Technology within hockey gear has made leaps and bounds to what it was 20, even 10 years ago. Unless you’ve managed to live under a rock and still play hockey, it’s clear the days of wood sticks and deer hair-stuffed goalie pads are gone. Well, almost.
As I write these blogs, I realize the three years at our GoalieMonkey Superstore in Santa Ana, Ca taught me more about the game and the players than I could have ever imagined. As I walked into the store for the first time back in September of 2011 for my first day on the job, I had no idea the knowledge I would gain of not only the sport and equipment, but eventually the materials and engineering that goes into each and every piece. As I get ready to finish up my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in the next few weeks, the appreciation that I have for the technology only becomes stronger and stronger.
The point I intend to make is the store has made me realize that I often take this product knowledge for granted, not realizing the majority of goalies in the game today often can’t keep up with the technology and the benefits each bring to the game. So with this blog post (and a few more in the future) I will outline the different technology in a particular category of gear and what the benefits/disadvantages bring to the game, including my own personal opinion on each.
Let’s begin with sticks.
In general, the goalie stick market is very different than the players. While companies are trying to get player’s sticks lighter and lighter, many goalies are content sticking with what they’ve used for the last 15 years. However, that’s not to say there hasn’t been technology improvements that follow the player side of things.
Goal sticks can be narrowed down to four main categories as follows:
Wood Construction: Now considered the ‘old school’ style, wood sticks are nearly extinct from what they once were, however companies continue to leave a model in their lineup for those looking for a value-oriented option or the traditional feel.
Within the wood category, each brand will offer this style. Included are the Warrior Swagger Wood, Twigz Timber, and Bauer Reactor 5000. These will feature a solid wood paddle and shaft, often paired with an ash blade. Known for giving consistent deflections at a great price point, this style of construction has remained unchanged for the better part of 25 years.
Foam Core: Throughout the 1990’s, the goal stick market began to see a transition from solid wood sticks to a new construction called Foam Core. Foam core sticks utilize the same wood shaft, however, with a re-engineered paddle made of ultra-high density urethane foam. Being brittle itself, the urethane core is sandwiched between composite materials such as fiberglass and carbon fiber laminates.
Since then, foam core sticks have ruled the market. NHL goalies nearly unanimously adopted this style of stick and companies have gone to great lengths to maximize durability and feel. Foam core sticks are known for having exceptional durability with great balance and shooting ability.
Foam core price points range from $70 – $150, depending on construction and materials. This ideal medium between performance and price leaves foam core sticks a popular choice for goalies of all ages and skill levels, from the recreational men’s leaguer playing 1-2 times per week to the NHL pro on the ice countless hours per week.
Composites: Composites have relatively recently taken the market by storm, placing a rather large dent in the foam core stick market. Introduced in the 2000s, composite goal sticks are often share construction styling with their player counterparts. Generally based around fiberglass, composites will have added reinforcement in the form of carbon fiber and aramid (Kevlar). Bauer takes their TotalOne NXG sticks to another level by including their patented Innegra technology, a woven carbon weave designed to further promote durability.
Composites tend to be popular among younger goalies as their extraordinary light weight and balance make learning the game much easier. On the downside, composite material often isn’t adapt to hard impacts, making durability and unpredictable breakage an issue. A good example of this can often be seen throughout the NHL, a single shot to a player’s stick will often break it clean in half. Additionally, the high price of composite sticks tend to deter the recreational player hesitant to invest so much money in a stick alone, with models starting at $100 and reaching upwards of $250.
While composites struggled to take off at first in The Show, a few companies’ sticks have found a cult following. Jonathan Bernier of the Maple Leafs uses a CCM branded composite while Bauer goalie such as Jaroslav Halak and Victor Fasth have found home in the TotalOne NXG stick.
Hybrid: Up until recently, this category was non-existent. The choice between foam core and composite was as black and white, but as goalies began to fall in love with the light composites, they also began to miss the durability offered by foam cores. As a result the hybrid stick was born.
Featuring a composite shaft and foam core paddle, the hybrid construction takes the best of both worlds. Most impacts to a stick are taken off the paddle, and thus the foam core construction works as promised. At the shaft, the traditional wood construction is replaced by a composite shaft, significantly reducing the overall weight of the stick.
Priced in the realm of the high-end foam cores, hybrids seem to be a fantastic choice for goalies looking for a lighter stick with improved durability. The only downside of the hybrid construction I have found is by replacing the heavier wood shaft with a lighter composite, it throws off the overall balance of the stick, resulting in a blade-heavy feel.
Recently companies have been on the case to fix this, with CCM introducing a new thinner paddle to compensate for the lost weight in the shaft.
As promised, I will share my thoughts. While a full composite stick sounds appealing, I continue to hold faithful to the foam core construction, as the heavier weight I feel prevents me from holding my stick up while in my stance. Additionally, the reduced vibrations upon impact in the foam core is truly a marvel that I won’t soon take for granted.
Composite, Foam core, Wood, or hybrid? What’s your preference and why? Be sure to leave your comments below!