Hockey is a sport that does not require much in the way of equipment; however, one of the things players cannot play without is a stick. It is easy to visualize a frozen pond and a group of neighborhood kids with random sticks pushing some kind of a ball or chunk of wood around until they get it through some markers. This was undoubtedly what hockey once looked like, and the basic elements of this scenario have not changed.
As the sport became more formalized, so did the equipment which was used. Hockey sticks were made of wood for many years. Though the actual origins of the game are up for debate,
there is little dispute that some of the first commercial hockey sticks are honed by Mi’kmaq carvers in Nova Scotia.
These expert carvers generally used wood from ironwood trees (also known as hornbeam trees) or yellow birch, among others. The best wood for the sticks must be both flexible and strong--in the correct proportions. The wood needed to be flexible because the sticks were carved in one piece.
The long part of a hockey stick is called the shaft and comes in various lengths; the bottom part that touches the ice is called the blade and is usually 10-15 inches long. The part that connects the two is called the taper, and the angle is generally close to 45 degrees.
In the 1920s, the Hespeler Stick Company was the first to make hockey sticks in two parts, the shaft and the blade. The earliest models reportedly had significant problems with the glue that held the two pieces together. When the glue got too cold, which of course is a distinct possibility in hockey, it was no longer effective. Over the next 30 or 40 years, hockey sticks are made in two and even three parts, and fiberglass is used to coat the sticks and add durability to them.
The next major change happens in the 1960s when several players, including Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull (of the Chicago Blackhawks) deliberately change the shape and bend of their sticks. Mikita broke the blade of his stick and re-taped it into the shape of a "V" and was thrilled with the results. These teammates begin heating their sticks with hot water and reshaping them, something which was probably being done by other players but was made popular by this dynamic duo.
At some point, however, the hand-crafted bend in sticks became a problem precisely for the same reason the players liked to use them: their unpredictability. Precisely because they were unpredictable, these sticks made the game much more dangerous than anyone was comfortable with, so the NHL changed the rule in the 1967-68 season, limiting the curve of a stick to one inch. Several years later, the number was reduced to half an inch, which is the current rule. The NHL also had to limit the length of sticks to between 150-200 centimeters.
While the puck has to be the same for everyone in the NHL, sticks can reflect the preferences of the players within the guidelines set by the league. As technology has progressed, hockey sticks have been made of aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, kevlar, and other composites. Composite materials weigh less, have greater flexibility, and are less flawed than wood, which is why nearly every player in the NFL uses a composite stick. Many companies make hockey sticks of all kinds, and players are able to choose the kind and brand they prefer, similar to baseball players and baseball bats. Famous players like Wayne Gretzky have made millions of dollars in endorsement deals to promote their favorite brand of stick.