Silver Anniversary: Five Years of Composite Sticks in the NHL

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Silver Anniversary: Five Years of Composite Sticks in the NHL

Icon Sports MediaWithout a doubt, the biggest innovation in hockey technology of the last 20 years is the composite stick.

Five years after they first were popularized in the NHL, it's safe to say the new sticks are here to stay.

Easton first offered its Synergy composite model in 2001, to little fanfare. The first NHLers to wield the sticks were then New Jersey Devil Scott Gomez, who used the Synergy, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker using the TPS Response model, aside from them, maybe 15 other NHLers used them. Hockey pundits panned the new stick as too stiff, too difficult to control, and too expensive to be viable.

Then came "The Shot."

April 13th, 2001. The Corel Centre in Kanata, Ontario. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Ottawa Senators, Game One of the opening round of the 2000-2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The score was 0-0 going into overtime.

And then it happened.

After breaking up a Senators rush, the Leafs' Bryan McCabe threw the puck up the left-side boards to Steve Thomas, who was closely flanked by captain Mats Sundin. Sundin half-turned to the bench. Thomas yelled to his captain to expect the pass, then dropped the puck just inside the blue line and drew two Ottawa defenders as he went to the net.

After two fake windups, Sundin let it go from 47 feet out on the left side.

All anyone saw or heard was a clang followed immediately by the goal light.

The zoom-in on the ensuing celebration showed Sundin with a curious silver stick—sparkling like a divine scepter handed down from the Hockey Gods to strike fear in the hearts of the opposition.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the composite stick.

The hockey world was abuzz. Even frame-by-frame replays couldn't show the puck as anything more then an elongated black blur.

Sundin gave all the credit to his new stick.

And the rest is history.

The basic principle behind the composites is to modify two elements of the stick: the shaft shape and the materials used.

The modification to the shaft is surprisingly simple—taper the sides midway through the shaft so it's narrower towards the blade, thereby lowering the "kick point," or the point at which the shaft flexes during a shot.

This change enhances the force at the "release point," or the point where the shaft snaps back into place during a shot. Think of a driver in golf.

As far as construction—most one-piece composites consist of a kevlar/carbon blade fused to a graphite shaft in a high-heat, high-pressure compression oven. This makes for a stiffer blade and livelier shots.

Because of the materials, composite sticks are feather-light. The Nike Bauer Vapor XXX Lite and the Easton Stealth both check in at about 390 grams.

As a point of reference, a box of macaroni and cheese weighs 225 grams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs embraced the new technology the season after Sundin's goal, with 15 of their 20 skaters using the new sticks—most in the league. The team with the second most users, unsurprisingly, was the Ottawa Senators.

The most common remark among new composite users?

"I knocked them 'til I tried one."

The composite's status was cemented when the 2002 Canadian Olympic team brandished the new sticks en route to a gold medal. The popularity, however, did come at a price.

Demand spiked so severely in early 2002 that the four composite manufacturers—Easton, Louisville TPS, Bauer (now Nike Bauer), and CCM—scrambled to keep up. With backorders stretching on for months, many NHL players resorted to buying the sticks in local sports shops and online thru eBay, often at inflated prices.

But with the increased output came the breakages.

There were countless clips of composite sticks breaking at inopportune times—during shots, after hits, even while sending or receiving passes. Critics called them "garbage," and went so far as to call for their removal from the game.

The demand stayed strong, though, and in time the producers caught up. As it stands there's only a small and steadily shrinking contingent of NHL players—Jason Spezza and Sidney Crosby among them—who haven't adopted the technology.

Composite sticks dominate the junior and college leagues, and are becoming more and more commonplace in minor league play and adult rec leagues. There are nearly 100 models offered by the original four suppliers, as well as new companies like Warrior, RBK, Ballistik, Montreal, and Salming.

With the increased velocity on shots and passes contributing to an overall speed increase in the game, it appears that the sticks have made themselves as much a part of hockey as overpriced tickets, Original-Six rivalries, and drunken Flyers fans.

It's safe to say that the term "one-piece composite fad" can be retired.

Welcome to the One-Piece Composite Era.

For the Bleacher Report, I'm Andrew Castaneda.

With files from www.cbc.ca, Wikipedia, and Sports Illustrated.

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