On the ice, your stick is your weapon – it’s the tool that allows you to make all the most important plays in the game, including shooting the puck, checking an opponent’s stick, or making passes. It’s no wonder then that this crucial piece of equipment is the focus of more attention, superstitions, and particular preferences than any other. At the heart of the hockey stick preparation ritual is tape, which adorns the knob, the blade, and sometimes even the shaft. However, tape isn’t limited to habit, and it serves many practical purposes, including shooting, puck feel, durability, and style (of course). With so many different kinds of tape, taping techniques, tape alternatives, and player preferences out there, your stick setup is only limited by your imagination. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and most unusual stick configurations out there today.
Pictured: Artemi Panarin couldn’t make up his bind between black or white blade tape. Why not both?
Black and white cloth tape are the classics; the workhorses. With a roll of cloth tape, you can configure your stick in pretty much any way you choose, by layering, ripping, twirling and cutting this mainstay of hockey stick prep. Cloth tape is also available in wide and narrow sizes, giving maximum flexibility for both blade and knob taping. The choice of colour is relatively straightforward and mainly boils down to personal preference and style, although black tape is somewhat stickier, and some believe that it hides the puck on the blade better. Because of its stickiness and potential to mark glove palms, black cloth tape is almost never used to tape the knob. There are, of course, ‘alternative’ colours for cloth tape, such as red, orange, camo, or ‘stars and stripes’. These types are cherished by pee-wee players, benders, and other lost souls with absolutely no ‘sty’. Use at your own risk and brace yourself for chirps.
Pictured: When you absolutely, positively need to get chirped the entire game, accept no substitute.
Unlike cloth tape, grip tape isn’t sticky – even when even in black or colours other than white. It also offers different textures, more cushioning, and better grip. Finally, it’s usually not as abrasive to glove palms. For these reasons, grip tape is immensely popular to tape knobs, especially in pro hockey. Originating as athletic tape to provide support to injured joints, the most common form is a cushioned, stretchy tape that is very soft on glove palms. However, some companies also offer ‘pro grip tape’, a non-stretch and extremely abrasive variation that will chew through palms in no time. Pro grip tape gives a maximum amount of grip and doesn’t cushion the top hand, which some players will prefer. Overwhelmingly, pro players match the colour of their grip tape with their primary uniform colours. Grip tape can be used as a comfortable and stylish outer layer on a conventional cloth tape knob setup that can include a twirled tape ‘candy cane’ for the ultimate combination of texture and top hand grip. Grip tape is usually more expensive than cloth tape, although cheap imported unbranded athletic stretch tape can be found on eBay, and it’ll do the job just fine.
Pictured: Grip tape is available in different sizes, colours, and textures.
Cloth tape and grip tape didn’t start out as dedicated hockey products – they were adapted from other athletic and medical applications. If you aren’t content with those two types, you can experiment with a multitude of other tapes, especially on the butt end of your stick. Electrical tape is cheap and widely available in many colours, and it’s well-suited as a ‘finishing tape’ to hold your grip tape in place, or as a very dense tape to create a knob with little or no cushioning under cloth or grip tape. Tennis racquet or golf club grip tape can also be used on your knob to provide an unorthodox and cushioned grip. Skateboard grip tape has been used on blades to provide more friction, and it can also be used on the butt end if you really hate your glove palms. The possibilities are endless, so it’s up to you to try out different tapes and find what works best.
Pictured: Jordan Greenway’s unique ‘double candy cane’ definitely stands out.
The candy cane is probably the most visible and best-known alternative taping technique, providing a distinctive feel and more grip to non-grip shafts. It can be invaluable to those bargain hunters buying used sticks, since a non-grip stick can be customized with a candy cane to provide a more familiar feeling to those used to grip shafts. Of course, with BASE’s custom sticks and five different shaft coatings, a candy cane won’t be necessary to get the exact grip you’re looking for. However, there are players who specifically prefer the feeling of a cloth tape candy cane and who will order their sticks non-grip to add their own candy cane afterwards. As with any stick configuration, candy caning is highly customizable and subject to personal preference. You can create a cloth tape ‘twirl’ to provide a raised texture and a very secure hold, or you can use only a flat strip of cloth tape to provide a bit more friction to a non-grip stick. You can also tear a narrow cloth tape roll in half for a subtle and light grip touch. While candy caning is most prevalent on the shaft of the stick, some players have been known to candy cane the knob or blade (or both!).
Pictured: David Pastrnak lives and breathes candy cane, from the knob to the blade of his twig. Festive!
It’s no wonder that players are extremely particular about how they tape their blade, since blade tape can affect everything from puck rotation and puck path during shooting to cushioning and puck feel during stickhandling. The conventional, old-school blade taping technique is to tape most of the blade from near the toe to near the heel, leaving the toe and heel exposed. Many players now tape the toe of their blade, which is especially useful for toe drags and shooting off the toe. Some even go for a ‘full sock’, taping their entire blade from the toe to past the heel. More tape provides more cushioning and friction, while less tape provides less cushioning and a more direct feel to the blade. BASE’s different blade finishes – Naked, Clear, and Shark Skin – can complement your taping style to provide more friction to the untaped areas of your blade or help with tape adhesion and removal. Blade tape is also crucial for durability, as the blade is the area of the blade which takes the worst beating during a game and usually fails first. A fully taped blade that’s regularly retaped can help prolong the life of your stick.
