By JD Lagrange – Once upon a time, there was a hockey stick. It was made out of wood and players loved it. It worked so well that it help create some prolific NHL shooters and goals’ scorer. Imagine, some even shot at over 100 miles per hour with this key instrument. Players loved spending their pre-game rituals warming up the blade with a blow torch and putting their own twist to their sticks, while chatting with teammates.
For the most part, players could rely on it. It was solid and rarely broke. Sure, once in a while, it would break but it was rather rare. Even when slashed and knocked out of a player’s hands, the referee didn’t call a penalty. You see, back then the onus was to the said player to “hold on to his stick”. Fans and players were happy.
But then one day, came the artificial materials sticks. Made of fiberglass, carbon composite and whatever technology could think off, it was more colourful and players could decide on the flex they wanted. And they didn’t have to spend useless time working on their stick and could focus on fooling around or listening to music instead. It was sold to them for being lighter and have more whip, promising to improve players’ shots. Yet, the pucks come off those sticks at about the same speed and velocity than with wooden sticks, for the top players in the NHL.
It had one downfall however… it could break at any time, without warning and for apparently no reason at all. Oh not just when taking a hard slapshot. No… it can break while taking a faceoff, receiving a pass, or even when trying to make a simple pass or when getting stick checked by an opponent.
How many times do we see a player’s stick break in a game. Those of my generation will be able to attest that we might see a stick or two per game break back in the wooden sticks’ days. Most of the time, it was the blade. Today, it can range between three to eight sticks on average. That’s three to eight times when the play is disrupted due to a stick malfunction.
But why can’t stick manufacturers make a more durable stick, in this day in age, with today’s technology? That’s what every fan is wondering. Well folks, think about it. Stick breaking means stick purchasing. Stick purchasing means money for the company. “Oh but players don’t pay for their sticks, they’re sponsored“, some will say. Even if that were the case for some players, young hockey players want their idols’ sticks. They look at pictures and go out and purchase sticks from the company their idols are using. What incentive do they have to make them stronger, really? We do live in a greedy world, where money is all that matters.
But why don’t players change? Because of sponsorships in some case for sure, but they have been brainwashed thinking that those sticks will help them score goals and make it to the NHL. That’s what they know, that’s what’s been driven in their brain. So does that mean that those who were using wooden sticks made it on talent solely, if that’s the case?
“Nine out of ten dentists recommend Crest toothpaste.” Dentists make money by us going to see them. Why would I trust what they recommend?
Hold on to your stick!
Seeing sticks break by players being “stick checked”, the NHL referees, in their wisdom and incompetence, started calling penalties if a player stick broke while getting in contact with an opponents. So to be fair, they pushed the envelope by calling a penalty if a player knocked the stick out of their opponent’s hands… even if it didn’t break! After all, it could have broken, right?
So players today rely on referees having their back. Embellishers, if they haven’t done it already, will eventually catch on and drop their stick as soon as there’s contact, in order to get a power play. “They would never do that!“, some will claim. No, of course not. They would never dive or embellish right, all the Tim Stuzles of this world? The old saying is that ‘if you don’t cheat, you’re not trying hard enough to win’ applies here.
When I played hockey, the coach would rip us apart if we got the stick knocked out of our hands. “Hang on to your stick!“, they would yell. I’ve coached hockey for about 10-12 years and while on the ice, during practice, I’d purposely knock on my players sticks once in a while. Not with a two-hand slash, but a solid tap down. If they dropped it, I’d remind them to hang on to it. What was wrong with putting the onus and responsibility on the players to hold on to their main tool of work and, for NHL players, their bread and butter?
The composite sticks are an issue, and the NHL referees are amplifying it with those weak penalty calls. As if their inconsistency and incompetence wasn’t enough to frustrate teams and fans alike without adding that aggravation! But that’s Gary Bettman’s NHL for you. He’s doing a good job because he’s making the NHL owners’ money and has expanded to 32 diluted teams, using expansion as a source of revenue… but that’s a whole other story on its own.