By Nate Tenopir, Editor-in-Chief
According to hockey lore, in 1926 Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators was the first player to take the ice with a curved hockey blade. But like many new ideas, it didn’t catch on immediately.
A curved blade allowed for harder slapshots, but also required players to learn how to stickhandle differently. Some liked it, most didn’t.
The idea of the banana blade was born, but its time had not yet come. Decades later in the 1950’s, Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers and Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks brought the curved blade back to the NHL.
Bathgate’s powerful shot soon had players all over the league using a torch to bend and shape their blade in ways they thought would give them an advantage. Ever since then players have been very particular about the type of stick they play with.
“Some guys like longer blades, others a little bit shorter blade,” UNO forward Zahn Raubenheimer said about the type of curve he prefers. “For me I like a little bit more of a heeled blade but a shorter curve.”
Raubenheimer said that every guy on the roster has precise specifications for the type of blade they use. Representatives from Warrior, the Mavs’ stick supplier, meet with players and send off specifications for their preferred stick.
Raubenheimer said that Warrior typically sends back about 12 sticks that will last the average player two to three weeks.
“Mine is a little bit more of a heel curve, it’s a little bit straighter of a blade,” Raubenheimer said. “Some of the other guys like a little more of a curve, but I like a little bit straighter of a blade. It keeps the puck down more.”
All of the hockey sticks used by UNO players are composite sticks. Back when Bathgate and Mikita started fashioning their own stick blades, players had to use a flame to curve their wooden sticks.
When Raubenheimer played in junior hockey he had to do the same, heating and molding his blade to the style he wanted.
But manufacturers have moved to composite sticks made of more expensive materials like aluminum, Kevlar, fiberglass, carbon fiber and other materials. Composite sticks allow manufacturers more consistency with how they shape their curves.
Stick makers began selling specific curves by naming them after star players. It was that move that gave Brock Montpetit the curve he’s been using ever since.
“When I was a kid they came out with the names for the curves, they named them after pro players,” Montpetit said. “Joe Sakic was my favorite player so I thought that was the curve he used, so I used that and I liked it and I’ve just used it ever since and never really strayed away from it.”
Raubenheimer discovered his style through a process of trial and error. The first couple of years in organized hockey, Raubenheimer said his blade style was all over the place.
His father encouraged him to go with a straighter blade so “I could shoot high and miss the net,” Raubenheimer said jokingly. Eventually, when Raubenheimer was 15 playing junior hockey he found his curve.
“When I started using this one my passes were actually a lot sharper and my stick handling was a lot better with this curve,” Raubenheimer said. “It wasn’t much of a shot, but the way I could feel the puck felt better, felt cleaner around the net and that’s the reason I stuck with it. I felt I could handle the puck better, and I thought if I, over time, shoot the puck more I’d get used to the curve and used to where the puck is gonna go and how I can control it.”
According to Raubenheimer, every guy on the team has a different curve. There might be three or four that have something similar, but each stick is made to that player’s exact specifications.
Raubenheimer said the guys chose their curve based on past experience, what position they play, where they like to shoot the puck or a combination of the three.
When a stick breaks the bench tries to get that player one of his reserve sticks as a replacement. But on the fly that’s not always possible. When a guy gets handed someone else’s stick, the differences are easily recognizable.
“When you’re shooting the puck you’re not really thinking about your curve, you’re so used to it you know where it’s going,” Montpetit said. “If you switch your curve you know you have to tweak something in your curve to where over time you’re gonna have to get used to it again.”
Baseball players use different types of bats, but the specifications are not nearly as complex as you’ll find in the curve of a hockey blade. In no other sport are players as particular about equipment specifications.
But don’t mistake particulars on blade curvature for a security blanket. A few flexes here or there, as the measurements are called, can make all the difference.
“Every guy has their own curve and their own flex that they kind of have to use,” Raubenheimer said. “It’s surprising, the longer you use a stick the more you can notice a difference in flex by 10 or 15 flexes.”