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The first classification of hockey sticks comes from their construction, which will be either wood or composite.
Until the latter half of the 1990s, all hockey sticks were made of wood with variable mixes of materials applied as reinforcement to define the playing characteristics and, of course, price. Fast forward to the present day and it is rare to find a wooden stick in use in senior hockey above a low level of the game, although in junior hockey (specifically as a result of product cost requirements) and indoor hockey (performance requirements) wood is still the dominant construction method.
Composite sticks first appeared in the mainstream when their use was permitted (initially as an ‘experimental’ law) around the mid 1990s. Prior to this an array of prototypes had been seen, but had not featured as such on the pitch. The initial reaction from the market was mixed, mainly due to the lack of feel on the ball, overly harsh levels of vibration and stiffness and often poor shapes and balances of sticks. Some early sticks were also significantly more expensive than top-end wooden ones. However, the development process went into overdrive as hockey companies saw the chance to take the lead and sought to improve the sticks that they brought to market in association with initially a very small number of ‘source’ factories. The ‘experimental’ nature of the rule governing the use of such sticks was soon lifted and full acceptance was granted and this, coupled with fast paced development and improvement of the sticks being brought to market (strongly marketed in certain quarters) fuelled the revolution and sales of composite sticks quickly overtook those of wood in the senior outdoor category. The principle benefits promoted for this type of stick were improved power, which would have been more accurately described as ‘more consistent’ due to a greater ‘sweet-spot’, enhanced durability and the fact that the weight and balance of sticks was more consistent due to the moulding process by which composites are made over the handmade method used to make a wooden stick. Today senior outdoor sticks in circulation are almost exclusively composite and improved construction methods, product presentation and assorted attempts to innovate with different shapes and features continue to improve much of the product available as well as tempt players to spend more on their new stick.
For a short while in the early ‘90s aluminium shafted sticks with wooden heads were also available, but these were outlawed around the time that composite sticks gained full acceptance on safety grounds.
Beyond the construction method, sticks are categorised by their intended use:
Outdoor sticks come in two main variants, senior and junior. The obvious difference between the two is the size and weight, but they will also differ in terms of mix of materials used in the construction, the features and the shape (more variation is offered for senior sticks)
Goalkeeper sticks are easily identifiable due to their strange shapes! Collectively this can be described as a kink in the shaft which concentrates area in saving areas depending on whether the stick is used on the forehand (open stick side) or backhand (reverse stick). The position and angle of the kind/bend in the shaft will vary from model to model, along with the size and shape of the head. Historically the requirement for a goalkeeper’s stick was to be as light as possible to assist manoeuvrability, but latterly there is a growing demand (particularly at the top level) for sticks to be heavier, providing a stronger barrier against an increased number (and speed) of lifted shots on goal.