If you are already into your new season or about to get started, you are probably thinking it’s time for a new stick. If so, will you choose wood or composite?
Deciding on wood vs. composite hockey sticks can be confusing for beginners, so keep reading for a little help understanding the difference.
The primary differences are that composite sticks are lighter, more expensive, and break easier but they offer generally better performance over wood sticks. So you’ll have to decide if the improvement in performance is worth the extra initial cost and the need to replace them more often.
My two favorite sports, baseball and hockey, seem to be opposites in many ways, but they do share one very important and personal component that sets them apart from other team sports. In both, the player gets to choose their most important piece of equipment.
As a kid, every new hockey season would find me at the stick racks with all the new models. It was almost ceremonial the way I would take each stick and puck handle along the linoleum floor while visualizing the dazzling goal I would score. While my ability never lived up to the potential of any of those sticks, the selection process was always great fun.
Over the decades, the essence of the hockey stick has changed along with technology. When I first laced on skates as a kid, to play on my local pond, the choices were pretty simple. All sticks were wood and all blades were straight. The only real choice you had back then was brand name and whether your stick would be autographed by Bobby Orr or some other hockey hero.
In the late 50’s and the 1960s manufacturers started to cover their wood stick with a fiberglass wrapping to increase “strength” and blades even started to be curved, with initial mixed reviews and ultimately some restrictions. In the 1970s fiberglass sticks, being lighter, became popular. But wooden sticks were still being used by many players at all levels of hockey.
By the 1990s, when my daughter first wound pink tape over the blade of her goalie stick, there were choices in curvature and even in composition, but my daughter’s sticks were always wood. I don’t recall the kind of stick that Manon Rheaume used, but I’m sure that her choice played into my daughter’s selection, as well.
In the 2000s a player could really only choose between the one-piece composite stick and the “wood” stick that had become a mixture of wood, fiberglass, and foam.
By 2010 the “one-piece” composite stick had taken over hockey at all levels except perhaps the NHL where many players stuck with “wood” as it was the kind of stick they grew up with.
Today most NHLers are using composite and only a very few goalies seem to be making stick saves with wood. Even longtime hold-out Eric Lundquist switched over to composite last year.
Twenty-four NHL goalies currently use composite sticks.
Composite sticks are essentially an industry generalization that includes sticks made with graphite, kevlar and even entirely titanium.
Regardless of skill level, the selection process will always be a very personal decision.
Choosing Between A Wood And Composite Stick
So, which stick is right for you?
While composite sticks are currently most popular, keep in mind that fiberglass sticks were all the rage in the ’90s but were soon obsolete. Wood sticks can still be the right choice for you.
The biggest difference between wood and composite is weight. Composite sticks are just noticeably lighter. New composite sticks weigh less than 1.4 pounds compared to the old wooden models that can be 2 or 3 times heavier. That weight difference can increase fatigue during a long shift on the ice. Conditioning, however, might be able to offset that potential.
As of this writing, there are only five NHL goalies that are sticking with wood and who seem to think that they can control and absorb shots better with their current sticks than with composite blades and that may certainly be true for those individual players.
Those players that have switched to composite have stated that the inconsistencies in the foam-core “wood” sticks as another reason for their move to composite. Quite simply, manufacturers working with natural materials such as wood, cannot possibly make every stick feel and react the exact same way during play. The downsides to composite are basically durability, “feel,” and cost. Let’s address each of these issues.
Composite sticks break more often than wood. Ok true, but manufacturers are making them more durable each year.
The good thing is that many composite stick manufacturers are offering warranty replacements on sticks that break in the normal course of play within a certain time period. That may help offset the cost of replacing them more often.
However, be aware that there is no guarantee that you’ll get a new stick every time depending on how the break happens.
“Feel” is a subjective qualifier that players use when describing the way in which their stick receives and releases the puck. “Old school” thought has always been that beginners should start with wood to develop this element of “feel”. But composite stick manufacturers are making headway in addressing the “Feel” issue by altering the blends of carbon fiber and adding dampening materials to reduce shock and vibration. It seems that most of the “feel” issues are ultimately very subjective and I would discount this issue as insignificant.
That leaves cost and which is a significant issue for most people unless you’re a professional. Let’s assume, that you’re not playing in the NHL and you’re just looking for a good stick or two to get you through the season.
Which One Should You Choose?
The case for wooden sticks is simple. They last a long time and they cost way less than composites. Players who have been using wooden sticks for any length of time will often swear that the “feel” they get for the puck can’t be duplicated by any composite stick. While I don’t necessarily agree with the “feel” position, I can’t discount it either.
Finally, kids tend to grow. Sticks don’t. I know every kid and most adults, will want to hit the ice with the same stick their hero skates within the NHL, but if you’re going to be buying new sticks every year or so, the cost may be the ultimate factor. Wood never slowed down Bobby Orr.