Day 6

Will pro hockey players be left out in the cold after COVID-19 outbreak shutters custom stick factory?

Hockey players in the NHL may be forced out of their comfort zone on the ice thanks to a halt in production in pro-grade sticks thanks to the coronavirus outbreak in China, says sports journalist Sean Fitz-Gerald.

NHL players 'would not dare touch the kinds of sticks that we would use,' says Scott Fitz-Gerald

Chinese officials extended the Lunar New Year Holiday to shut businesses in the region that includes the Bauer facility in Tongxiang City in Zhejiang province, where custom hockey sticks for pro players are made. (Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

Hockey players in the NHL may be forced out of their comfort zone on the ice after production of pro-grade hockey sticks was halted thanks to the coronavirus outbreak in China, says sports journalist Sean Fitz-Gerald.

These players have a close, nearly symbiotic relationship with their custom-made sticks to the point where they can detect "if the curve of their stick is off by an eighth of a degree," says Fitz-Gerald, senior national writer for The Athletic.

"If the curve isn't right, if the flex on the shaft of the stick doesn't feel the same, if the tape job can't go the same way because the stick has a different feel, they would notice it," he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Bauer Hockey's factory in central China — the region of the country at the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak — has been shut down since the end of January.

It's currently on track to reopen next Monday, but the company can't manufacture new ones in the interim.

Fitz-Gerald estimates a single player might go through a few dozen sticks over the course of a season, thanks to wear and tear, minor cracks or a highlight reel-worthy explosion after a hard shot from the blue line.

These sticks cost hundreds of dollars apiece, but Fitz-Gerald notes that most amateur players probably won't be able to detect much a difference between these sticks and what he calls the "civilian sticks" you might find at a sports outlet or Canadian Tire store.

Pro players, on the other hand, "would not dare touch the kinds of sticks that we would use," he said.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby tapes his stick before an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, 2020. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Fitz-Gerald noted that while a few players might have to ration out use of the custom sticks they have while the Bauer facility revs back up to production, it's ultimately a small price to pay when looking at the COVID-19 outbreak, which has killed more than 2,000 people in China alone.

"In the broader context of things, this is just grown adults chasing a frozen rubber disc around the ice as opposed to a potential world health crisis," he said.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from CBC News. Produced by Steve Howard.

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