The Hockey Stick Sham

Ryan LengCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2008

I have a tradition (or something of that ilk) of buying my father a new hockey stick every Christmas. For the past two years, I have splurged on one-piece, composite sticks, each running me well over $100. Nevertheless, my father broke each within the year. One on a shot, and one on a face-off. So it comes as no surprise that my Christmas dray has no hockey stick on it for Dad.

Before I continue, allow me to mention a few biographical details: The curtain was already closing on my competitive career when these composite sticks became popular. During that career, I used both wood and aluminum sticks with wooden blades. I did try a composite once. But like sex with condoms, I never liked the feel much, and my overall satisfaction was diminished. Moreover, the stick was so light that there was no way in pluperfect hell I was going to hurt anyone with it: Which, since I was a paltry 5'6" (and so I remain), hurting my six-foot foes was an integral part of my game. So I threw that new-fangled composite over my shoulder and kept my wood sticks.

Back to shopping... Yesterday, I went to a hockey store for my yearly purchase. There were only 15 wooden sticks there (I counted), and about 500 composites. Now, my father did like the composites I bought him, despite their short lifespan. Consequently, I figured he’d want another one. I found one with the kind of curve and lie that my father likes. Plus, it was a Henrik Zetterberg model, and my father is his biggest fan. (Of course, whether Zetterberg actually uses this model remains lost in the fog of corporate travesty.) Unfortunately, the price on this model was a whopping $220.

Most of the sticks I used to buy always had "Fabrique au Canada (Made in Canada)" painted onto the stick. However, as I scrutinized the Zetterberg stick, I saw "Made in China" printed on the sticker (Notice that it was on the sticker, which you discard, as opposed to the stick itself.). Furthermore, many of the other composites had "Made in Mexico" on their tags. Suddenly, I was filled with a deep rage, which has yet to subside.

Although neither culture has done much else to embrace the sport, I don't mean to disparage the good Mexicans and Chinese who made these overpriced twigs. My anger has nothing to do with where the things are made. So don't even start with the jingoism rap.

"So what's with the unchecked aggression, here?" you ask. It is because, whenever I bought a stick with "Fabrique au Canada" on it, I assumed some Canadian was making a decent wage because of it. I would spend $20 on a piece of lumber and fiberglass but never lose any sleep over buying it.

Not so anymore. Anymore, I get the sense I'm paying a buttload of money to an increasingly consolidated group of CEOs and investors. Get a load of this:

Around twelve years ago, the shoe giant, Nike, bought out the hockey pad company, Bauer, and dispensed with the hockey brand, Cooper (Nike has recently sold Bauer for about half what they paid for it. For more, go here.) I remember my adolescent teammates and I drooled over Nike equipment for a few months, until sweat and mould replaced the sexiness of our new pads. In our needy little minds, though, it had to be Nike.

In 2004, another shoe giant, Reebok, purchased hockey brands CCM (Canadian Cycle and Motor), Jofa, and Koho. Since they have taken over, it seems these companies can't go a year without overhauling their skate, pad and stick designs. Granted, there have been some new technologies, but certainly not enough to justify such efforts. More likely, all that redesigning is simply a ploy to sell more products.

So what justifies such high prices? One might argue that the cost of the graphite and Kevlar for these one-piece sticks drives up the cost of making them. I suppose it is true that graphite and Kevlar are more costly than ash and fiberglass. However, some graphite sticks go for as low as $60. Moreover, I am reminded that pencils use graphite, not lead. And pencils are some of the cheapest items around.

Or perhaps it is the Kevlar that makes these sticks expensive. I have no clue how much it costs to make Kevlar. When my hockey stick will have to block bullets, I can only guess, but Kevlar regularly fails to keep the stick together when it comes to shooting a puck.  

Maybe the initial investment in the new machinery and stick factories keeps the prices ridiculous. (I'm trying to be fair here, aren't I?) But after ten years of production, I find it hard to believe that these corporations are still paying for these machines. The reality is is that the head honchos of Nike, Reebok, and Easton are laughing all the way to their Swiss banks.

So before I haul off and fly to a stick factory in Mexico just to pay someone $30 to run a stick off the line for me, so he can take home double what he makes in a week, here's the point, kids:

Hockey is already an expensive sport to play, what with the cost of ice time and liability concerns (read: a bunch of other crap that you won't understand until you're older). Just know that the price to play is by far the biggest barrier for kids around the world, and the increasing price of equipment can only hurt the game. And then remember that all the money and technology in the world will never make you as good as Sidney Crosby or Henrik Zetterberg.

The point for all the professionals that get paid to use this stuff.... Before your next game, consider all the needy kids who idolize you, and then squeeze hundreds of dollars out of their parents for the "latest and greatest" in stick technology.

And now for something completely different....

The stick that gave me the wickedest wrist shot of my life:

Sher-Wood PMP Paul Coffey pattern (and thank God they still make it! And in Canada, too.)—I used it for three years until it fell apart. I remember I liked it when the wood came unglued from the fiberglass. The blade had more give then, and I could control the puck better.

The stick that gave me the hardest slap shot of my life:

Easton T-Flex 95 Aluminum with a wooden Steve Yzerman blade—When I was fourteen-years-old, I clocked an 81 mph slap shot with that stick. An honorary "most vicious slash" award also goes to this stick. I always got my two minutes worth with the T-Flex, may it rest in peace.

(very awesome photo by Melanie Scott of Toronto) 


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