Home > Edmonton Oilers > There is a time and a place for composite sticks

There is a time and a place for composite sticks

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the world of professional sports, technology advancements can help give an athlete or a team a competitive advantage that could be the difference between winning and losing. Swimsuit technology has gotten so advanced that FINA (the international governing body of swimming) has had to ban certain types of suits to ensure a competitive balance in the sport. Golf has been impacted by new club technology and advances in golf ball technology as well. The result is the ball is being hit farther than ever before and golf courses need to be lengthened just to keep up. Augusta National, the home of The Masters, was lengthened in 2002 and 2006 and now measures 7,445 yards; up 520 yards from 6,925 yards just a few years earlier.

And of course technology has changed the game of hockey too. New materials have led to lighter equipment. The Reebok Edge jersey is a technological advance over previous versions. But in the game of hockey technologies biggest impact has been on the hockey stick.

Once upon a time hockey sticks were made of wood, now most players use a composite stick. Composite sticks are lighter and more flexible than there wooden counter parts. I don’t know if it has been scientifically proven but most players believe they can shoot the puck faster using a composite stick. A lighter, more flexible stick would tend to back up that claim. But these sticks aren’t all upside; there have drawbacks too. Chief among them is that they break far more frequently.

And it’s their lack of durability that makes me question why they’re used by so many NHL players.

In the Oilers-Ducks game last night I counted three instances where an Oilers player broke his stick during play. Zack Stortini and Taylor Hall broke their sticks in the first period and Colin Fraser busted his late in the third period.

Why exactly is Stortini using a composite stick? This is a guy with 14 goals in 243 games. Am I really supposed to believe that his production would fall off if he were to use a wooden stick? What would it fall off to, two goals a year? Stortini deserves credit because he fills his role well but he’s a fourth line guy and nothing more. If he contributes with a goal every now and then that’s great but it’s not what he’s here to do. He’s an energy guy who throws some hits and generally tries to disrupt the other team. He’s in people’s faces and from time to time he’ll whack the opposition on the shin pads just to remind him that he’s there. But when that very nondurable composite stick breaks on the shins of that player he sits in the box for two minutes. When it breaks in the defensive zone it puts the team in a big hole until he can get back to the bench. With a guy like Stortini I just don’t see a big upside to using a composite stick.

But Stortini wasn’t alone last night with a busted stick. Fraser broke his as well and as far as I’m concerned he needs to have his head examined. With less than two minutes left in a tied game, while on a penalty kill no less, he breaks his stick taking a faceoff. That’s right, on a faceoff. How many times have you seen a wooden stick break on a face off? I’d bet you could count the times on one hand. In this case the Oilers luckily won the draw, cleared the zone, and Fraser was able to get to the bench and retool. But if that draw had been lost the Oilers would have had to kill off a 5 on 3 1/2 until he could make it to the bench. And for what, a slightly harder shot? It doesn’t seem to me that the risk is quite worth the reward in this case.

There are players who play the type of game that can benefit from the use of a composite stick. Guys with an offensive touch come to mind. Your power play blue liners obviously can gain a little something from a composite stick as well. But it isn’t a technology that benefits everyone. And it isn’t for all game situations either. If it doesn’t provide a tangible benefit to that player at that point in the game then all that’s left is the downside that it will break and leave you in a tough spot. I just don’t see why a player would want to take that risk.

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