One of the most frequent questions I get while working with young, beginning hockey players is whether or not they should buy the skater a wood stick or one of the expensive one-piece sticks. With younger players, my answer is almost always “wood” – which is followed shortly by a question from the disappointed kid who really wanted the shiny new one-piece stick…”well then, why do you have a one piece.” Good question – here are my thoughts:
Price: The development program in our area runs about $180 for a 9-week session. Some of you will think that number is high, some will think it’s low. Regardless, I find it difficult to justify spending more than half the hockey budget for the skater on a stick! Especially when the kids are young, they’ll want to take the stick out in the driveway (perhaps participating in the HockeyShare 10,000 Pucks Contest…for example) and shoot pucks or play street hockey. Good luck convincing mom and dad to let you go run your new $100+ stick over the driveway! To those saying – “I’ll just get the kid a wood stick for the driveway,” I would ask why not just get him two wood sticks and save the ~$100? It amazes me the number of players I see with expensive hockey sticks, and a helmet and cage from a second-hand sports store, ready to fall apart. My opinion: invest the money you save by buying a cheaper stick into the equipment protecting your child’s most valuable and vulnerable part of their body – their head! A good helmet typically will cost less than a good one-piece stick. Crazy when you think about it, isn’t it?
So, the first part of my answer to the younger posing the question: “Because I pay for my own stick!”
Some Advantages of a One-Piece Stick: Now, don’t get me wrong. One-piece sticks do offer a nice advantage to those players lucky enough to get one…provided they’re old and strong enough to utilize them effectively. One-piece sticks excel in durability under typical conditions. For example, the number of slap shots a one-piece will withstand vs. a wood stick most of the time is much greater. As players get older and stronger, their ability to transfer their weight into shots (snap, slap, wrist, backhand…it doesn’t matter) increases. As the amount of energy transferred into the stick increases, so does the wear-and-tear on the stick. It has been my experience that the elasticity of the composite shaft and blades is (typically) far superior to a wood stick. When I was doing individual training, I was logging hundreds of shots per day. I may have just been lucky, but in the two years I consistently did the one-on-one coaching, I never broke a stick and only went through two (I replaced them after they got to ‘whippy’ for me). So here was my experience in durability….in college, 1-3 wood sticks per week…coaching (between 4-10 hrs. per day) for two years, 2 one-piece sticks. No comparison.
So my second reply to the youngster is: “They tend to last a lot longer for me than wood sticks.”
Along with the durability comes the ability to “push” the stick quite a bit more than your typical wood stick. The technology behind the composite sticks has allowed players to refine their shooting techniques to maximize their shot. One of these evolutions has been the appearance of the closed-blade slap shot, where a player winds up pointing the toe of the blade toward the ice instead of open as it’s traditionally taught. This technique takes advantage of the the ability of the blade to flex and provide extra whip on the follow through. I don’t recommend trying this unless you’re an advanced player and/or you’ve got extra sticks lying around that you don’t mind breaking while “trying it out.”
This sort of direct shooting advantage only comes into play when a player is strong enough to maximize the flex of the shaft. At 6′ 2″ and 180lbs, I can put a pretty good amount of force into a shot. I use a 100 lb. flex (Easton) at full stock length. I see way too many 5′ 6″, 130lb kids with 110lb flex sticks cut down 2-3″ – making the flex rating more like 120lb (approximately flex ratings based on Easton sticks – the different manufacturers have different ways of measuring this). When you have sticks too stiff for a player to properly flex, you take A LOT of power away from the shot. Just like a golf club, you want your shaft to flex and transfer that energy to the puck.
My third response to the youngster: “Because I’m big enough to take advantage of what the stick is capable of.”
(By this point in the conversation, the parents are usually celebrating the fact they don’t have to buy a $150 stick for their 7 year-old)
Final Thoughts: I fully believe one-piece sticks are great tools, but the player must have the ability to utilize the stick’s potential. For young and beginner hockey players, there are plenty of good sticks available on a budget. As players get older and stronger, I’m OK with getting one-piece sticks, provided the player is able to properly flex the stick at the length they’re cutting it at. When you get a new stick, get one you like the general feel, weight, pattern, lie, and flex of – as opposed to getting the one marketed the best!