Composite sticks giving hockey the shaft

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Here's the scenario: It's overtime in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final and the defensive faceoff man's hockey stick snaps.

The attacking team gains possession of the puck, spots a scoring chance around the stickless opponent and scores to win it all.

Not as the result of strategic brilliance. Not through exceptional individual effort. Mainly as the result of a broken stick.

Given the frequency with which composite sticks have been exploding during the playoffs, it's not out of the question. Games already have been decided as the result of a broken stick.

The broken stick has turned a blazing shot into a dribbler and a key faceoff into a disadvantage, and has even been stepped on to negate a breakout.

Here's one example of how the broken cue can dictate not only the outcome of a game but possibly a series: Montreal's Sheldon Souray broke his stick and forward Radek Bonk handed him his, as hockey tactics dictate.

Bonk couldn't defend against Carolina's Eric Staal and it led to the overtime goal that got Carolina, down two games to none, back into a series it eventually won.

Sure, wooden sticks break too, but not as readily as the composite graphite models the majority of players use today. All it takes is a nick in the shaft and it will explode next time the shooter unloads.

One wonders why the National Hockey League, as Major League Baseball does with bats, doesn't mandate wooden sticks or demand more dependability from the manufacturers of graphite models.

En route to the Memorial Cup last year, the London Knights used more than 1,200 sticks. With improvements, a different brand and, without Corey Perry around to smash about six dozen of his susceptible long ones, the Knights went through fewer than half that this term (even with Rob Schremp smashing his regularly after failed scoring chances).

While the Knights don't pay anywhere near the $250 apiece some sticks cost, it's still a major outlay for what at times can be a lot of frustration.

Especially for the fans. How many have watched one of their heroes winding up to send a laser beam into the back of the net only to see it turn into a weak flicker behind a disintegrating stick?

Knights equipment manager Chris Maton says most of London's players use what's called a 100-flex. Most flexible is used by Schremp at 77-flex, a whippiness almost unheard of in junior hockey.

Maton attributes the rash of broken sticks to new rules, which mean more shots and whacks on the shaft of opponents' sticks.

"All you need is a nick on the shaft and it creates a weak point," Maton said. "A player goes to shoot and it breaks at that point."

Players like them, though, because they can get a few more miles an hour into a shot and the light sticks are made to their liking.

Perhaps the NHL needs somebody like Wayne Gretzky, who played a long time with a heavy, stiff wooden stick before opting for a heavy composite one, to lead the charge toward more durable sticks.

As the playoffs continue, teams are sure to get some breaks. And broken sticks.

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