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The game of hockey has evolved over the years with changes to the sport’s rules and equipment. One of the most dramatic of these changes has been the continuing evolution of the hockey stick. With the introduction of the one-piece composite stick, players have found they rarely have to tinker with the stick’s blade anymore to adjust its curve.
Hockey players are known to heat their sticks to bend the blade. This enables them to customize the blade’s curve to their own personal liking. While this was a common practice before composite sticks were introduced, it’s rare that a professional player needs to heat their stick anymore since their sticks are all custom made by the manufacturer.
In previous eras when hockey sticks were made of wood they were manufactured with limited options when it came to the blade. Some sticks would be curved while others would have a straight blade. Many players preferred more curvature or warp on their blades and found the easiest way to do this was to heat the stick and curve it to their own personal preference.
Blades could be heated with boiling water, a torch or by holding the stick over a stove top or something similar. Once the blade was heated it would become flexible and the curvature could be altered by stepping on it or sticking it in the space under a door and pulling up on the shaft of the stick.
Once the perfect amount of curve was on the blade it would then be placed in cold water or a bucket of ice to cool down while retaining its new curve.
Reason for more curvature
Hockey players decided to start curving the blades of their sticks decades ago as they found it was easier to raise the puck off the ice with a more pronounced curve. They could target the upper portion of the net from a close distance with a bigger curve as the speed and trajectory of their shots would be changed.
It’s also believed the velocity of a shot could be increased with a greater curve and the shots were more unpredictable for goaltenders.
Former NHL players such as Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were well known for altering their sticks.
However, some players got carried away when tinkering with their sticks and the curvature of their blades was taken to the extreme. These became known as “banana” blades.
The NHL now has a rule regarding the curvature of a stick’s blade which states the curve can’t exceed 3/4 of an inch at any point on the blade. The league has a measuring device at all games and a player who uses a stick with an illegal curve is assessed a two-minute minor penalty.
Composite hockey sticks can also be altered by heating the blade and some pros still do this to find the ideal custom curve and then send the specifications to the manufacturer.
To do this you should heat the blade evenly from heel to toe for approximately a minute. This can be done with a blowtorch or with the heat from an oven element. When the blade is hot it can be curved by hand or with your foot.
If curving the blade by hand it’s a good idea to wear an oven mitt when doing so, to protect your hands from the heat.
Be aware that this process may have to be repeated several times to get the curve you’re looking for and make sure the curve isn’t illegal – especially if you’re planning to play in any competitive or organised leagues.
When you have the ideal curve place the heated blade in ice or cold water for several minutes to let it harden. The stick should then be ready to use once it has cooled and hardened.
It’s also important to note that the manufacturer of the stick may not honor the warranty if the stick has been altered in any way. In addition, some sticks may come with heat-sensitive blades and could be damaged permanently when heated.
Heating the stick’s shaft
While heating the blade of a hockey stick has been a common practice since the 1960’s you’ll find that some players may also heat the shaft of their sticks for various reasons.
Some players will heat the tape on the knob of their sticks so it will adhere quicker and stronger to the top of the shaft. They may also heat a plastic knob or plug-in stick extension to melt the glue for a stronger bond.
Hockey players don’t heat their sticks nearly as much as they used to since pro players have their sticks custom designed. Amateur and recreational players are also more unlikely to try and alter composite sticks since they could end up ruining an expensive piece of equipment.
But if you’re still one of the few that use a wooden hockey stick or blade you may be more inclined to heat it as a way to alter its curve.