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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Steve Latin has seen it all in his 27 NHL seasons.

Well, until this year.

So why was the Penguins’ equipment manager, a veteran of more than 2,000 NHL games, surprised when he came into Pittsburgh’s equipment room at the start of training camp?

Sidney Crosby uses a unique two-piece hockey stick with a blade that’s nearly straight. There’s no wicked curve on the blade – it bends only slightly near the toe.

“To be honest with you, I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those,” said Latin, who is in his 18th season overseeing the Penguins’ gear. “It seems like every kid coming in the league either has the weirdest-looking hook on a stick you’ve ever seen like a John LeClair or the biggest hook you’ve ever seen like a Jaromir Jagr. This kid comes in – it’s almost like a Dave Keon stick it’s so straight.”

Keon wrapped up his distinguished career in 1982. It has probably been at least that long since someone in the NHL has used a straight-blade stick similar to Crosby’s.

“You don’t see a lot of guys with that,” said John Maximos, a sales coordinator for Sher-Wood Drolet – the company that supplies Crosby’s sticks and blades. “It’s pretty straight. It’s a very small curve, that’s for sure. He’s used the same style of blade since he was 13. That’s why it’s so small. It’s kind of a junior blade.”

So, while Crosby represents the next generation of hockey stars, he reverts to the past for his main instrument – a stick that looks like it came right off the “Slap Shot” movie set.

“I guess that’s the best way to describe it – old school,” Crosby said with a laugh. “I have always used that. I don’t really like to change things up, equipment-wise. I have always stuck with that and learned how to use it.”

The straight blade is not common in the NHL because many players, constantly searching for any possible advantage, bend their blades outward from the heel to the toe in order to enhance shooting accuracy. However, bending blades in one direction or the other to gain an advantage with the forehand takes away from what a player can do with his backhand. That’s why Crosby likes the straight blade – it’s more versatile.

“It’s better for the backhand and passing – the puck doesn’t usually roll up on you too much,” he said. “You kind of lose a little bit of an edge shooting without the curve, but you have to pick what you want to work on and know your strengths. I think passing and my backhand are more important.”

Latin has not noticed Crosby being at a disadvantage because of the straight blade.

“Obviously, he can handle the puck both ways,” he said. “Around the net, if the puck’s on his backhand, he can get it up pretty quickly. He doesn’t seem to have any problem on his forehand getting it up pretty quickly also. We’ve seen that with the chances that he’s had this year.”

Another trait that makes Crosby’s stick so unusual is that it is a two-piece model. Crosby uses a Sher-Wood Momentum graphite shaft with a Sher-Wood Axiom wood blade.

“I like it to be a little heavier on the bottom so I can feel the puck more,” he said. “With the wood blade, I can feel the puck more.”

In the NHL, all-wood sticks gave way to two-piece models in the 1990s, but both have been replaced with one-piece sticks made from a variety of composites that make them lighter and more flexible.

“It seems like everybody now is more or less going to a one-piece stick,” Latin said. “The two-piece stick is kind of becoming a dinosaur like the wood stick. The two-piece is going out and the one-piece is what they are all are using. So, I was very shocked to see it was a two-piece stick. If he can play with it, that’s fine.”

Certainly Crosby, hailed as the best NHL prospect since Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux came into the league in 1984, has had little trouble with the unique stick. He tore up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with it.

“I have pretty much used the same blade my whole life, so I don’t really know how to use anything else,” he said.

Crosby has no plans to change his stick or blade in the immediate future.

“No, not at all. I think I will stay with it and just work on the things I need to,” he said. “I don’t want to worry about changing the way I do things (stick-wise).”

Maximos, who has dealt with Crosby for the past three years, says Sher-Wood is more than happy to give Crosby whatever sticks he needs, but couldn’t imagine him switching styles.

“For a player, the hockey stick is his most important tool,” he said. “Sid really knows what he wants. He’s not picky; he just knows what he wants. When he likes it, he keeps it. When he asks for something, there’s always a reason.

“He tried a couple different other patterns, but always came back to the original and always had success with it in the past and I think he will do very well in the future. So, why change?”

However, Latin believes Crosby could join the crowd in the future and switch to one-piece composite sticks.

“It’s just like Mario. If someone was going to tell me Mario was going to use a one-piece stick like he’s trying now, I would have said, ‘Never!’” he said. “But, Mario is a wood guy and, to me, he should stay wood. Sidney came into the league with a two-piece stick, but I don’t think it would be much of a change for him to go to a one-piece stick, but they would have to make it exactly the same as it is now.

“He knows what he wants. There’s one thing about this kid – he doesn’t go from one end of the spectrum to the next end of the spectrum, he knows exactly what he wants. That’s professionalism there. He knows exactly what he wants and that’s it.”

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Crosby comes to a face-off circle near you and his opponent stands there with a puzzled look.

“I have never seen anyone with my curve,” he said. “I don’t think there are too many guys left who use two-piece sticks, either.”

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