WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE WOODEN ICE HOCKEY STICK?

Technology has had a profound impact on the sporting world and it is the reason for the sudden disappearance of the wooden ice hockey stick.

Over the last decade, there have been large advances in the technology of the ice hockey stick. Material, manufacturing and structural advances in composites have allowed manufacturers to create an ice hockey stick that combines the properties of wood and aluminium to improve performance. However, as with anything, there is still room for improvement.

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Figure 1: The Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia, Canada making ice hockey sticks in the late 19th century.

The Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia, Canada are said to be the inventors of the ice hockey stick and may have been playing ice hockey as early as the 18th century. They carved their sticks from ironwood and recently, one of their ice hockey sticks from the 1850s was appraised  and sold for US$2.2 million. As ironwood supplies diminished in the 1920s, ash became the preferred material. In the 1940s, a more flexible and durable laminated ice hockey stick was created in which layers of wood were glued together. In the 1960s, companies added an additional synthetic compound as a coating to further increase the durability of the stick and players began curving the blade to improve shot performance.  Aluminium sticks became very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thus challenging the traditional wooden stick.

Video – Discovery Channel Compares the Wooden Hockey Stick with the Composite Hockey Stick

The advent of composite technologies has revolutionized many sports, ice hockey was no exception — many of the old designs have been swept away in a wave of carbon, fiberglass and kevlar. Using a combination of materials results in performance improvements because of the stick’s decreased mass and increased durability. Although these sticks are more expensive and have a limited effect on the performance of non-professional ice hockey players, most players have switched over to them, regardless of age or skill level. Currently, less than 10 NHL players (<2%) use a wooden ice hockey stick, and the numbers in minor ice hockey are even lower. One key issue is that of durability and an up-and-coming company, COLT Hockey, appears to have found a solution: nano-materials. COLT Hockey says that their sticks are 50% stronger than elite composites and, given their recently successful kickstarter campaign, their innovation could be the next big advance in ice hockey stick design.  

Video – The COLT: Engineering A Better Ice Hockey Stick

Despite these advances, there will always be an opportunity for improvement, no matter how developed a sport and its equipment may be. How long will it be until we are asking, “what ever happened to the composite ice hockey stick?”

References:

Cutherbertson, B. (2005). The Starr Manufacturing Company: Skate Exporter to the World. Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, 8, 50-65.

Ernst, M.E. (2014). Composite Technology and the Hockey Stick Revolution. Illumin, 15(1).

Laliberte, D.J. (2009). Biomechanics of ice hockey slap shots: which stick is best? The Sport Journal 12.1. Academic OneFile. Web: 30 January 2014.

N.A. “COMPANIES DEFEND NEW-AGE HOCKEY STICKS; BREAKAGE SEEN DURING NHL PLAYOFFS GIVES FALSE IMPRESSION, EASTON VICE-PRESIDENT SAYS.” Record, The (Kitchener/Cambridge/Waterloo, ON) n.d.: Newspaper Source Plus. Web: 30 January 2014.

About the Author:

GradAndrew Chapman is a Canadian student who is currently working towards completing an MSc in Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom. He previously completed a BSc in Kinesiology at Laurentian University in Canada. He is an avid sports enthusiast who has an interest in sports technology and innovation. Andrew puts high importance towards continued education and research, with the mindset that there is always more to learn and something that can be improved. He has a background in baseball and tennis research, in which he focused on performance improvements and injury reduction. He enjoys playing all sports and is always eager to join in on a game with friends and/or volunteer his time towards helping others on and off the sports field.

Feel free to contact Andrew Chapman if you have any questions at andrew.m.chapman9@gmail.com, or visit his LinkedIn page for more information about his academic and professional experience.

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