When you hold a hockey stick straight out in front of you, you’ll see the blade is curved to the left or to the right. Since you want the concave part of the blade facing forward, the direction of the curve determines whether the stick should be held to the left or right side of your body. “Left-handed” shooters put their right hand at the top of the stick, which is held pointing to the left. “Right-handed” shooters do the opposite.
Anyone who watches the NHL regularly will note that most players shoot lefty. In fact, during the 2018-19 season, 65% of players shot lefty, even though just 10% of the population is actually left-hand-dominant (meaning that they write and throw with their left). Interestingly, there is a cultural divide between Canadians and Americans in pro hockey: Canadian players overwhelmingly play lefty, while Americans are pretty evenly divided between lefties and righties.
These facts raise two questions: is there an advantage to playing left-handed? And how do you determine whether you should play lefty or righty?
There are four schools of thought on these issues:
1. The dominant hand should go at the top of the hockey stick.
By far the most common opinion is that your dominant hand should be at the top of the stick. This means that a right-hand-dominant person should shoot left-handed in hockey. Since you have the most strength and dexterity in your dominant hand, the argument goes, placing that hand at the top of the stick gives you more control during stickhandling and shooting. Also, when you are playing with just one hand on the stick—for instance, while trying to hold off a defender—you’ve got your stronger hand maintaining control of the puck.
While this idea makes a lot of sense, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. In fact, among the top 25 goal scorers in NHL history, 15 are right-handed shooters, but only two—Brett Hull and Jari Kurri—are naturally left-hand-dominant. On the other hand, the fact that Canadians—who know a thing or two about the sport—believe that right-hand-dominant people should play left-handed makes it a strong recommendation.
2. The dominant hand should go lower on the stick.
A less common belief—but one with many adherents—is that having your dominant hand lower on the stick helps you to generate a more powerful shot. Some players even feel that the dominant-hand-on-bottom method gives you more control. Quoted in the Toronto Star, Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy argued, “You do everything with your bottom hand. You stickhandle with your bottom hand. The top hand just guides it.” This, of course, contradicts the more conventional wisdom above, but it has obviously served McAvoy well enough to get him to the pros.
3. You should do whatever is comfortable for you.
Many hockey coaches believe you shouldn’t over-think the left-handed versus right-handed question, and simply go with what feels the most comfortable. This is especially true for youngsters just starting out. “I think you should allow a kid to pick up a stick on their own, and whichever way they use it naturally is how they should proceed,” says David A. Jensen, a former Olympian, NHL player, and owner of DAJ Hockey school in Massachusetts. “I’ve seen many Hall of Fame players shoot from both sides, regardless of their dominant hand.”
4. Let circumstance be your guide.
There are other reasons hockey players end up as lefties or righties. For some, it was determined by the first stick they used, which might have been handed down from an older sibling. For others, it was a desire to be like their heroes, such as Wayne Gretzky (lefty) or Alex Ovechkin (righty). While most players have already established how they hold their stick by the time they choose a position, some players might choose to hold the stick a certain way to gain an advantage while playing a particular position. For instance, a right defenseman who shoots righty finds it easier to control a puck rimmed along the boards.
The Broom Test
If you’re looking for a simple method to decide which way to hold a hockey stick, the classic “broom test” seems as good as any. Hand the player a broom, without explaining why, and ask them to start sweeping. How they naturally hold the broom will be the way that feels most comfortable and makes them feel in control. That’s a good place to start. If they sweep with their right hand at the top of the broom, start them out with a lefty stick, and vice versa.
There is no single, agreed-upon method for determining which way a new hockey player should hold the stick. It’s hard to argue with any of the approaches above because you can point to NHL stars who are examples of each. Plus, you can find coaches and players who argue vociferously that their preferred approach is the best one, and they can’t all be right. However, if any one of the four schools of thought clearly makes the most sense to you, go with it.