Composite sticks causing problems

The one-piece composite hockey sticks that are all the rage in the NHL these days are not all that they're cracked up to be.

"They cost four times as much, but they don't last four times as long," Edmonton Oilers equipment manager Barrie Stafford told Sports Online. "It's a big concern for teams in terms of budgeting."

Sticks like the Easton Synergy and the Louisville Response retail for up to $250 a piece, whereas a top-quality wooden stick sells for less than $40.

Made of synthetic materials like graphite and kevlar, the one-piece composite sticks were first introduced by Easton in 1999 and were an overnight sensation.

"It took the industry by storm," said Stafford. "This is probably the biggest change I've seen in 20 years since I've been here."

Most players have switched to the sticks because they have been proven to make shots harder. They have been particularly beneficial for players like Joe Sakic, never known for particularly hard shots, says Stafford.

"You ask any goalie. They'll tell you that the players' shots are harder," he said.

But the new sticks don't last any longer than wooden sticks. In fact, they might have an even shorter lifespan, as evidenced by the number of broken sticks in the playoffs this year.

"They don't last. The value is not there," said Stafford.

Since NHLers can go through multiple sticks in a game, the cost of purchasing sticks, for some teams, has shot through the roof.

Paul Boyer, equipment manager for the Detroit Red Wings, says the composite sticks become vulnerable if they get a small nick or crack.

Such damage can easily occur during faceoffs or when a defenceman gets his stick hacked.

"If the structural integrity is jeopardized, it's more susceptible to breakage," said Boyer.

CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry has railed against the new sticks, noting several times during the Round 1 telecasts that crucial scoring chances have been blown when synthetic sticks have disintegrated during a shot.

While most players have switched to the composite stick, not all have been sold on their virtues. In fact, some NHLers have tried the composite sticks and have since switched back to wood.

The most notable player to switch back is St. Louis defenceman Al MacInnis, who is regarded by most to have the hardest shot in the NHL.

Oilers tough guy Georges Laraque also switched back to wood after using a composite stick for most of the season.

"I have a better shot with a wood stick than a Synergy," he said.

Laraque found that the composite sticks tended to lose their "whip" quickly.

"After using a stick in a couple of practices, you can tell the difference," he said.

Wood sticks lose their whip as well, but they are a lot cheaper and equipment managers are not as reluctant to buy more of them.

Players using composite sticks are encouraged by some equipment managers to use them longer because of cost, said Boyer.

Another problem with one-piece sticks is that they are made of synthetic materials that don't give players as true a feel for the puck when it's on their blade.

As a result, some players are not able to control the puck as well they can with a wooden stick, said Stafford.

Because they make shots harder, composite sticks may also be to blame for an increase in the number of foot and facial injuries in the last couple of years.

In the first round of the playoffs between Toronto and Philadelphia, both Nik Antropov of the Maple Leafs and Eric Desjardins of the Flyers suffered broken bones in their feet as a result of getting hit by shots.