Pictured: Patrick Sharp rocks the ‘full sock’ tapejob.
Blade Edge Reinforcement vs Naked Edge
To provide extra reinforcement to their tape job, some players will wrap a strip of tape along the underside and toe of their blade, making the tape last longer and better protecting the blade. However, some players prefer less drag on the ice when stickhandling or shooting and will therefore leave the underside of their blade tape-free. Usually, this is accomplished by using horizontal strips of tape along the length of the blade instead of taping around the top and bottom of the blade vertically. However, Alexei Kovalev has been known to cut the bottom edge of his vertically-taped blade with an exacto knife to peel off the tape on the underside of the blade. With no tape on the bottom edge of the blade, you get a smoother, ‘friction-free’ feeling when shooting or stickhandling, but this increases wear on the underside of the blade. This tape job is especially popular with roller hockey players who need to reduce blade drag on the plastic ice surface.
Pictured: Kevin Fiala with the ‘roller dad’ tape job. Saved his team hundreds of dollars per year on tape.
Watch: Erik Cole’s tape job usually outlasts his sticks. #prohockeyproblems
Tape alternatives and other accessories
Premade Grips and Knobs
If taping the butt end of your stick is more of a chose than a pleasure, and if you’re looking for unmatched durability and consistency, several companies offer moulded rubber hockey stick grips. These products come in a variety of colours and styles, and many are reusable, so you can switch your grip to a new stick once your break your current twig. These grips are initially much more expensive than a conventional tape job, but the durability of rubber grips makes them worth it in the long run. You do lose some customization by giving up on manual taping, and those who enjoy the ritual of taping a new twig will probably be disappointed with the tedious process of sliding on rubber grips. However, the practical-minded player who values feel and consistency over customization and ritual will try one and never look back. Plus, there is the added benefit of a clean-looking knob every time, which some obsessive players who have to re-do their tape job several times before it’s perfect will appreciate.
Pictured: Buttendz’s distinctive rubber grips are a popular choice among pros and amateur players alike.
Premade Blade Decals
Like rubber grips, premade blade decals offer superb consistency and durability. They’ll often cushion the puck better than a conventional tape job, and they will almost certainly outlast your stick. Many of them feature raised patterns which create more friction and add puck spin for consistent shots. For those players looking to avoid the considerable cushioning of blade tape, BASE’s Shark Skin blade texture will accomplish the same puck spin on untaped areas of your blade while providing superior feel through direct contact with the blade surface. Blade decals are relatively rare, but players who find taping their stick to be a chore will appreciate being able to stick on a decal once and never taping their stick blade again. These decals only cover the face of the blade and leave the underside exposed, which negatively impacts durability but can be preferable to those players who enjoy less friction while stickhandling or shooting.
Pictured: A rubber blade decal. Arguably dusty, but practical.
Wooden and Composite Extensions
When you’ve cut your stick too short or the standard shaft length isn’t long enough for you, wooden and composite shaft extensions allow you to extend the shaft of your stick. Of course, BASE offers extended shafts up to 6”, so this will never be a problem for a BASE custom stick user. The cheapest and most common extensions are solid wood plugs, which can also provide a different dampened feel in the top hand and make the stick feel more blade-light. Some players will even cut their stick down shorter than they need it and add a wooden end plug because their prefer the feel or want to shave down the plug to a non-standard shaft shape. To keep your stick as light as possible while extending it, a hollow composite extension can be purchased directly from BASE and added onto any stick.
Watch: Brad Marchand’s lucky wooden end plug is as disgusting as he is.
Other Tape Alternatives
As usually, the limit to stick customization is your imagination, so almost anything can be used as an alternative or add-on to tape on your stick. Many players will add wax to their stick blade to improve puck feel and protect their tape job from moisture and wear. Some players – most notably Wayne Gretzky – will add baby powder to the blade or knob of their stick to reduce stickiness and friction. There are also some very unorthodox options, such as rubber electrical shrink tubing. This cheap material can be slid over a cloth tape job on the knob of your stick and shrunken with a heat gun to seal the tape, providing added durability, colour options, and waterproofing. However, it is usually less grippy than grip or cloth tape.
Pictured: Heat shrink tubing – the quintessential accessory for any hockey stick hipster.
No matter how you choose to tape, cut, sand, or otherwise configure your stick, the most important factor will always be your confidence level. The options are endless, and you can always try out different materials and techniques to find your ideal customization. With a unique tape job and a custom BASE stick, you’ll be able to be as comfortable as possible on the ice, eliminating variables and allowing you to focus on your performance instead of your equipment. Choose the setup that’s right for you, even if it gets you savagely chirped every game. Please though, no camo grip tape.
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