The Technology of a Hockey Stick
9 minute read · Issue Number 25 · July 17th, 2020
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Happy Friday, everyone!
I’ve been getting lots of positive feedback on the Halftime Snacks Podcast format!
Every Tuesday, I upload a short (20-min or less), information-dense episode that you can easily binge during any halftime.
On this week’s 5-minute snack, I talked about the current situation between Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, and a potential solution.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll explore the built-in properties, the mechanics, and the technology of a hockey stick. Our guiding questions will be:
How did hockey sticks evolve through time?
What are the main properties of a hockey stick?
What makes a great shot?
How do they impact performance?
Let’s get to it!
The Hockey Stick
Ice hockey can be traced back to the 19th century in North American and Europe. Today, the sport is most prevalent in Canada, the US, Russia, and the Nordics.
There are professional ice hockey federations in 76 countries.
Like most modern sports, ice hockey has become quite sophisticated in terms of technological innovations, equipment design, and performance enhancement.
A unique element of the ice hockey equipment is the stick. Players use the stick for different in-game skills, such as passing, shooting, dribbling, and receiving the puck.
Materials & Manufacture
Originally, hockey sticks were made from different hardwoods, such as cork elm, birch, or aspen, as those were durable materials. However, those materials were heavy and stiff (non-flexible).
Furthermore, the limited manufacturing technologies caused multiple issues in the production and durability of sticks in the late 19th century. For example, manufacturers used antique steaming and clamping methodologies to form the shape of the hockey stick, which then was easily reverted to an unbent form by wet and warm conditions.
To prevent this, players used to wrap their sticks with tape, but such efforts were not so useful, as sticks lost their shape quite quickly.
By 1920, ash became the better element to produce hockey sticks due to its lightness and flexibility.
Then, by the 1960s, hockey sticks manufacturers began using non-wood materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, aramid, and aluminum. Those materials were superior to wood in terms of mass and flexibility.
In the mid-1990s, manufacturers combined various materials to make better hockey sticks. While this was a more costly alternative, it was a highly superior alternative to any single-material stick.
Today, the most popular techniques of hockey sticks manufacturing are resin transfer molding, pre-impregnated, full-wrap construction, and “sandwich” structures.
Properties of a Hockey Stick
The main construction features of a stick are the following:
Shaft: the long handle of the stick. It’s rigid but slightly elastic to provide a shot impulse;
Hosel: what unifies the shaft and the blade;
Blade: the flat, laterally curved element of the base, divided in 2 (Heel and Toe)
Stick dimensions can vary widely, as they aim to suit a particular player’s size and preference.
Like any other sport, there are regulations and limitations to what the lengths, widths, and curvatures of the sticks can be. Nevertheless, small changes in the properties may have an impact on in-game performance.
Longer sticks enable harder shots;
Shorter sticks enable better manipulation and puck control;
An extreme curvature in the blade gives more control and allows a more efficient shooting accuracy due to lift and spin capabilities. Still, the curve will compromise the efficiency of the same skills using the backside of the blade.
The three most essential skills that hockey scouts are looking for, both for defensive and offensive players are shooting, puck control, and passing. Given that those three attributes are all linked to how well can a hockey player handle the stick, scouts make tons of performance testing to evaluate the level and quality of the athletes.
During any typical hockey game situation, there’s a variety of shots that players make (slap, wrist, snap, backhand, and sweep). The type of shot that the player will make depends on the specific position of the athlete’s body at the shooting moment.
Each shot differentiates from each other in terms of shot velocity and accuracy. For example, the slap shot is the shot with the highest velocity on average (80-160 km/h) compared to the wrist shot (60-160 km/h). However, the wrist shot is more accurate than the slap shot.
To achieve high shot speed, the player must swing the stick as fast as possible. There are 6 phases to a stick swing:
Preloading (or stick bending);
The last three phases are the most critical for performance and accuracy.
The following diagram shows the swing of a slap shot from an NHL player at 1000 frames per second. Here you can get a clear picture of the six phases of the swing.
Sports researchers conducted different studies to compare swings between professional hockey players to recreational players, and most of the results found that the skilled players take maximal advantage of the stick’s properties and exhibit the best outcomes.
In other words, it is primarily the player’s technique and strength, not stick composition, that most influences the bend, accuracy, and speed of a shot, which then translates to the quality of the shot taken by the player.
Technology in Sports Objects
While the composition and usage of different materials may improve the quality of an object used in a sport, we can learn that in the case of hockey sticks, the combination of various materials and modern manufacturing techniques might offer the most efficient solutions for objects used during the games.
The improvements made to objects used in sports (such as the hockey stick), allow the players to practice and reach their potential faster and better. Simultaneously, these tech-improvements increase the quality of the players, and hence, the quality of the game.
Could this be applied across multiple disciplines? Is this a rule for all objects used in sports? Does it mean that technology will uncover “lack-of-skill” with the newest innovations? Will technology mark the entry barrier to professional sports in the future?
I’d be delighted to hear your opinion.
Ice Hockey exists since the 19th century;
Players use the hockey stick for in-game skills such as shooting, passing, and dribbling;
Originally, sticks were from hardwood such as elm, birch or aspen;
Improvements on the sticks were made with new, lighter and more flexible materials, and with modern manufacturing techniques;
A hockey stick consists of a blade, a shaft, and a hosel;
Different measurements provide different capabilities but compromise others;
The most relevant skills of a player are shot-speed, puck control, and passing;
Slap, wrist, snap, backhand, and sweep are the different types of shots;
The kind of shot depends on the specific position and movement of the player while executing the shot;
Some shots carry higher speed; others carry higher accuracy;
The higher the swing speed, the higher the shot speed;
The better the technology, the easier it is for a player to use his skills;
Tech improvements increase the quality of the players and the game.
Until next week,
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