We live for and talk about hockey equipment here every day. Over the holiday break, I thought that it might be interesting to take a look back at hockey equipment in 2013 – what was released, what we liked, what we didn’t, what the pros were wearing and so on. It’s time for “the year in gear!”
There were some big movements in skates and sticks in 2013, as well as a couple of pretty good trends in helmets and protective gear. Three manufacturers had major stick and skate releases this year and all of them made some significant improvements to their products.
Every day it seems to be getting more difficult to find the perfect composite stick. With so many colors, patterns, features and new technologies to choose from, the process can get confusing quickly. Some questions we found customers asking us were “How do I know what features are important to me?” and “Which stick is going to help me improve my game?” as well as “What am I really getting in exchange for putting down all this cash?”.
We reviewed these questions as a team, and one day this past summer we sat down and attempted to cut through the bologna by creating a stick that had apparent and obvious answers to those questions. We determined that there were three crucial components which contribute to a quality composite hockey stick; weight, durability and puck control/feel. Now that we had these crucial components down, it was time to design something that satisfied each appropriately.
The following is an opinion piece. No research studies were conducted, it is my opinion and I’m just a player who has spent his life in the game and around the gear industry.
There’s a lot of talk about in sports in general nowadays about head injuries and it seems there are many more concussions being reported. In my opinion, it’s a product of a few things. First and foremost, what we know and understand about head injuries in general. The medical community has shown the severity and consequences of concussions, leading players and coaches to take them a lot more seriously and make decisions with far more caution. Gone are the days of getting hit, sniffing the smelling salts and jumping back out for your next shift. This is for good reason – coaches, parents and players are beginning to make smarter decisions regarding concussions.
There are obviously more concussions being diagnosed today, partially because fewer concussions are being ignored and part because there are more occurring. I don’t believe that there used to be fewer and now there are a ton. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m going to totally make up some numbers here, but hey, that’s the beauty of blogs – I get to voice my opinion! If there were 100 concussions that occurred back in the day, I’d guess 30-40% were reported and diagnosed. Today there’s more concussions happening and I’d guess 75-80% of them are reported. To the naked eye, it seems like there’s 3 times as many concussions happening, but I don’t believe it’s as huge as it seems.
In my own opinion, one of the problems is the advances in equipment. There have been some amazing, great advances in protective hockey equipment that have elevated the game. It’s a faster game, players are bigger (see: John Scott, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Myers), they hit harder, skate faster and shoot harder. Players are much more protected than in the days of leather elbow pads, tiny shoulder pads and no helmets, which is great!
The flip side of that coin is that the players are much more protected, which might be a bad thing! The protection level of modern day equipment gives many players a sense of invincibility. The attitude becomes “it doesn’t hurt me, it must not hurt him.” I say this because I believe in my heart of hearts, most hockey players have enough respect for the game and opponents that they don’t look to intentionally injure another player.
More than anything, we are hockey players too. If you’ve ever shopped in one of our stores or on our website, we know it can be pretty overwhelming to see the myriad options for hockey sticks. Even we will admit it’s kind of ridiculous sometimes. Even the sticks at the elite level (let’s call it $230 or above), there’s 10-12 different options between brands. How the heck do you make sense of it all?
Oh, you could read all the marketing material that the vendors produce. Sometimes it all sounds the same, though, doesn’t it? I mean, how many times have you heard that THIS is the stick that will increase your velocity? Or make your stickhandling somehow improve magically? Does Patrick Kane’s fancy stickhandling give you ANY sense of how that stick feels in your own hands? Does Claude Giroux’s ability to shoot pucks into a bucket give you a better sense of your own accuracy? Does Pavel Datsyuk’s ridiculous puck control ability convince you that Reebok is just the stick for you? We’d argue no. No way.
Technical specs and product descriptions are certainly a piece of the puzzle, but really what matters is this: how does the stick feel in your hands? Does the puck go where you want it to go when you shoot it? Does it flex the way you’d like it to? Those are really and truly what should influence your buying decisions. Not pretty pictures or viral videos.
With that in mind, we got it into our heads a while back that we should ask the vendors (Bauer, Reebok, CCM, Easton, Warrior and Sher-Wood) to send us some of their elite sticks – with no markings whatsoever. We were a little nervous to ask because we knew the first question they would ask — WHY. Sure enough, almost all of them asked it. The only two who didn’t ask us why was Warrior and Sher-Wood – they sent us blacked-out sticks right away, no questions asked. Pat on the back for them!
Bauer and Easton asked why and we told them our plan. They immediately sent us the sticks. Much appreciated.
CCM/Reebok declined,. Now, to be fair, we can’t really black out a Ribcor because of the ribs on the shaft – anyone is going to look at those and know its a Ribcor. We would have liked a 20K, but Reebok declined. Since they are the same company as CCM, we were also told not to expect any blacked-out RBZ’s either. No real reason given. Easton – same thing.
But we really wanted blacked out Easton and CCM sticks, no real stick test can occur without those two heavyweights involved. So we went to the local hardware store and purchased some matte black spray paint and just spray painted them. We weighed both sticks prior to and after painting and surprisingly there was no difference in weight. Voila! We had our five latest, elite level sticks, all blacked out. The list:
Note: we had to eliminate the V9E due to the elliptical shaft – again, too easy to spot the difference there and we wanted this to be as anonymous as possible.
Armed with 5 sticks of relatively equal specs – flexes in the mid-80s, all roughly the same as the most popular curve (Kane) and cut to the same height, we set out to do some TRUE testing. In our initial set of sessions, we grabbed five players from Southern New Hampshire University’s men’s team and two of our store managers (Danvers MA and Nashua NH). In our second set of sessions, we gave the sticks to the Boston Junior Bruins. We interviewed each player before each session and asked them what stick they currently use and why – then we sent them on the ice with their blacked-out beauties for some shooting. Afterward, we interviewed them again about which one they liked the best.
This is the Pure Hockey Stick Challenge. We hope you enjoy it. We sure did. We’ll be releasing a series of videos in the coming weeks and months detailing each player, their session and their choices.
Then we’ll really see which stick(s) resonate with players.
We hope you enjoy it! Here’s video #1, with Nashua NH store manager Rick Stuart.