A few decades ago, stick blades were straight and stiff, kind of like Victorian–era society. And while there is no official record as to when tape first appeared on blades, it is safe to say that Stan Mikita was the first NHL player to use a curved blade.
Since Mikita is the only player to ever lead the league in penalty minutes and win the Lady Byng trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, (obviously in different seasons of his career) one can offer that he was both an innovator and multi-talented player. Mikita did earn most PMs in one of his early seasons, so we can add that he had to fight for that curved stick distinction. Of course, nothing worthwhile is ever free.
There are almost as many ways to prepare your stick blade as there are players, ranging from no preference at all, to state-of-the-art, two-part applications. But one can lump individual blade preparations into a few general groups. The first, and of course, the easiest to explain, is the player who does nothing to alter the stick as it comes off the rack: no heating, bending, trimming or tape.
As hard to believe as it may seem, there are players who prefer not to use tape. I once heard of an NHL player whose coach hated the idea of no tape on the blade, so this player resorted to putting one single strip of black tape in the middle of his blade. This kept the player in good standing with his coach without ruining the feel of the naked blade.
A much more common choice among players is the color or type of tape used. The most common tape of choice (for this writer anyway) is black friction, available in narrow form at any hardware store and in wider variations at hockey shops. This tape is popular because it has an adhesive quality, which many feel gives better puck control. Almost as popular is plain white tape, which also comes in a plain black, non-friction variety. The only explanation we could come up with for the popularity of this tape is that many players are too cheap to buy two different types of tape!
“Because it was in my bag,” doesn’t seem like a good reason to use anything, yet even pro players who get tape for free often use this variety. It does lack the adhesion of friction tape; yet if you like it, don’t fix it. It has also been reported that black tape hides the puck better from a goalie, yet the NHL has not outlawed it as they did black Cooperalls.
Wayne Gretzky does something odd with his blades; he uses black friction tape, then puts baby powder on them, supposedly to remove the adhesion. Why not just use the black tape that isn’t sticky? It may be odd, but who is going to question the Great One? Even stranger is Luc Robitaille, who uses black tape in the first and third periods, but white tape in the second! Why? Perennial 50–goal scorer...why not? We know of no one who uses clear tape on his blade, but there is one tape that we have seen which should never, ever be used. Duct tape! Duct tape has no place in hockey and should be outlawed. There! I said it! Now all of you with a roll of duct tape in your bags can either put it away in the garage or get a job as an air conditioning repairman if you like it that much. Just don’t bring that stuff in the rink! It is sufficient to say that any tape can extend blade life and if you find one you like, then you’ll like it.
Next in our blade fashion discussion are the new “high-tech” preparations. The first product we will discuss is Snap Wax. This product came out several years ago, not to replace tape, but to make it better. Snap Wax comes in a block form which is rubbed on both sides as well as the bottom of your blade after you have taped it. It makes tape more sticky and for this it works rather well. It also helps protect your stick by making it more water resistant.
A newer innovation along this line is called Max Wax, which is an aerosol spray can of wax. In a moment of boredom at the recent Montreal equipment show, Jay Johnson, owner of All Pro Hockey and Sport in Fresno, CA, our local pro shop, got together with the manufacturer of this product to do an experiment. Jay is the son of former Philadelphia Flyer Jimmy Johnson. He grew up in Winnipeg and progressed through the Canadian youth hockey ranks to Major Junior “A,” where he played with the likes of Theo Fleury, Lyle Odelein and Mike Keanes. He played pro hockey in Las Vegas and Fresno before retiring to the supply business. He’s been around and knows what he’s talking about.
The experiment they did in Montreal consisted of spraying Max Wax on a taped blade, then pouring water on it. Most of the water rolled off, but some remained in bubbles, just as you would see on a newly–waxed car. They then went to lunch, leaving the water on the blade. Three hours later it was still there! To the average player who doesn’t get his sticks for free, a simple blade application will give better puck control while prolonging stick life, since water is the blade’s worst enemy after it is slightly worn. This product works quite well. However, neither it nor Snap Wax can replace tape. There are some other materials that make acceptable tape replacers.
