The history of hockey sticks goes as far as the origin of hockey itself. It’s believed that the Mi’kmaq tribe of Native Americans situated around Nova Scotia made the first hockey stick when they concurrently invented ice hockey.
This happened back in the 1800s, and things have changed a lot since that time. In this article, we’re taking you through the origins of hockey sticks and how they evolved from a single piece of wood to multi-layered composite builds. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Table of Contents
- 1 The history of hockey sticks
- 2 The 1800s
- 3 The early 1900s
- 4 The mid-1900s: new innovations and technology
- 5 The 1970s and the 1980s
- 6 1990’s hockey sticks: the advent of aluminum sticks
- 7 1995: the first composite sticks blade was introduced
- 8 2001: Easton Synergy – One-Piece Composite
- 9 2021: Current ice hockey stick technology
- 10 Who are the leading manufacturers of hockey sticks?
- 11 Conclusion
The history of hockey sticks
Historians can’t determine the right date, time, and individuals involved in creating the game of hockey. They can agree that the Mi’kmaq tribe members played the game in the earlier half of the 19th century.
Mi’kmaq tribesmen also crafted the first hockey sticks, which remained one of the most unique and ever-evolving pieces of hockey equipment. From humble beginnings carved in wood to modern innovations caused by the advancements in technology, hockey sticks have a storied past.
While stick-and-ball games date back to pre-Christian times, it’s believed that the earliest mentions of hockey were made in the 1360s, referring to field hockey. The first mentions of ice hockey were made in the 1820s, and the game was played by both Europeans and the Mi’kmaq tribes of Nova Scotia.
In fact, it’s believed that the Mi’kmaq carvers made the very first ice hockey sticks out of single pieces of wood. They carved Birch and Hornbeam (referred to as the “ironwood”) trees to make the first hockey sticks. These sticks strongly resembled today’s field hockey sticks and featured straight blades.
As ice hockey spread across North America, maple became the wood of choice for hockey stick production. In the 1860s, Star Manufacturing Co. began to sell the Mic-Mac (or Mik-Mak) sticks all across North America. The maple stayed as the material of choice for the stick for decades to come.
The stick manufacturing process changed over time between the early 1800s and 1930s, and some modifications were introduced. The most notable improvements are laminated shafts, using different types of wood laminate to add longevity, and provide some modest flex.
The early 1900s
The Mi’kmaq were manufacturing the majority of ice hockey sticks until the 1930s when the process was industrialized. The sticks remained pretty much the same during that time, with one-piece wooden constructions and straight blades. At this time, the Hornbeam supplies were greatly diminished since they were an excellent material for most products besides hockey sticks.
By the 1920s, Hornbeam was replaced by Yellow Birch and Ash as the primary manufacturing material for the hockey sticks. Eventually, Ash would win over Birch thanks to the introduction of two-piece hockey sticks.
In the 1920s, Hespeler, the famous hockey stick company, introduced a two-piece build. The blades were separate and were inserted into a slotted shaft of the stick. This allowed for easier repairs in case of broken blades but somewhat increased the stick’s weight due to the build’s design and added adhesive.
Hespeler eventually filed a patent for their two-piece design and became known as the creators of two-piece hockey sticks. By the mid-1930s, most NHL players used two-piece or even three-piece hockey sticks.
Even with the new innovations, the blade shape didn’t change, and the blades remained straight. Still, it’s believed that the Ottawa Senators player, Cy Denneny, first curved his blade into a “banana blade” in 1927. Despite his innovation, the method didn’t gain any traction in this era, and the title of the curved-blade-inventor officially belongs to someone else.
The mid-1900s: new innovations and technology
Apart from the invention of two-piece designs, hockey sticks didn’t advance much from the 1920s to the 1950s. Things began to change with the introduction of fiberglass to the sport in the 1950s.
In the 1950s, hockey stick manufacturers like SherWood began using fiberglass to strengthen the blade and increase durability. By wrapping the blades in fiberglass, the manufacturers no longer needed the strength and durability of Ash wood and replaced it with lightweight Aspen wood.
The use of Aspen wood for blades reduced the hockey stick’s overall weight without sacrificing strength and durability. In the 1960s, the manufacturers began experimenting with fiberglass applications for hockey stick shaft manufacturing. They aimed for increased strength and reduced weight of the shaft and reduced manufacturing costs.
Simultaneously, the Chicago Blackhawk great, Stan Mikita, broke the blade on his stick, leaving it curved. That would’ve gone unnoticed if he wasn’t intrigued by the power and velocity of the shot he made with a curved “banana” blade. As the story goes, this happened after practice, when Mikita took shots with his fellow teammate Bobby Hull.
Mikita and Bobby Hull experimented with curved blades by softening the material under hot water and bending them under door jams. The results allowed them to fire the puck off their blades with greater velocity. They started using curved blades in games, which increased their shooting performance drastically.
This started the curved blade craze, which rampaged until 1969-70. As the curving blades gained popularity, people began experimenting with more prominent curves on their blades. But as the shot velocities grew, the shot control was decreasing. This lead NHL to implement the rules limiting the curves of the blades to one inch and reduce it to ½-inch soon after.
