|EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12: Sheldon Souray #44 of the Edmonton Oilers takes a shot from the point against the Colorado Avalanche on October 12, 2008 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images) |
When NHL All-Star defenseman Sheldon Souray talks about how he tapes his hockey sticks, it's not hard to imagine thousands of young fans hanging on every detail -- then starting to tape their own stick shafts in the Oiler’s distinctive barber-shop pole pattern from blade to knob.
"I’ve been taping my stick shafts the same way since I first started playing," said Souray, who is in his 10th NHL season, including five-plus with the All-Star host Canadiens. "I use white tape on the shaft [which is a light shade of green], then use the adhesive side of a piece of tape to make the shaft every more sticky. I like a really sticky shaft."
Souray is participating in Saturday night’s Cisco NHL Hardest Shot competition that is part of Honda NHL SuperSkills. Along with a good grip on his stick, Souray said the stiffness of his shaft -- he uses a Easton SE16 that is one-piece graphite -- helps him achieve speeds of 100 mph or more on his shots. In a recent team skills event conducted by the Oilers, Souray hit 106 mph on the speed gun.
"[Zdeno] Chara is probably the only guy in the League whose shaft is stiffer," Souray said. The Edmonton defenseman even puts a graphite knob on the butt end -- most players use wood -- to give "an overall stiffness that you just can’t get with wood."
Perhaps it is no accident that Chara’s shaft is also supremely stiff too. The Boston All-Star is the reigning champion for Hardest Shooter, lasering a 103.2 reading last year.
Chara uses an Easton S15 two-piece composite stick that he said is "a little heavier" than most, but it still feels lighter than the ones he wielded on occasion as a youth hockey player.
"When I was growing up (in Trencin, Slovakia) my dad (Zdenik) would fill a flower pot with cement and put my stick in it until it was really hard to move," Chara said. "Then I had to do some moves with it. It made it a lot easier to go on the ice without the flower pot.
"I’ve heard of other people doing different things -- like putting weights on their stick. I guess my dad was old-school."
For his part, New York Islanders defenseman and Hardest Shot competitor Mark Streit doesn’t see how he could power off a shot with the stiffness of either Chara’s or Souray’s stick. The Swiss-born All-Star uses an Easton S17 model with "stiffness of 105," which means he has considerably more flex.
"I have a heavy shot for my size," said Streit, another ex-Canadien who set career highs of 13 goals and 49 assists last season in Montreal before signing a free-agent deal with the Islanders in the summer. "Souray is obviously a big guy, going about 230 pounds. I am more like 200 pounds. I need some flex."
The curve in Souray’s blade is a mind-bender next to Streit’s "pretty straight" blade that curves at the toe.
"If I used Souray’s stick, they would have to raise the net behind the goal," the Swiss-born defenseman said. "I would be lofting pucks into the first row of the upper deck with that big curve."
Souray said his stick blade starts curving at the heel, allowing more loft when he opens up its face to the puck. Shea Weber, the Nashville Predators' All-Star defenseman and fellow Hardest Shot competitor, said his stick is "fairly straight."
Like many of his Hardest Shot competitors, Weber uses a new stick every game.
"I definitely don’t like an old, used stick," he said. "I probably tape up one per game. If they don't break, I use them for practice."
Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, another "Hardest" shooter, said he always uses two sticks per game.
"It’s because of all the face-offs I take," Lecavalier said. "I wouldn’t want to wait until the third period and take a chance that I had a broken stick."
Chara said he uses one new stick every game but rotates up to four more as he plays: "The others have been through a couple of practices and a couple of old ones."
No stick detail is overlooked by Chara and his challengers. They clearly sweat the small stuff -- even something as small as which direction they tape their blades.
"I always tape from the toe to the heel of the blade," said Mike Komisarek, the Canadiens Eastern Conference starter who no doubt will get the most cheers Saturday night during the Hardest Shot competition. "Most guys do it the other way. I don’t know why, it’s just something I kind of got used to doing."