Why do hockey players tape their sticks?

One of a hockey player’s favourite things to do before a game is to tape their hockey stick. Many will spend countless hours doing this during the season. But, why do they spend so much time on this? 

Why do hockey players tape their sticks? Players tape both the blade and knob of their sticks. They tape the blade for added protection and to give them a better feel when controlling the puck. They tape the knob for grip and it helps in picking up the stick quickly if it falls to the ice. 

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Let’s look at the reasons players tape their stick in more detail. 


Original reason for taping: to protect the wood stick

Hockey sticks were originally made of wood. NHL players do not use wood sticks anymore. You can still buy them, and I have a few old ones in my garage, but up until the 1990s this is all you could get. 

Now wood sticks are – wait for it – made of wood. And wood sticks would  do not mix well with the snow and water moisture from the ice. 

The water moisture would work its way into the would causing splintering on the bottom of the stick. If you ever see a wood stick sitting in someone’s house or garage, check the bottom of it. It is mostly likely splintered and cracked from use.

To prevent this splintering of the wood stick and to prolong the life of the stick players would tape their stick. The tape would prevent water moisture from entering the stick and it would also keep the would stick from splintering as quickly on the bottom. 

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After a few games the tape would start to get chewed up by the ice and the stick would need to be re-taped. 

In addition to protecting the stick, the black tape helps camouflage the puck on the stick. It is harder for the goalie to see the puck on a stick that is black than a puck that is sitting on a brown wood background.


New sticks new problems

Now the sticks NHL players (and most recreational players) use are not made of wood. (I have a friend who I play hockey with who uses a wood stick and it feels like he has traveled from the past in the Delorean). 

The sticks that players use nowadays are composite sticks made out of materials like graphite, kevlar and carbon. Wood sticks cost about $20 and composite can cost as much as $300.

Now the composite sticks do not have the problem of having to worry about water moisture getting into the stick, but with the new sticks come new problems. 

Let’s look at why a composite stick is taped.

1) To prevent from cracking

Composite sticks break easier than you would expect. When you watch a game you will often see a player go to take a shot and his stick explode in the process. The reason this happens is that the stick has a crack in it and the force of the shot will cause the stick to crumble.

The composite sticks can get cracks in them from being slashed or hit by hard pucks. So to prevent the blades of the stick from getting cracks in them the players will tape the stick as protection. 

This protection, much like the wood stick, will extend the length of life of the stick, which helps when you are paying $100 to $300 per stick!

2) To both receive passes and direct the puck better

The most important reason players will tape composite sticks is for feel.

What I mean by feel is that the tape will do two things: provide cushioning in receiving passes and help direct the puck better when giving passes or shooting. 

The blade of the composite stick is more slippy than the wood stick. The puck does not quite come on and off of the stick the same as it does the wood stick. 

The tape provides a nice cushion in receiving the puck when passed too.  This allows the puck to be that much easier to receive. 

As well, when handling and passing the puck tape allows the puck to be controlled just that much better. It improves the players feel for stick-handling and allows a more accurate pass when sending the puck to a teammate.

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It may not seem like that big of a deal, but in hockey inches matter and you need to be precise or the puck will end up on the other team’s stick and in the back of your net. 


Taping the top of the stick

Now the blade is not the only part of the stick that gets taped. The top or knob of the stick will also get taped. 

Players tape the knob for two reasons: grip and to help pick the stick up off the ice. 

1) Grip

The top of the stick is taped so the players can have a better grip on it, which allows for control and stability. 

The middle of the stick is not taped, because the bottom hand needs to be able to slide up and down the shaft as part of stick-handling and shooting. As you watch a slapshot being taken the player raises the stick off the ice and the bottom hand will slide up the stick towards the blade. As the player takes the shot the bottom hand slides back up towards the top.

The top hand in shooting and stick-handling acts as an anchor and needs to stay in one spot, and, therefore, tape is a great way to provide the grip necessary so that hand does not slide around. 

2) Pick up off the ice

During the course of play it is common for players to have sticks knocked out of their hands. Have you ever tried to pick a stick up off the ice? Fast?

It is not that easy. Especially if the hockey stick is lying flat on the ice! Players will create a thick knob of tape at the end of the stick – partly to help hold onto the stick better – but also to help them be able to pick up the stick off the ice faster.

When the stick falls on the ice the knob created by the tape helps create a separation between the shaft of the stick and the ice so it easier for the player to be able to pick up the stick off the ice. 

This really does save a lot of time. A player cannot actually afford the time to pick up their stick off the ice in many circumstances – I actually wrote a post about it


Conclusion

Tape on a hockey stick seems like a simple thing, but hockey players take it very seriously. NHL players will spend hours and hours working on taping their sticks each year. 

They trainers do not do it for them because they all have little ways that they want their sticks taped and they leave it up to no one else but themselves.

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