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Hockey has been around in some shape or form for well over a century. While the origins of the modern sport may be a bit of a contentious issue — it’s generally accepted that similar stick and ball games were played in several countries as early as the 1800s. At the time, many players would craft their own sticks, as they weren’t readily available for purchase as they are today.
There are many details that go into creating the modern hockey stick and you’re sure to see a variety of examples during any given NHL game. Players have different curve and flex preferences, which can suit the stick for different playing styles. Composite sticks are the most popular option now and are often a fused one-piece design as opposed to the two-piece design preferred by some players still.
History of Ice Hockey Stick Materials
Ice hockey sticks have been crafted in different ways over the years. This is unsurprising as the game has been around for so long and modern technology wasn’t around back when it began. Over the years, hockey sticks have been developed to be lightweight so that players have an easier time skating with them and using them to shoot pucks to the back of the net.
1. Wooden Sticks
Originally, hockey sticks were crafted from wood and were less durable than the options on the market today. These wooden sticks were often one continuous piece of wood, as two-piece sticks had yet to be introduced. Hornbeam trees were the common choice at the time before their numbers dwindled and yellow birch became the next best option for crafting sticks.
The heavier weight of the wood made the sticks great for battling for a puck, but they became too heavy for modern-day stick handling. Lighter-weight sticks are better for harder power shots and they make it easier to get the puck off the stick quickly.
2. Aluminum Sticks
During the 1990s, aluminum sticks gained popularity largely in part due to a recommendation from Wayne Gretzky. Oftentimes, these sticks kept the wooden blade, but the shaft was formed from aluminum material — this increased the overall durability of the stick.
These didn’t stay in popular rotation for very long and now aren’t largely used by NHL players due to better options being on the market nowadays. The aluminum was overly stiff and many players didn’t care for the feel of it and it didn’t have the same flex as the wooden shafts that helped players shoot the puck harder.
3. Composite Sticks
Today, the choice of most hockey players is a composite stick. These sticks are lighter weight than their predecessors and oftentimes have less durability, though there are many reasons why players prefer them. The sticks feature both carbon fiber and layered resin which helps give the stick flex.
These composite sticks can be designed to a player’s specifications and can be molded into different curves and shapes — all while keeping a lightweight and “springy” feel to them that players love.
How Are Composite Sticks Made?
Modern-day composite hockey sticks are regularly made up of three materials:
- carbon fiber
- epoxy resin
It can sound like a complicated process to make a composite hockey stick — because it is. Carbon fiber threads are tightly woven together and then covered in resin to increase the durability of the stick. To create one shaft, up to 15 sheets of carbon fiber may be used.
In an effort to further strengthen the shaft, the carbon fiber is layered in differing directions to create an incredibly lightweight yet durable stick.
When it comes to making the blade of the hockey stick, manufacturers will start with hard foam and then cover it in graphite. Then, the blades are attached to the shaft — making this a two-piece stick.
Several more layers of graphite are used on the blade after it has been attached and at this point, the blade is molded to the specifications of the player. Most players have preferences for how curved the blade is and where the curve lays on the blade.
For a cheaper option, composite sticks can integrate materials such as fiberglass. There may be a sacrifice in overall performance but the stick should still last under a fair amount of pressure.
One-Piece Hockey Sticks Vs. Two-piece Hockey Sticks
One-piece ice hockey sticks are often the lightest weight options on the market — therefore, they’re also the most expensive. They can cost several hundred dollars for a composite model. On the other hand, two-piece sticks can run less than $100 if the player is okay with a little bit of extra weight.
Another benefit of the two-piece option is that in the case of the blade breaking, you can simply attach another blade onto the shaft and keep on using it. In the one-piece design, you’d have to start over with a whole new stick.
The two-piece stick was originally invented in the 1980s, with the innovation of the aluminum shaft and wooden blade stick used by Gretzky. Thus began the possibilities for players to replace their blades and gain more customization options for their sticks.
It’s important to keep in mind that many “one-piece” sticks are often still made from two pieces that have been fused together. True one-piece stick designs may be a bit harder to find. It all depends upon a player’s personal preference and how each stick feels to them.
Room For Improvement in Hockey Stick Manufacturing
While composite sticks are a great option for today’s players — they lack durability. In an effort to create the lightest stick possible, manufacturers have sacrificed the strength of the stick itself.
Oftentimes, you’ll see players break sticks throughout a game. Many NHL players keep a few extra sticks at the bench for this exact situation. When top-of-the-line sticks cost hundreds of dollars, it isn’t unreasonable to expect them to hold up for a longer period of time.
While players may enjoy the performance of such a lightweight stick, there is still room to improve the durability factor and innovate on the materials used to create hockey sticks. An ideal stick would combine the flex of the wooden stick and the strength of the aluminum shaft, all while keeping the lightweight nature of the composite stick.
The Art of Crafting a Hockey Stick
All in all, making a hockey stick is no easy task. Though most of the process is automated by machines these days — there is still a lot of engineering that goes into the design of each stick. Compared to 100 years ago when sticks were carved by hand from wood, the craft has come a long way.
Composite one-piece sticks are the popular choice of NHL players, though they’re often the most expensive. For beginner players, finding a budget-friendly stick that feels good to handle is an important first step in starting their hockey journey.
Two-piece sticks are still a good choice for many players and in fact, some prefer the ability to replace blades as needed while keeping the intact shaft. Hockey sticks are an important part of a player’s arsenal and it should be taken into consideration that a player may need several sticks to get through a single season as they aren’t as durable as they once were.