For future NHL players, eighth-grade shop class is now strictly an elective. The growing popularity of one-piece composite sticks has made the time-honored, morning-skate ritual of heating the wooden blade with a propane torch and shaping it to taste almost as anachronistic as pregame pepper in baseball. The one-pieces, the most revolutionary advance in sticks since the Blackhawks' Stan Mikita began heating and curving his blade in the 1960s, are made of carbon, graphite and Kevlar. Although there's no evidence that the new sticks ratchet up the speed of a slap shot (as many players claim), about half of the league's 640 skaters have switched from wood in the last two years.
So what's the appeal of the composites, aside from shaving as much as an hour off an NHL player's workday? Converts point out that the new sticks are light—Easton Synergies, used by about 270 players, weigh just over a pound, several ounces less than traditional wood sticks—and easy to flex. Most important, they're consistent. "Of a dozen wood sticks maybe only seven would have the feel you want," says Canadiens defenseman St�phane Quintal, who uses a one-piece made by CCM. "But with the composite stick each one feels like the last."
The passion for one-pieces, which began after Avalanche center Peter Forsberg used a Synergy in the 2000 playoffs, hasn't affected the dead-puck era: Scoring has slipped slightly since 1999-2000. Still, the new stick can make players trigger-happy. "Look at Mats Sundin," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur says of the Maple Leafs captain who swears by his Louisville composite. "He used to never take a shot beyond the circles. Ever. With the new stick he's shooting from everywhere."
Naturally some traditionalists stamp their skates in protest: Blue jackets goalie consultant Rick Wamsley, for one, laments that the game has become a technological arms race. A common complaint about one-pieces (which retail for about $150, or $120 more than a wood stick): "the puck seems to jump off the blade, making it harder to control in passing," says Sabres center Curtis Brown. That's why Brown and several others have begun using Easton's latest model, the Synergy Si-Core. The graphite blade of that stick contains silicone, which cushions the puck. The effect, he says approvingly, is to make the stick feel like it's made out of...wood.