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When it comes to wood, Holik sticking with it

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Holik is one of the few remaining NHL players using wood sticks, and has no plans to change.

email – Today's NHL players hit the ice holding sticks that are scientifically engineered to maximize stiffness and reduce weight. The sticks are hollow, wrapped in carbon fiber and finished in glossy paint jobs fit for a Formula One race car.

Holik in 1993.  View highlights 
But technology isn't everything to Bobby Holik. The Devils center, who returned to the club as a free agent this past summer, knows what works for him and plans on sticking with it.

Holik's tools of the trade haven't varied much during his 17-year NHL career. The 6-4, 235-lb. native of Jihlava, Czech Rep., has used a wood and fiberglass Sherwood stick as far back as the 1992-93 season, his first in New Jersey.
"I just like the feel of the stick, and the balance – it has better balance," Holik said. "And I like a stick that's a little heavier. I think the composites are too light, but there's really three things: they're too light, the puck doesn't feel the same way, and the balance is completely different than the wood sticks."

Manufacturers of one-piece sticks tout the additional velocity that players' shots can reach using their products. One-piece models often feature tapered shaft walls with an engineered "kickpoint" to determine where the shaft will flex during a shot. The goal is to increase the amount of energy transferred to the puck.

Some players see features such as flex ratings as an advantage, but for Holik less is more. His only specifications include extra length and a large, flat blade to help him control the puck on faceoffs.

"With a big, long stick, it's a little softer so that I can really lean into it," he said. "The kickpoint changes depending on where you put your bottom hand, and that's not necessarily the case with the composite. That's one of the reasons that I just couldn't get used to it."

One thing Holik will have to get used to, however, is a new brand. With demand waning for wood, Sherwood announced plans in 2007 to cease production of wood sticks in its Sherbrooke, Que., factory and outsource to Estonia and China. As a result, Holik has sampled wooden models made by Reebok.

Still, the end of an era at Sherwood wasn't enough to make Holik consider going with a composite.

"I gave it a very quick thought," Holik said of picking up a high-tech one-piece. "But I've played with the same stick for years. I hope Reebok can make a similar stick to what I've been used to with Sherwood."

Composite sticks have come under criticism from time to time by observers who say they break too easily or at inopportune times: in front of the net on scoring chances or during key faceoffs. Others underscore the difference in price. At retail, high-end composite sticks can exceed $200 each, while wood sticks range from $30 to $50.

Holik pointed out that he sometimes goes through as many as two or three sticks in a game. On some nights, that total reaches nine.

"It varies based on how they come," he said. "I had some sticks left over from last season and they sat around all summer, so those won't last as long. The fresh ones, when they come in, last longer. Sometimes I make it through a game with one stick; sometimes I use three. It depends."

The formula has worked for Holik, who enters 2008-09 ranked third in Devils' history for both all-time goals (198) and all-time game-winning goals (42). He estimates, however, that fewer than 10 NHLers currently rely on wood sticks, occasionally making him the target of jokes in and around the locker room.

"I don't get a hard time from some of them, I get a hard time from all of them," Holik said of his teammates' reactions to his stick choice. "It's becoming very unique. I've been using it so long, and I'm not sure how many years I have left. Why change now?"

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