Biomechanics of Ice Hockey Slap Shots: Which Stick Is Best?

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Biomechanics of Ice Hockey Slap Shots: Which Stick Is Best?

At its historical core, hockey is a game rooted in the natural environment. First played on the frozen lakes and rivers of upper North America, ice hockey--begun as the Native American game of shinny--featured carved wooden poles as sticks and hand-sewn fabrics as balls (Oxendine, 1988). As Europeans took up the game, they applied their technologies to this traditional equipment, gradually yet substantially changing the hockey stick by constructing it out of multiple pieces of wood, curving the stick blade, and wrapping the stick in fiberglass and laminate plastics to increase its durability and performance (Pearsall, Montgomery, Rothsching, & Turcotte, 1999).

Now, however, burgeoning technologies are virtually recreating hockey sticks with each passing day. Wood sticks, once the paragon of the sport, have largely been replaced by high-tech--and high-priced--graphite and composite models. Because of the seeming popularity of these "one-piece" composite sticks amongst professional players, hordes of youth and high-school-age hockey participants are now outfitting themselves with these technological marvels, much to the delight of proliferating hockey equipment companies. Certainly, the need for scholarly research on hockey technology has never been greater: Thousands of participants in the sport stand to benefit from a deeper understanding of the new developments in hockey stick technology. This paper, then, provides a scholarly education on hockey sticks, both by analyzing the biomechanics of ice hockey shooting and by investigating the extant literature on hockey stick research. In particular, this essay explores the implications of stick technologies and biomechanics for the hockey slap shot, presenting the stick selections and key bodily mechanics that stand to enhance performance of this complex and critical hockey skill.

Slap Shot Mechanics

The Slap Shot's Six Phases

A variety of scholars have explored the biomechanical aspects of ice hockey, with studies centering primarily around skating (Bracko, 2004; De Koning & Van Ingen Schenau, 2000) and shooting (Dore & Roy, 1978; Hache, 2002; Pearsall, Turcotte, & Murphy, 2000; Roy & Dore, 1976). Of these, several studies have analyzed the mechanics involved in various types of hockey shots, including the wrist, snap, slap, and backhand shots, performed both while stationary and when skating (Carr, 2004, p. 42; Dore & Roy, 1976, 1978; Hache, 2002, p. 84; Alexander, 1964, cited in Pearsall et al., 2000, p. 689; Cotton, 1966, cited in Pearsall et al., 2000, p. 689; Furlong, 1968, cited in Pearsall et al., 2000, p. 689). The slap shot in particular has garnered much scholarly attention, with researchers dividing the shot into six distinct phases: backswing, downswing, preloading, loading, release, and follow-through (Pearsall et al., 1999; Villasenor, Turcotte, & Pearsall, 2006). Three of the six--the preloading, loading, and release phases--concern the mechanical behaviors exhibited by the stick after its contact with the ice surface. This blade-ice contact time has been the intense focus of the majority of researchers investigating the hockey slap shot.

Blade Orientation

Past studies have uncovered several key differences between elite and novice performers of this critical blade-ice contact portion of the slap shot. For example, researchers have cited the orientation of the stick blade during its contact with the ice as an element differentiating elite from recreational performers. For instance, in their study of 15 college-age hockey players, Lomond, Turcotte, and Pearsall (2007) reported that experts tended to demonstrate a unique blade orientation whereby on contact with the ice, the stick blade was tilted forward (or cupped) more than recreational players' sticks. In addition, Lomond et al. described a distinctive "rocker" component between the loading and release phases of the shot, during which the cupped stick blade almost instantaneously tilted perpendicular to the ice, infusing the puck with additional kinetic energy generated from the slight recoil of the stick blade itself. …