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Sticking out

The Lightning's Fredrik Modin is one of a handful of NHL players still using wood, not composite, sticks.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 7, 2005


TAMPA - Fredrik Modin said he can't recall exactly when he had his revelation, but he knows it struck him as he walked past the stick rack outside the Lightning locker room.

Modin noticed his plain, wood sticks lined up next to the colorful composite sticks used by his teammates (think of a burned-out bulb in a string of Christmas lights) and realized, "I'm the only one using wood. It's me, and that's it."

As revelations go, it wasn't quite as dramatic as, say, finding out Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. But it has its place, especially in a sport trying to modernize its on-ice product without straying too far from its roots.

But some things are no match for technology.

According to manufacturer CCM, Modin is one of 42 players, not including goaltenders, using all-wood sticks. That means of 540 skaters eligible to play on a given night (18 on each of 30 teams), just 7.8 percent use wood.

Some use wood blades on the end of composite sticks. The rest use one-piece models made of materials such as Kevlar, graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber and rubber resin.

They are lighter and manufactured more consistently because they are made with molds. It also is believed they produce a more accurate shot because their rigid blades reduce the variables inherent in more-flexible wood.

And they're colorful. Lightning players have used sticks that are red, blue, orange and yellow. One model appears to reflect different colors off a shiny metallic shaft.

Modin tried to convert a few seasons ago. But he said he scuttled the experiment after the stick's vibrations caused pain in his then-injured left elbow.

His stats haven't suffered. The left wing is tied for the team lead with 13 goals and is on pace for a career-high 38. He scored 29 in 2003-04 and in 2001 won the hardest-shot contest at the All-Star Game with a blast of 102.1 mph.

In fact, there is a belief that the snap provided by wood blades increases shot velocity. The Montreal Gazette reported that of the seven players to win the hardest shot competition since its 1990 inception, only Detroit's Sergei Fedorov in 2002 and Montreal's Sheldon Souray in 2004 used composite sticks, and Souray could only tie wood-toting Adrian Aucoin.

Modin said he isn't sure if wood's dominance is because of "the stick or the guy holding it."

Either way, he said, "I just like wood sticks. I like the way they behave."

The move away from wood really took off in the NHL in the early 1990s after Wayne Gretzky contracted with Easton to use its new aluminum-shaft sticks.

That's horse-and-buggy stuff compared to some of the newest developments. Easton, for example, advertises sticks with "carbon nanotube technology," which is supposed to increase strength while decreasing weight.

"Weight is foremost," said J.C. Ihrig, who handles CCM's pro athlete services in the Southeast. "There is less load time and a quicker release, and the puck goes where you shoot it."

The sticks are expensive. Lightning equipment manager Ray Thill said a composite costs about $150 while Modin's wood is $40.

Despite their space-age materials, composites still break. With generally 30-day guarantees, it seems they are built to perform more than last.

Still, it is the lack of nuance that bothers most old-schoolers.

While they applaud how accurately composites allow them to shoot, they bemoan a loss of "feel" in the rigid blades. Mario Lemieux said that makes it more difficult to accept the puck.

"It's not as good as wood in that regard," the Penguins star said. "When you get a hard pass, it bounces off your stick."

Lemieux recently received new sticks with wood blades. Maple Leafs forward Eric Lindros has experimented on and off with an all-wood model.

"Personally, I wasn't able to get a good handle on the puck," Lindros said of the one-piece. "I could shoot it fairly well, but as far as receiving and moving the puck, it made it a struggle."

Ihrig said manufacturers have heard the complaint, and CCM is injecting composite blades with foam to help reduce the bounce.

Modin said he originally wanted to try composites because of their uniform construction. Thill said some of Modin's sticks have come in with curved shafts. But Modin said the composite sticks "weren't acting the way I was used to."

The main problem, he said, was the rigid blade.

"I always thought I wanted as stiff a blade as possible with all the (bend) in the shaft," Modin said. "But in a wood stick, the blade also is (bending) a little bit. When I tried the one-piece, the blade did not move at all. It's a totally different feeling."

So Modin will stick (get it?) with what's working.

"I'm pretty sure if I put a lot of time and work on it, I would be able to get into one," he said of composite sticks. "But I really don't feel the need for it.

"I'm comfortable with what I have, and I'm not a big fan of changing things that don't have to be changed."