Substitutes for conventional tape
Mac Tape is a strip of highly abrasive material, which comes pre-cut to follow the curved contour of the bottom of the blade. It has an adhesive side which is exposed by removing a plastic backing. After this it can be applied to both the front and back of the blade for better stick handling. This is a plastic-like material which is much tougher than any conventional tape; and since it doesn’t wrap under the blade, it doesn’t wear out anywhere near as easily as do tapes.
Then there is Monster Grip. This is a two-part application which you begin by spraying the adhesive on a naked blade. After this adhesive becomes tacky, you sprinkle the “Monster Grit,” which closely resembles silica sand, on the blade. Allow this to dry for a couple hours, then apply a finishing coat of Monster Grip adhesive over the grit. This product is applied on the front and back of the blade, as well as the bottom, so it also will prolong stick life. Additionally, being black in color, it can help hide the puck on your blade. They even offer an orange color for roller hockey. What remains to be seen is whether or not most players will take the time, estimated at 12 hours, to apply this preparation properly, since this is not a product you can apply “right before the game.”
Another product which re-places conventional tape is called Stick It. This product is a coarse nylon-type material which is covered with a plastic-like coating. It comes with a removable strip on the back which you remove as you apply Stick It to your blade, thereby exposing the adhesive backing. It is extremely durable, enabling a player to go many games without repeated taping.
Customizing your stick
Some players have additional “rituals” they go through before pronouncing their sticks ready to go. Many players, even pros who get sticks custom–made to their own specifications, will rasp or shave new blades before use. Some shave the heel of their blades to fine tune the lie. Even mass–produced sticks used to come with different lies. They no longer do.
If you love the stick, but not the lie, it can be altered by shaving the heel; however, depending on the blade’s construction, this may not be advisable. If your favorite stick comes, as many do, with fiberglass wrapped around the blade, shaving down the heel will weaken the remaining fiberglass, thus reducing stick life. Many players also custom trim the toe of the blade.
Choosing a curve
We have all seen players heating and bending sticks as well. Unless your blade comes off the rack with an illegal curve, as many do, it is best not to heat it, as this also weakens the fiberglass.
Johnson advises players to find the proper curve for their own game. Blades come in three basic curves, he said. These are differentiated by where the curve is located on the blade.
The “Heel Curve” bends almost right at the shaft, with the rest of the blade being basically straight. The heel curve is used by Brian Leetch and Eric Lindros, two very different types of players.
A “Center Curve” bends in mid-blade, and is the most commonly used curve. Center curve blades are used by a wide range of pro forwards, including Pavel Bure, Mike Ricci and Wendel Clark. Center curves are also used by defensemen Chris Pronger, Paul Coffey and Raymond Bourque.
A “Toe Curve” is straight almost to the toe, with just the last couple of inches being bent. Federov prefers a toe curve.
Are you starting to notice a trend here in curves? Right! There is none! There is no rhyme or reason as to what type of players use which type of curve, and pros regularly change their patterns and curves from year to year. We can safely say that NHL players select their curves based entirely on personal preference and that can change over time. The average player would do well to try each different pattern from time to time and see which best suits his or her game. By the way, Al McGinnis uses a center curve, for those of you seeking the Holy Grail of “boomers.”
You will also notice various “flares” on blades, especially on pro models. A blade which flares open, tapering back at the top of the toe, is good for getting your shots up. The opposite is true if you want to keep your shots low.
A word of caution here: Legal blade curve is 1/2" (not a dime as some think) and the curve is measured on the bottom of the blade. A dime, just so you know, is 11/16", so if it fits under your curve you definitely are a penalty waiting to happen. Be advised. I offer this advice to avoid having to heat stick blades, which shortens their life. Knowing these options when you buy a stick can allow you to focus your stick preparation on things that can help your game rather than making your stick merely acceptable.
One thing that Johnson does advise is once you find a stick you like, stay with it. You become accustomed to sticks, just as you do skates. Constantly changing what you use can reduce your performance. This makes sense. One additional word of advice. Players don’t buy 50-goal seasons off the rack; they earn them by practicing their shots every day. Once you find the “perfect” stick, 100 shots a day will transform the average shot into one you should be proud of. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice, good lumber and proper stick preparation gives you the confidence to earn the spot of top scorer. l