There are few stick specs that have a bigger effect on skater performance than stick length. You can have the perfect flex, the right curve, and a grip coating you like, but if your stick length is off, it’ll ruin your game. Accordingly, this factor has been the subject of intense debate. Old-school purists will argue for a very short stick that allows you to stickhandle ‘in front of your body’, like Gretzky or Bobby Orr, while renowned NHL shooting instructor Tim Turk uses a stick that most players would find very long. There are countless tips and tricks circulating around coaching schools, teams, and the internet, with players being left to rely on their instruction or – more often – trial and error. The result is a lack of consensus on hockey stick length, which especially hurts young developing players. This article will address some of the misconceptions about stick length and inform players on the advantages and disadvantages of different lengths. However, the final decision on stick length, as with anything else related to your stick, is about your personal preference and technique.
Pictured: NHL shooting coach Tim Turk uses a very long stick shaft.
The crucial variables: Stick length and lie
As we’ll see throughout this article, stick length affects other aspects of the stick, such as weight and flex. However, the most important effect that shaft length will have on your stick is on the lie of the blade. Lie itself is often misunderstood, but the basic rule is this: A shorter shaft needs a higher lie and/or a more aggressive rocker and vice-versa, all other things being equal. As the shaft gets longer, the blade gets further away from you on the ice, and the blade makes contact with the ice further back towards the heel. For example, a Lie 6 stick cut 1” will ‘lie’ on the ice closer to the toe, while that same stick extended 1” will rest closer to its heel. If you’re missing a lot of passes under the toe of your blade, an easy fix is to cut your stick to drop the toe. Accordingly, if you want to use a longer stick but the lie of your current stick works for you, you’ll need a lower lie to compensate for the longer shaft and keep the middle of the blade flat on the ice. You can also manipulate these effects to fit your particular playing style. Toe shooters will often prefer a shorter stick and/or lower lie to give the blade a ‘toe bias’, keeping the toe on the ice to facilitate toe shooting.
Pictured: A depiction of the effect of changing stick length on the lie of your blade.
One of the best-known effects of changing stick length is stickhandling ease and performance. Many of hockey’s best stickhandlers, such as Sidney Crosby and Alexei Kovalev, use very short sticks. Indeed, shortening your stick will keep the puck closer to your body and allow you to control your blade and puck movements more easily. Look at it this way: it’s easier to hit a light switch with your finger than it is with an outstretched broom handle, so the same concept applies to the length of your stick. If you’re not confident in your stickhandling, shortening your stick may be the tweak you need to get over that hurdle. Furthermore, another crucial aspect of stickhandling mechanics is enabling the maximum range of motion in your hands. Your top hand should be able to cross your body from hip to hip with the blade remaining flat on the ice and without having to “T-rex” (having your top hand above your elbow and your wrist bent downwards). If you’re T-rexing, it’s a good sign that you should cut your stick down, since stickhandling won’t feel natural in that position.
Pictured: The “T-rex” effect – a telltale sign that you stick may be too long. (Source:Cut Hockey Sticks)
However, for highly skilled stickhandlers such as Pavel Datsyuk, a longer stick will provide more reach, making some stickhandling moves more effective. Skilled players can make the choice between a long stick, which favours sweeping moves and deking around players, and a short stick, which favours quick moves and stickhandling through players. If you’re comfortable with your stickhandling skill and want to add another tool to your arsenal, a longer stick could help diversify your stickhandling arsenal. Some players also have a natural preference for handling the puck further away from their body, where it’s easier to see in their peripheral vision without putting their head down.
Watch: Alexei Kovalev’s short stick and unique pattern helped him be one of the greatest stickhandlers of all time.
The relationship between stick length and shooting is complicated and involves important trade-offs. For most players, shooting technique should dictate stick length, not the other way around. However, if you’re looking for specific benefits and are aware of the drawbacks, changing your stick length can help you dial in your shot. A longer stick will provide more leverage on all types of shots, allowing you to place your top and bottom hands further apart on the shaft and generate more power. A longer stick also helps you flex your stick more from an upright position, for those players that don’t want to “bear down” on their shot. Long sticks are generally better suited to players who use “contact shots”, such as slap shots and one-timers, where they can generate more power.
For players who prefer wrist shots and shooting versatility, a short stick is often the answer. With a short stick, an aggressive rocker, and a high lie, it’s much easier to release the puck from anywhere in your range of motion. While a longer stick requires a more deliberate setup as you get the puck far enough away from your body to load up, a short stick can fire the puck at a moment’s notice, from in front of your front foot, beside you, or behind your hip. Short sticks provide a quick release, especially since your bottom hand won’t have to move as far to transition from a stickhandling to a shooting position. For players who like to put their weight into their shots, it’ll be easier to bear down on a short stick than a longer one. When deciding whether to cut down or extend your stick, don’t forget that its highly-engineered kick points will likely be affected by a change in overall shaft length.
Watch: Sidney Crosby’s short stick doesn’t stop him from unleashing powerful shots.
Like shooting, defense is affected in many ways by stick length. The conventional wisdom is that defensemen and defensive forwards are better served by long sticks that provide greater reach for poke and stick checks. However, a shorter stick can be better suited to board work and in-tight puck battles in front of the net. Furthermore, since a shorter stick is easier to handle, some players are better off sacrificing an inch of reach to gain more dexterity, making each check more accurate. Again, stick length for defense is heavily determined by your playing style, skill level, and personal preference. ‘Contact’ players – those who favour quick, simple touches and passing over holding the puck and stickhandling – can benefit from the extra reach of a longer stick without it overly affecting their game. However, more dynamic players who like to skate the puck out of their zone will probably prefer the flexibility of a shorter stick.
Pictured: Zdeno Chara’s long stick accentuates his gargantuan wingspan, making him very hard to get around.
Weight and balance
Last and certainly least, cutting a stick will obviously make it lighter. However, it will also affect its balance point, making it feel slightly more blade heavy. These factors are so minimal as to be barely noticeable, but many players are very particular about the exact feel of their stick, and balance can make a psychological difference in stickhandling and shooting. If none of the other factors listed above have helped you decide on a stick length, then maybe shaving off a few grams and changing the balance of your twig could be a salient consideration for you. However, as with pretty much any other stick spec, remember that stick length always depends on your subjective preference and technique.
Pictured: The Reign LT is BASE’s lightest stick ever and one of the lightest sticks on the market.
It’s hard to convey the sheer amount of information about stick length in a blog post; you could write a book on this topic. However, hopefully this article will have piqued your curiosity and driven you to think twice about the length of your stick. If you’re serious about refining your playing style to unlock peak performance and enjoy the game, check out our SoCal BASE Hockey fitting center, and one of our expert fitters will be able to help you fine-tune your stick length.
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