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The Science and Development of Ice Hockey Sticks

Science behind ice hockey sticks

Their stick is an important piece of equipment for a hockey player. It’s just as important to the player as their skates. Most people would agree that the biggest change in hockey equipment has been the continual development of the hockey stick.

Hockey sticks were made of hardwood trees in the 19th century. They were solid wood and this made them extremely heavy. Again, the weight of the hockey equipment had a direct impact on the speed and ability of the players to play the hockey game. Science intervened in the design and production of hockey sticks. Many hockey players agree that the introduction in 1990 of the composite hockey stick revolutionized the hockey stick and hockey game.

The development of the composite hockey stick meant that the sticks were no longer made of wood that made them heavy. The new material created a light, flexible stick that increased the power and accuracy of a player’s shot. Technological developments led to further progress in production and today’s sticks are made of polymer resin-linked graphite fibres. Science continues to contribute to the hockey game and now has a new “unbreakable “hockey stick (see video below). As scientific research continues, the hockey stick will undoubtedly undergo further changes in the years ahead.

While hockey sticks have changed, the hockey player has not.  Hockey players are still creatures of habit, superstition and preference. To a hockey player, the hockey stick is a not only a piece of equipment, it is a required tool. How the player uses this tool, is how an aspect of their performance will be measured. Since players are unique, they have different requirement for the stick they chose to play with. Players will take into consideration stick flexibility and curve of the blade when making deciding on their stick preference. Again the field of science can be credited for being instrumental in the progressive improvement and development of the hockey stick.

Stick flexibly has become an important aspect of hockey stick design. When one discusses flex they are referring to the amount of force measured in pounds, which is needed to deflect/bend the shaft one inch. When a hockey stick is bent it becomes loaded with potential energy.  This energy is then transferred to the hockey puck. The flex of a hockey stick can range from 50 to 120. The less flex there is a stick, the more ridged the stick will be. The hockey stick is a necessary component of a hockey player’s arsenal; there are many manufacturers and designs of sticks. It is personal player preference which will determine the flex one favours.

 

The standard scientific equation used to calculate stick flexibility is F= 48EIδ/L3. This equation can be explained in the following manner:

  • f = the force being applied at the centre of the stick
  • e= elasticity of the materials
  • i= inertia of the cross section of the shaft
  • δ= amount of vertical deformation of the shaft when force is applied
  • l= the length of the shaft

Some may argue that hockey is just a sport. They may say that only the offer of hockey is entertainment and activity. While these statements are true, when one stops investigating how far hockey has come since its beginning in the 19th century, one must recognize that the science paradigm has indeed impacted sport and hockey. As a result of scientific progress, not only equipment and safety, but also hockey philosophy, game strategy, player technology and performance have evolved. It’s safe to conclude that science has improved sport and hockey for not only the player but also the fan.

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