Stick Flex and Women’s Hockey
I have been a coach and instructor in women’s hockey for over 15 years and I often feel that female hockey players both young and old use a stick that is too stiff for the weight, strength and style of play. I recently sat down with Joel Bergeron, who is the Manager of Pro Custom Products at Bauer Hockey to ask him about the importance of finding the proper stick flex and what factors should be considered when choosing the right flex.
To begin my research I wanted to know what NHL players were doing when it came to selecting their stick flex. “Currently, the trend is showing that players in the NHL are adjusting to lower flexes. The old school of thought is that stiffer means more power, but players are getting increasingly technical as the game becomes faster giving players less time to shoot. The better shooters are using more action in the shaft to generate more puck speed on the quick release” explained Bergeron. He described that the average flex used in the NHL is anywhere between 95-100. Considering that most NHL players are over 6 feet tall and 200+ pounds I found this to be interesting.
Female players who have a 75 flex and cut off two inches can potentially increase the flex in the stick to over 90! Ron Kunisaki is the Owner of Base Hockey, a stick company founded in Vancouver British Columbia and feels that “As a general rule, every inch cut increases the flex by 3-4 points. For example, if you start with an 85 flex and cut one inch, the stick will be playing like an 89 flex.” Players need to consider the amount of stick that they cut off when purchasing a stick.
For players and parents, when it comes to selecting the proper flex, many factors must be taken into consideration. In fact, Bergeron believes that “Stick flex is a very subjective choice. Bergeron explained to me that the factors such as style of play, general technique, player position, player strength and the players height may all be considered in stiffness selection, however the correlation between those factors should be viewed with caution because some very strong players can use whippier sticks and be successful. In contrast, smaller, skilled players can use stiffer sticks and also demonstrate solid shoot speed. Technique and personal preference remain the most important factors to take into consideration when buying a new stick. “While I cannot offer rigid guidelines with regards to shaft stiffness for any given player profile, I believe that a common mistake in hockey is players using sticks which are too stiff” said Bergeron.
Lets look at some of Canada’s top female hockey players, Caroline Ouellette is a 5’11, 169 pound player using a 80 flex, Gillian Apps who is arguably the biggest National Team player at 6’0 and 178 pounds uses an 85 flex, Marie-Philip Poulin is 5’7, 145 pounds using a 67 flex. Catherine Ward is 5’6 and 137 pounds and uses a 65-67 flex and Sarah Vaillancourt is 5’6 and 135 pounds and also uses a 67 Flex. It seems, as though for the players who were between 5’5 and 5’8 mostly used a 67 Flex and for the bigger athletes, 75 and 80 flexes were the norm.
Caroline Ouellette explained that an 80 flex is more beneficial in her game when compared to an 85 flex. “I need to get a quick release and often I use only wrist shots and one-timers. I do not often have the opportunity to take slap shots in a game. The 85 flex just felt too stiff so I practiced with a 75 and an 80 flex and I found that the 80 flex was the most efficient for my one-timers”.
I asked Joel what he thought female hockey players should be using as a stick flex and he explained that “Similar to male hockey players, it is difficult to offer guidelines with regards to shaft stiffness for any given player profile. However, we need to consider a few facts about female hockey players: the average height, strength and weight are significantly less than male elite/NHL players. Considering sticks feel relatively stiffer when cut short (women are typically shorter than men), and the fact that women are typically less strong than men, we can conclude that female hockey players should use lower flexes. My experience with female hockey showed me that many players would benefit from lowering their flex. Once again, the common reflex for players wanting to generate more velocity is to move to higher flexes. If we took subjectivity and learned mechanics out of the equation, I would suggest that only few women should use sticks with stiffness greater than 80”.
I find Joel from Bauer Hockey and Ron from Base Hockey have a message that is very interesting and I think it is important for everyone in the women’s game to understand. They suggest that only a few female athletes should consider using a flex greater then 80. Also, from my research with the National Women’s team, Gillian Apps was the only player to use a stick with a flex stiffer then 80.
I Often players that I come across at my hockey schools and clinics have flexes of 75 because this is a popular flex seen in stores. Let’s take the pro’s advice the next time we are shopping for a new stick! Take a look at the options and make sure to ask questions. Think about the size, strength and height of the player as well as the position and style of play. Trial and error probably needs to be used at some extent as well but I believe a good rule of thumb is to look for a 55-65 flex for most young female players.
Best of luck!