern wooden sticks use fiberglass either as an additional laminate between wood layers or as a coating.
Wooden sticks are popular for their low cost and better durability, especially for beginners. Proponents also argue that they offer a better feel for the puck. However, they are also heavy, and prone to inconsistency due to warping and variability in production quality since wood is a natural material.
Carbon fibre is by far the most common material used in the NHL and in higher-end sticks due to their light weight, as well as their predictable stiffness characteristics (which can be easily and reproducibly manipulated during production). As with wooden sticks, carbon fiber sticks often incorporate fiberglass. However, the high cost and relative fragility of this material make it a less popular choice for those on a budget.
One-Piece or Two-Piece?
Sticks can be purchased in two separate pieces, the blade and the shaft. This can be cheaper since a broken blade or shaft can be replaced independently of the other part, whereas the same scenario in a one-piece stick would necessitate the replacement of the entire stick. However, two-piece sticks can loosen over time, negatively affecting the performance of the stick.
Features to Consider: The Shaft
The usual method of determining if a stick is the correct length is to have the player stand without skates, with the toe of the blade on the floor between their feet. In this position, with the shaft vertical, the end of the shaft should lie approximately at the nose.
The length can vary by player preference, but usually only up to the eyes and not below the chin. This preference is mostly associated with play style – longer sticks make power shots and defensive maneuvers easier, while shorter sticks improve handling and quickness of release. If you are unsure, it is safer to buy a longer stick since it can always be trimmed later.
The kick point of a stick is the part of the shaft that bends the most during shooting and passing. Most sticks classify their kick points in one of three categories: high, mid, and low. Finding the right kick point for you is the number one priority when buying a hockey stick, because of how much it influences the behavior of the stick when passing and shooting.
Kick point is strongly associated with play style. A low kick is ideal for players who favor quick puck release, at the expense of power and range, such as quick shooters who play close to the net. Low kick points typically provide better handling and feel due to the reduced range of motion of the blade.
On the other hand, players who prefer playing hard slap shots or powerful wrist shots usually opt for a high kick point. Finally, a mid-kick point offers versatility for players who use a mixture of powerful and quick shots.
Some sticks offer a custom kick point, which refers to a stick with a wide kick point area that flexes differently depending on where the player places their bottom hand. The higher the hand, the lower the kick point. For players who want highly controllable versatility, this can be a great option.
Grips and Stick Contours
Sticks can come with a grip or with no grip on the shaft. This affects control, especially when shooting. Non-grip shafts permit easy sliding of the bottom hand during handling, which improves control of the puck. However, a grip generally improves power during shooting by maximizing force transfer through the stick.
Shaft contouring describes the geometry of the corners and walls of the shaft. Most sticks have square or rounded corners, with the former providing more grip but less comfort. On square-cornered sticks, the shaft walls can be either straight or concave.
For beginners, handling different types of grips and contour types is important for finding the most comfortable and natural variant.
Shaft flex is a measure of how much a hockey stick bends. It is given as the pounds of force, applied to the center of the shaft, required to bend a stick by one inch. A lower number corresponds to a more flexible stick. Weight, strength, and play style are the main factors when deciding on the right amount of flex.
The usual starting point is a flex rating equal to half the player’s body weight. From there, play style and strength-related adjustments can be made. Stiffer sticks are common for stronger or more experienced players, who can fully bend and maximize the slingshot effect that an optimally flexed stick provides, as well as for defencemen and players who prefer slap shots. Flexible sticks are favored by forwards and playmakers who need more control and speed when passing, handling, and shooting.
Features to Consider: The Blade
The blade is designed to control the puck during handling, shooting, and passing. The blade pattern (also known as blade curve) describes its specific shape, degree of curve, and size. There is a wide variety of blade patterns, though the differences between them are often subtle. Nevertheless, these differences can affect handling and shooting to a surprisingly large extent. As with many other factors, the right blade pattern is mostly decided by personal preference and play style.
There are three main aspects to a blade pattern – curve type, curve depth, and face angle. The curve type describes the part of the blade with the greatest amount of curvature. In general, this is divided into three categories. A toe curve blade has most of its curvature in the third of the blade closest to the toe, a heel curve blade has most of its curvature in the third closest to the heel, and a mid-curve blade has most of its curvature in the middle third.
Curve depth is similarly subdivided into slight, moderate, or deep, with the latter having the most aggressive amount of curvature. It is important to note the regulations of any competitions you wish to take part in, since curve depth is usually restricted to a specific limit. In general, straighter blades give more control, since more curvature makes the angle of contact between the blade and puck more variable.
Finally, face angle describes the angle between the surface of the ice and the front of the blade. An open, or lofted, face is more upwardly angled, which lifts the puck off the ice more, which can be good for taking shots at goal that are harder to stop.
The Lie Angle
The lie angle of a stick is the angle between the shaft and the blade at their point of connection. This affects how vertical the shaft is when the stick is held with the entire bottom edge in full contact with the ice, as it is designed to be used. The lie is given as a number between 4 and 8, with 8 having the smallest angle.
The lie affects how far the blade is held from the body and is usually chosen based on player height and skating style. A stick with a lower lie value (i.e., a larger angle) is held further from the body, which in turn means that puck handling is performed further from the player.
Taller players or players who prefer to skate upright will generally favor a higher lie, which keeps the stick more upright and the puck close to the body. Shorter players, or players who prefer to skate at an angle, will prefer a lower lie.
For intermediate players, determining if your current stick has the correct lie for your height and play style is quite simple. Uneven wear on the bottom edge of the blade indicates that your lie angle may not be the best for you. More wear at the heel implies that a lower lie (larger angle) could be better, while wear at the toe might mean that a higher lie (smaller angle) would be an improvement.
For beginners, this can be simulated by holding a stick in one’s natural skating position and observing the blade. If the blade is flat on the floor, the chosen lie is correct. If the heel is off the ground, a higher lie number (smaller angle) is necessary, and if the toe is off the ground, a lower lie number (larger angle) would be best.
Stick It to ‘Em
Though there are many factors that come into play when choosing the right hockey stick, many of them can be decided by taking basic measurements of your body or simply holding a few sticks and getting a feel for them. For the more complex aspects of hockey sticks, such as shaft and blade geometry, your preferred position and play style need to be considered.
The good news is that, aside from materials and construction, most variations are not limited to those with higher budgets. There will almost always be a stick with the exact specifications you need. Although the multitude of features may seem daunting, taking the time to figure out the best ones for you will ensure that you can play to your highest potential.