Mikita and Hull scored 541 and 610 goals, respectively, during their careers, ensuring their admittance into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But the ’70s brought much more than just limitations to the curve. They brought SherWood P.M.P 5030, a legendary hockey stick made of laminated wood with a fiberglass-reinforced blade.
The 1970s and the 1980s
The ’70s and ’80s were full of innovations when it comes to hockey sticks. The first memorable thing was the SherWood P.M.P 5030, made of Aspen core with Birch lamination, with the Ash blade wrapped in impact-resistant fiberglass.
It ignited the ice hockey stick market and became one of the most popular products in the hockey stick history. It also revolutionized the stick manufacturing industry, and new stick shafts were made of Aspen wood core with reinforced fiberglass layering. This allowed the manufacturers to further reduce the weight of the stick without sacrificing durability.
In the 1980s, the first OPS aluminum sticks emerged under the Cricket and Baseball equipment industries’ influence. Unfortunately, the aluminum sticks didn’t get enough traction at the time. While they were significantly lighter and made in one-piece, they didn’t provide a good “feel,” significantly reducing the player’s control over the puck.
1990’s hockey sticks: the advent of aluminum sticks
We are right to assume that modern OPS sticks provide a better feel due to their one-piece construction. With no difference in the material density, the transfer of “feel” is much better on OPS sticks than two-piece designs. Well, when it comes to aluminum OPS sticks, this assumption does not apply.
Aluminum OPS sticks had a less-than-great feel to them, which is why they weren’t popular when they appeared in the ’80s. The flex they provided was good, the weight was significantly reduced, and the only issue was the lack of feel.
Manufacturers turned once again to the two-piece design, combining aluminum shafts with wooden blades at the bottom. And this was the winning combination the aluminum stick needed to dominate the market.
The aluminum shafts were strong, sturdy, and durable, with very consistent weight and flex; something wooden sticks lacked. But the wooden blades provided a much-needed feel to the aluminum, along with the low price of manufacturing and blade-replacement.
Aluminum sticks were further popularized by Wayne Gretzky, who Easton endorsed to use their HXP 5100 aluminum stick. This set the market on fire, and the aluminum-wood hybrids were the new king.
However, the aluminum-wood hybrids weren’t without issues of their own. While they were considerably more durable and lighter, they couldn’t compete with a wooden stick’s feel, even with the wooden blade. Luckily, the advancement in technology took another curve and introduced composite materials.
1995: the first composite sticks blade was introduced
The first composite hockey blade was introduced in the mid-90s and changed the game forever. Players immediately adopted composite blades for their lower weight and greater durability. Eventually, manufacturers turned to fabricate stick shafts out of composite materials, too. And players loved it.
Carbon fibers became the building blocks of composite hockey sticks due to its relatively low weight and favorable mechanical properties. Of course, fiberglass was the close second when combined with materials such as wood, carbon fibers, and possibly Kevlar.
Players worldwide started combining composite blades with composite shafts, unlocking an entirely new level of professional performance. They suddenly had access to light, responsive, decently balanced sticks that can store more energy.
The downside of the composite stick blade and shaft combination was the reduced feel, as none of them even came close to the P.M.P 5030. Well, until 2001 happened, that’s when everything changed.
2001: Easton Synergy – One-Piece Composite
In 2001, Easton Hockey once again pioneered hockey stick manufacturing technology and presented the world with Easton Synergy – a real game-changer.
The original Synergy was lightweight, flexible, durable, but above all else, it provided that one-piece feel that only wooden sticks had. Of course, the stick didn’t stick immediately, but once players realized its full potential, hybrids lost their spotlight forever.
Other companies, like CCM and Bauer, joined the OPS composites camp, and more and more one-piece composites were created. Today, nearly all professional and elite NHL players use OPS composite sticks.
2021: Current ice hockey stick technology
Today, modern iterations of hockey sticks are pushing the boundaries of composite material technology. Most manufacturers use different resin types for the composite matrix, reinforcing the material with carbon fibers because of their mechanical properties.
With the weight-to-strength ratio of carbon fiber composites pushed to absolute limits, manufacturers experiment with and use different methods to increase performance. This includes different layering techniques and patterns, and applications of different nano-particles.
Of course, most modern sticks are one-piece composite sticks, though there are some two-piece designs still in production. Wood still remains the choice of amateur and hobby players because of its accessible price, and aluminum and aluminum hybrids are rarely seen today.
Who are the leading manufacturers of hockey sticks?
There are many hockey stick manufacturers on the market, and more new companies try to enter the hockey stick game each day. This is great for hockey players, as the increased competition among manufacturers yields improvements, innovations, and cost reductions.
The leading manufacturers of hockey sticks include companies like Bauer, Easton, CCM, Warrior, Sherwood, and many others. And believe it or not, most of them still produce wooden OPS sticks.
How many hockey sticks does an average NHLer use during a game?
The answer usually depends on the player and the hockey stick he prefers, but most hockey players typically go through three to six sticks during a game. Of course, we’re discussing professional-level athleticism where using a new top-tier stick provides a sharp competitive edge.
The history of hockey sticks indeed tells us the story of the ice hockey evolution as a sport. From the wooden one-piece sticks of the past, each new advancement to modern OPS composites brought something new to the game.
Modern sticks heavily influenced the game style and speed of ice hockey and elevated players’ skill-level to the heights of artistic forms.