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STICK IT TO 'EM

The players dish on the tools of the trade

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Hockey players are nothing if not creatures of habit.

So when the patterns change, or worse, the company they've used their entire life shuts down altogether, it can feel like their world is crumbling down around them.

"They're always coming out with something new," lamented Michael Frolik, a self-described gear nut. "Some guys like it. They like being able to test out the 'latest and greatest,' but when it comes to my sticks, anyway, I don't like switching it up too much.

"Every two years they stop making certain things and they say it's the same, but it's not. I try not to get too attached, but when you really like something and they change it, it's (annoying)," he adds with a chuckle.

"It's the one piece of equipment, outside of maybe our skates, that we need the most, so we're all really passionate about it."

Indeed.

These are the tools of the trade.

From flex, the curve, the lie and the length, each weapon is tailored precisely to fit the needs of its finicky owner.

Count the sharp-shooting Elias Lindholm in with that group of scrupulous marksmen.

"(Warrior) sent me a stick a couple of years ago and I've been using that one ever since. I'm not too picky. Obviously, for me, I'm not taking too many slap shots out there, I don't want to have too high of a kick, or have it too stiff.

"I like something a bit whippier to give me more of edge with my snapshots and backhands."

Lindholm was a Bauer user for much of his life, but recently made the switch and is now the proud owner of a Warrior Alpha.

Hockey's three main brands - Bauer, CCM and Warrior - have three lines, or families, of top-end sticks that offer a variety of unique traits that correlate to a certain playing style.

It's not all about the shimmering, holofoil graphics and $300 price tags.

There's a fair bit of science behind it, too.

Simply, the kick-point we hear so often about is where the stick is least rigid, and thus, able to store - and amplify - the most energy.

The higher on the shaft, the more energy that's required to load energy and maximize its potential.

Players like Lindholm that like to get quick shots off and really work the puck in tight areas of the ice might choose a brand with a low kick-point. The Alpha, featuring what Warrior describes as "effortless loading," does just that, improving a player's release, recoil and accuracy.

It's one of the most popular twigs in the dressing room, with leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau and his unthinkable 55-flex torching the NHL this year.

Lindholm, meanwhile, is using a 70-flex after years of using a 75.

"I was using a 75 when I was 12 years old, so it's kind of funny that I'm playing at this level now, am a lot bigger and stronger, and I'm using something with more whip.

"It's also pretty durable and considering the time I play on the PK, that's important to me, too."

So, parents, the next time you're buying that new piece of hardware for your kids, think twice about scooping up that 100-flex that, for some reason, is more easily accessible on store shelves.

"Very few players actually need something like that," Lindholm agreed.

"For me, I wish I was more into it, to try some different brands, different lies and different flexes, but I'm not the kind of guy that likes to change things up too much.
    
"I like what I like and the Alpha seems to be paying off."

With a career high 25 goals and 55 points, and a third of a lap left on the circuit, it certainly does.

While the Alpha is a low-kick stick, there's one Warrior model even lower - deemed a 'super'-low kick - called the Covert. CCM's equivalent is the Ribcor, while Bauer's is the Vapor - the latter used by Sean Monahan, who's on pace for 40-plus goals this year.

Players that love the hammer slap shots from long range might go with a higher-kick stick, but those are decreasing in popularity in the Flames' dressing room, based on the how the game has changed over the past few years.

"I used the (Bauer) Supreme for pretty much my whole life," said Noah Hanifin. "It's high-kick stick and was bombing a lot of slappers early in my career. So that's what I used my first year in the league. Then, I gave the Vapor a shot in my second year but found it didn't have the raw power I needed from the point.

"Now, I'm using the Bauer Nexus, which is a perfect, mid-kick stick. I shot with it for a day and I absolutely loved it."

Hanifin doesn't worry too much about customization. He uses a 95-flex, lops an inch or two off the top, and has been using the standard 'Sakic' - or 'P92' - curve for as long as he can remember.

Others, such as James Neal, literally have their own molds.

"I used Easton my whole career - the Synergy, Stealth - and then Easton shut down this year.

"It was pretty disappointing.

"I had a hard time finding what I wanted to use. Bauer actually bought Easton, so I tried that at the start, hoping it would have a similar feel, but it didn't. Then I went to True, but wasn't a huge fan of that, either, so I switched back.

"For something you've used for 15-plus years and to get up and switch is hard.

"Fortunately, I've got my own pattern back again. I made my own curve when I was younger and I've been using it my whole life. But when they switch factories, it's pretty tough to replicate. I've got it back now, thankfully."

Neal uses one of the higher flexes among the forward group, but says it varies throughout the season depending on how he's feeling.

"I'm using an 85 now, but sometimes I drop it down to 82 if I want something a bit whippier."

Which, no matter the role you play - and especially as a forward - seems to be the trend.

Frolik is one of the few Flames using the Covert. Captain Mark Giordano is also a fan, which is somewhat surprising considering he's a defenceman and is involved in more board battles and point shots.

But, as Frolik explains, it's all about the feel.

And personal preference trumps all.

Like the sticks themselves, every player is unique.

"I want the stick to feel sturdy in my hand," Frolik said. "I was actually using a CCM at the start of the year, but wanted something else. When I take a pass, I don't want to be bobbling the puck. It has to stay flat, and I think you lose a bit of that with something a bit whippier. When I started, I was using a 100-flex, and now I'm using an 80, 85-flex …

"Eh, what can I say? Everybody's different.

"I love gear. Love trying new things.

"But I'm also a little superstitious.

"I think we all are."

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