Hockey sticks come in a variety of materials, lengths, blade angles and curves.
Choosing the right ice hockey stick can be a bewildering decision thanks to the dazzling array of products offered by equipment manufacturers. Certain qualities, such as shaft length and flex, blade lie -- or angle -- and blade curvature can be estimated based on a player's height, weight, strength and position. Choosing between a tapered or non-tapered shaft, also called a standard shaft, comes down to personal preference.
The Short and Long of Taper
Shaft taper is typically measured at the bottom length of the shaft near the blade, across the shorter dimension of its cross-section. Some dual-taper designs are reduced in both dimensions. The length and angle of tapering varies, although industry standard widths are 0.52 inch for a tapered shaft and 0.62 inch for a non-tapered shaft. With two-piece hockey sticks, it is critical to match the blade type with the appropriate shaft -- a tapered blade will not fit into the socket of a standard shaft and vice versa.
Wood or Composite?
Traditional, all-wood hockey sticks are non-tapered because the reduced cross-section weakens the shaft and shortens stick life. Composite shafts, tapered or non-tapered, can be made from a variety of materials, such as: carbon, fiberglass or polymer fibers and resins; metal alloys, primarily aluminum and titanium; or a combination of wood, resins and fibers. Both tapered and non-tapered hockey sticks come in either one-piece or two-piece designs that use replaceable blades.
Getting Down with Kick Points
So why all the fuss about taper? Most of the power in a hockey shot, whether wrist shot or slap shot, comes from the rapid flexing and straightening of the hockey shaft. This flexibility zone is referred to as the kick point. A study published in the "Journal of Applied Biomechanics" indicated that players who initiate the kick point lower on the shaft are able to generate greater puck velocities. This finding led manufacturers to design tapered shafts that push the kick point downward and close to the blade.
Factor in the Player's Skill
Before you go out and spend big bucks on a top-of-the-line, carbon-fiber composite, dual-tapered, one-piece hockey stick, take note of a literature review published in вЂњThe Sport JournalвЂќ that concluded a player's skill level contributes considerably more to increased shooting velocities than stick materials or design. For the youth or recreational hockey player, the competitive edge provided by a high-tech stick might rest more in the mind than in measurable performance outcomes.
Price, Performance and Other Considerations
Choosing a hockey stick appropriate to your size, skill level and position played involves several factors. For advanced athletes, composite sticks offer the largest variety of flex, shapes, angles, curves and taper. Two-piece sticks allow you to replace a damaged blade -- the most commonly broken component -- rather than the entire stick. Pricing can be important for youth hockey players, whose stick lengths and flex ratings must change to accommodate growing bodies. Wood sticks are heavier, less flexible and have higher kick points than the composite varieties, but they are also considerably less expensive.