Goalies are keeping wood sticks alive in the NHL, but perhaps not for long.
Composite sticks have been popular for a while among forwards and defensemen, who have embraced the lighter weight and stiffer shaft to increase the power on shots. After years of resisting the trend, goalies are switching from wooden and foam-core sticks at a rapid rate.
Roughly half the NHL was using the old technology in 2016. Today, five NHL goalies still use a wooden stick.
"Once you switch, it's amazing to hold a wood stick and wonder how you played with it," Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton said. "I switched two summers ago mainly because lots of guys were, so I knew I needed to get up to date. It's a huge difference, I think."
Hutton said weight is the biggest difference between a composite stick and traditional blends of wood, fiberglass and foam. New composite sticks weigh less than 1.4 pounds compared to the old wood models that averaged closer to 1.9 pounds. That may not sound like much, but even in the hands of a well-conditioned pro, it's hard not to notice the difference.
"The stick is unreal how light it is," said Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers, who switched to a CCM composite this offseason after running into supply problems with wooden sticks last season.
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The difference in the number of goalies using composite the past two seasons is also significant.
When Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers switched from a foam-core to a composite stick last season, it marked the end of the use of Bauer's wooden models in the NHL. The disappearance is not surprising considering Bauer led the way with the composite goal sticks used in the League as far back as 2007. Twenty-four NHL goalies currently use their composite sticks.
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights is the last NHL goalie using a CCM wood stick. The change for CCM began in 2014, when it offered its first composite stick and 20 percent of their NHL roster switched. By 2016, it was close to 50 percent of the goalies that used CCM. It was an 80-percent adoption rate for 2018-19.
When Warrior first offered its composite sticks to NHL goalies for the 2017-18 season, 11 switched and 17 stayed with a wood stick. Last season, there were 21 NHL goalies using composite and 11 remaining with wood. This season, 24 are using composite sticks. The remaining four still using a foam-core wooden stick this season are using a Warrior Swagger.
The Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell, Alex Stalock of the Minnesota Wild, and Brian Elliott of the Philadelphia Flyers are the holdouts.
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"I've tried a few composites since they first came out, and every year they've gotten better and better," Elliott said. "It's light, but when I go back to my foam-core stick, it's night and day how much more comfortable I am. I just like how you can feel and direct pucks a little better with old-school sticks. You can absorb it a little better and control it. So I'm like, why switch?"
Some said they felt like they didn't have much of a choice.
Bobrovsky used a Warrior foam core last season but ran out of inventory after the company stopped working with the Canada-based manufacturer that made them. It opened the door for him to try something new during the offseason.
"I got a bunch of stuff to test just to be on top of things because the technology has developed a lot," Bobrovsky said. "I liked how on low shots, just put a little angle on the stick and the puck goes up into the net, and I like stick-handling, but definitely the biggest point is the lightness."
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and recently retired goalie Roberto Luongo each played more than a decade using foam-core sticks but switched after injuries gave them a chance to try a composite.
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith switched in part because of inconsistencies in the supply of foam-core wood sticks, which is part of the challenge when working with natural materials.
"A big part if it is not having to worry about one being different from the other," Smith said.
Though Elliott prefers the softer feel and flex of a foam-core stick, the composite sticks have progressed significantly in that area. The different blends of carbon fiber and other impact- and vibration-dampening materials are designed to mimic the feel of wood. Durability has increased as well, with newer materials, including those used on the front wings of Formula One race cars, incorporated into the composition of the sticks.
As the newer sticks grow in popularity, so do their variety. Various models within brands offer different flex profiles, including ones that bend more in the shaft to make it easier to shoot the puck. As puck-handling becomes more refined for goalies, there are conversations about creating custom kick points like the ones used by forwards and defensemen to personalize their sticks to accentuate their shooting styles.
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Despite the benefits, Elliott doesn't plan on switching anytime soon. When he learned in the offseason that Warrior was planning to close the factory in Finland, where his current model was made, Elliott got the Flyers equipment staff to stock up for the season.
"Maybe I'll just have to go to Canadian Tire and see what they still got left," he said.