Getting the shaft from broken sticks
The path to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals has been littered with broken and splintered hockey sticks.
Players love the lighter one-piece graphite composite sticks because they create a harder and more accurate shot.
But they are also breaking more often and becoming a factor in games. The most recent example was Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between the Wild and Mighty Ducks. Trailing 1-0 in the third period, Minnesota's Cliff Ronning took a shot from the point on the power play, breaking his stick in half. Anaheim's Rob Niedermayer then took the puck on a clear breakaway and scored a short-handed goal that iced the game.
"That's the first time I had one break on me during a game this season," Ronning told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "It was just one of those unfortunate things."
Unlike the good old wooden models, players can't easily tell when the composites (Easton's Synergy sticks are made with a mixture of carbon, graphite and Kevlar) are on the verge of shattering. A routine slash on the stick might create a weak spot that later leads to a break. So the new sticks might not be breaking as much, but they are breaking more often in games.
Ned Goldsmith of Easton, which supplies composite sticks to more than 300 NHL players, said the breakage is misleading because the new sticks don't deteriorate like wooden sticks.
"John LeClair uses four or five wooden sticks in a game," Goldsmith told the Canadian Press. "You might not see them break but they get soft and noodley.
"They break down. Players will replace them on the bench as they go, while it's uncommon to use more than one Synergy stick in a game."
Many coaches have no use for them, however.
"I see them break all the time," Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire told Anaheim and Minnesota reporters. "I talked to Cliff and he said before he stopped a shot with the stick and maybe it got weaker. Maybe when the stick gets banged, after that, it's not good.
"I don't know about those sticks."
It wasn't the first time Minnesota was hurt by the new sticks. The Wild's Filip Kuba broke his stick while taking a shot in the last seconds of a 3-2 loss to Vancouver in Game 3 of the second round.
Anaheim head coach Mike Babcock believes the "puck rejectors" also create more turnovers as players aren't able to handle passes as well as they do with wooden sticks.
"Every time it hits someone's stick, it bounces three feet, so what's the trade-off?" Babcock asked reporters.
"You can wire the puck unbelievably, but you don't get the chance because (the puck's) not with you anymore.
"I have been through this with my players 100 times. They just turn you right off. They're professional. They know what they're doing."
Earlier this year, hard-shooting St. Louis defenseman Al MacInnis switched back to a more flexible wooden stick because it allowed him to handle the puck better despite taking 1 or 2 mph off his shot.
"I couldn't justify it," MacInnis told the Toronto Sun. "You don't have any time out there to move the puck as it is. If you have to take that extra half second to make sure the puck is settled -- or if you have to look down to make sure the puck is actually on your blade -- it's not worth it."
At $100 to $120 per stick, teams will have to pay in more than lost goals. Wild equipment manager Tony DaCosta told the Pioneer Press that the team's stick budget increased about $100,000 this season.