A good marksman takes pride in selecting the hockey stick with just the right curve of the blade.
There was a time, however, when hockey sticks never had a curve. The sticks were made of wood and the blades were as flat as a kitchen table.
But in 1927, Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators had an innovative idea. He decided to curve the blade of his stick, using hot water to shape the wood.
The curve made the puck rise and sometimes-even knuckle, making the shot completely unpredictable.
At this time the wrist flick was the most common shot in hockey. But with curved blades, powerful slap shots could be taken from greater distances, adding a whole new dimension to the game.
Although this new stick style had its obvious advantages, many of the players didn't like the negative effect the curve had on their stick handling and backhanded shots. So, before it could get off the ground, the idea of curved blades was put aside and forgotten, for the next three decades!
It wasn't until the 1960's that the curved stick was introduced to hockey again and this time it was the result of a mishap!
Chicago Blackhawk Stan Mikita accidently broke his stick in practice and as a joke kept taking shots. He was surprised to discover that it added some zip to his shot. Soon after, Mikita and teammate Bobby Hull were experimenting with all sorts of curves ranging from slight bends to cartoonish hooks.
Hull and Mikita's high-scoring ways made believers of many in the NHL, and soon players across the league all wanted their own curved blade.
This gave rise to the "banana blade" of the 1960s.
At the height of this era, players would simply cross the blue line and let one fly with a slap shot, hoping the bizarre behaviour of the puck would beat the goaltender.
Imagine being in the stands. You would have to wear a helmet to protect yourself from all the flying hockey pucks!
The goalies weren't impressed, but the shooters loved it. The goaltenders weren't wearing masks in this era and were irritated by the danger such wild shots posed. The players loved it because the unpredictability of the puck meant the goalie had to guess where it was going, and that often meant goals.
In response, the NHL began gradually reducing the amount of curve a blade could legally have. Now the curve of a blade is limited at most levels of competitive hockey, generally to an amount between ½ and ¾ of an inch.
Being caught using an illegal stick is typically punished with a two minute minor penalty. Yikes!
For most players in the modern game, however, the emphasis is on shooting accuracy, which has largely eliminated any preference for extreme blade curves.
To get an accurate measurement of the blade the NHL uses a "stick gauge" which measures a curve precisely.
But if you're like me and don't have a "stick gauge", try placing your blade face down on the ice and roll a dime vertically under it. If the dime doesn't fit, you know you have a legal curve!