Why do hockey players leave their sticks on the ice?

When watching a hockey game you will see multiple times a game where a player will drop their stick to the ice – accidentally or intentionally. And, when they do they do not go and pick it up and it just stays there!

Why do hockey players leave their sticks on the ice? The two main reasons a player will leave a stick on the ice are: 1. If it is broken it is illegal to play with and they must drop it immediately and, 2. They do not want to get out of position retrieving their stick and give the opponents a scoring opportunity

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Let’s look at each of these two situations more carefully. 


Dropping a stick because it is broken

Simply, it is illegal to play with a broken stick. If a player is caught using a broken stick it is a 2 minute minor penalty.  Therefore, if a player has his stick broken they must immediately drop the stick to the ice and discontinue using it.

How often does a stick break during the game? All the time.

From the inception of hockey until the 1980s all players used wooden hockey sticks and they held up quite well. With the introduction of the new age composite sticks and one piece sticks of the 1990s and 2000s, sticks started to break more frequently. 

The one piece composite sticks the players use today are awesome. They are so light and create such powerful shots. However, they break much more easily for some reason. 

If they get a knick or small crack in them they can break quite easily. A player can get a bit of crack in it and not know about it. And then when they take an even relatively ‘soft’ pass the stick will simply break. 

The most frustrating part for the coaches is to see your player get open for a fantastic shot and then see the stick break as the player takes the shot. 

As well, these sticks seem to break a fair amount as they block shots from the opposing team. It is always hard to watch your team on a penalty kill and one of your players gets his stick broken. It’s hard enough to kill a penalty in the NHL, and it becomes even harder when one player does not have a stick.  The players are so smart and the guys on the power play will key on the guy who doesn’t have the stick.

All this is to say that if you break your stick you need to drop it immediately, and hope that it doesn’t create a scoring chance for the opponent!

Well then shouldn’t you just slash the other players stick and break it?

No, you cannot do that. If you slash an opponent’s stick and it breaks it is an automatic 2 minute penalty. 

This is a good rule, but frustrating sometimes because of what I said above: some of these sticks seem to break way too easily. You will see a relatively light stick slash, which is legal and a good strategic play, however if it breaks your opponents stick it is an automatic penalty. There is no discretion from the referee on this play. 

Not picking up a stick so you stay in position

Hockey is a rough contact sport so it is quite common for a player to lose his stick in the normal course of play. 

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If a player accidentally drops his stick, he is allowed to go pick it up because it has not broken – he just dropped it!

However, when a player loses a stick that is not broken during the course of play they will have a decision to make: Do I go and pick up the stick or do I make sure I stay in my defensive position? 

It seems like the best decision would be to go and pick up the stick. How can you play hockey without a stick? 

Well, if they can do it quickly they will, but if it takes them out of the play they will not. What does this mean?

When you get to professional levels of hockey the game is so structured and so tight that if a player gets out of position at all it will cause a scoring chance for the opposition. 

It may not seem like it, but players only have small ‘windows’ and areas to pass and maneuver through. Teams are so good at defending they make it extremely hard for players to create offensive.

However, if a team gets out of position or causes a turnover hockey players are so skilled they can create a scoring chance out of small mistakes by the other team. We do not see this often because the players are so good at being where they need to be on the ice. A good way to think about it is that the NHL is the league where players make the least amount of mistakes and lower levels of hockey you will see more mistakes and thus more scoring chances.

What does all of this have to do with picking up a stick?

Well, if it takes a player to long to pick up his stick the offensive players in the NHL are just too good and will somehow create an offensive scoring chance. It is often a better option for the player to play without a stick and make sure his body is in the right position to keep the opponent from getting into positions where they can score. 

If it takes you a few seconds to get the stick and it gets you out of position this is enough time for the opponent to put the puck in the net.

To defend without a stick is a definite disadvantage, but not nearly as bad as having a player way out of position who is chasing after a stick on the ice. 

So, when a player drops a stick most often you will see them not pick it up and make sure they are in the proper defensive position. They will simply do what they can until a teammate can either clear the defensive zone or ice the puck. 

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