It’s no secret that the game of hockey has changed over the decades it has been played professionally, adapting to rule changes, new players with unique skills that merit special attention, and of course, technological advances that push the game forward. For example, it’s now hard to think of how the game would function without video replay with how fast hockey is played.
One less obvious, but crucially important, area in which the game has evolved would be in the technology found in player equipment, most notable with sticks. If you grew up playing hockey before the late 80’s/early 90’s, played a lot of street hockey, or simply preferred things old school, you almost certainly used a hockey staple in the wooden stick. You could rip a slapshot into your parents’ garage window with those 100+ flex twigs, but compared to what we have now, what they make up for in durability they sadly lack in their unwieldiness if you’ve only played with composite sticks.
On the latter, composite sticks came as an evolution from the aluminum shaft sticks popularized by Wayne Gretzky during his time with the Los Angeles Kings. First introduced in the mid 1990’s as a two-piece stick (the shaft of the stick was composite and the blade came separately), composites allowed for a mix of flexibility and durability to be provided in sticks that the game had never seen before. In the early 2000’s, composite sticks themselves would then see another major innovation that has stuck to this day: the one-piece composite stick.
The Easton Synergy, popularized by Colorado Avalanche legend turned executive Joe Sakic, was the first of the one-piece composites to take the NHL by storm, and since then, the one-piece composite has become the default.
This isn’t to say that hockey sticks haven’t changed since the one-piece composite stick was introduced. In fact, there have been numerous changes that can be documented, from weight to stick curves and even in how brands want to market these products to the public.
So, in collaboration with Matt Stathopoulos of geargeek.com (follow them on Twitter @geargeekhockey), we thought a fun way to analyze these changes would be in looking back at some classic Flyers from an era now by-gone. We’ll take a look into what these players preferred, what was available to them, and how that differs from what players are choosing today.
Mike Richards 2008-2011
Supreme line: NikeBauer Supreme one95 (08-09), Bauer Supreme one95 (09-10), Bauer Supreme TotalOne (10-11)
Curve: closest retail comparison P106
Though he didn’t serve as Flyers’ Captain as long as franchise legends such as Bobby Clarke and Claude Giroux, Mike Richards is no less important to the lore of the Orange and Black. He played his two-way game with a grit that fans appreciated, and was involved in orchestrating some of the most crucial plays in Flyer playoff history (of course, everyone knows “The Shift”).
Richards was always a NikeBauer man, and stuck with the brand even after Nike sold Bauer in February of 2008, though he would have had a lot of options available to him.
In today’s market, Bauer and CCM are the two largest brands and they make up 75.97% of stick usage in the NHL as of writing (stat courtesy of Gear Geek). The less popular brands such as Warrior, True, and Sherwood, only hold a small percentage of the market comparatively. If we back up to around 2007-08, via a look at hockey stores through the Wayback Machine, we see that Mike Richards would have had all of Rebook (rest in peace), NikeBauer, CCM, Easton, Mission, Warrior, Sherwood, and TPS Louisville to choose from. Unfortunately, ever since Jofa was purchased by Rebook during the 2004-05 lockout, the number of brands we see represented, and therefore choice to consumers and players alike, has dwindled as business in the hockey world has run its course.
Tangent aside, Richards stuck with the Supreme line of sticks throughout his Flyers tenure, and looking into the actual build of his sticks, they were an “O33”, which is the code for the proper Supreme TotalOne build, and likely means that Richards stuck with the Supremes for quite a while. This means he wasn’t simply using a Supreme graphic on a different stick, a practice lots of players do in the NHL. This is because players are creatures of habit and get used to how a certain stick feels. They obviously wouldn’t want to change what works for them, so often they’ll only have the graphics changed to match the newest stick releases!
Richards’ use of the Supreme stick definitely was befitting of his style of play as a two-way power oriented center. However, what is interesting is in what using the Supreme meant for Richards back then versus now. Today, the Supreme sticks are Bauer’s high-kick point family, meaning they flex very high up the stick in order to generate as much power as possible on slapshots and snapshots. Bauer, however, are discontinuing the Supreme stick line in favor of the Vapor (low kick) and Nexus (mid kick) lines.
Back in the mid-late 2000’s, however, the Supreme featured a build that is more in line with what the Nexus is today. Looking at an old 2007 NikeBauer catalog (a relic indeed!) we can see that the Supreme is described as featuring a “consistent low-mid flex for superior loading capabilities”. Looking into various blog posts of the era confirms this to be true, and in fact, I saw a lot of nostalgia over the old Supreme sticks.
Richards also used a curve similar to the old P106, a curve whose modern cousin would be the P92, but with the curve on the mid/heel rather than mid/toe. It is actually described as the Richards/Gagne, but I wonder who influenced who!
Mike Knuble 2006-2009
Easton Synergy ST Blue (05-06), Easton Synergy ST silver-red (Fall 2006), Easton Synergy SE Grip (Spring 2007), Easton Synergy SE non-grip (Winter and Spring 2008), Easton Synergy SE16 (Fall 2008), Easton Stealth S17 (Spring 2009)
Mike Knuble is one of my (Drew’s) personal favorite players of all time, so much so that I dedicated an entire article to him back in 2020.
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings back in 1991, Knuble had his back scoring season with the Flyers in 2005-06 (34G, 31A, 65 PTS) playing on the “Deuces Wild” line with Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg.
Knuble is an iconic Flyer of the mid-late 2000’s, and gave the Flyers the scoring depth that helped them to much success throughout that time.
While Knuble preferred to wear Bauer with his gloves and skates (he preferred the Supreme line of skates), sticks wise he stuck with Easton. He went through a couple variants of Synergy sticks (closer to a mid kick, could be classified as mid-low), and even used a Stealth model later in his Flyers tenure (low kick).
Knuble also used a mid/heel variety of curve, which will be a noticeable trend with all the players to be discussed in this article. Nearly all of them use a curve that focuses more towards the heel of the stick. This may seem odd to younger readers (myself included!) as nearly all sticks today at the retail level have blade patterns than are either all mid curve, mid/toe, or heavily toe.
With heel curves, the curve primarily starts at the beginning of the blade and straightens out as you get to the toe, which is the exact opposite of the preferences we see today. These heel curves made it easier for players to generate a lot of power on their slapshots, and also helped with shot accuracy, as if one was shooting off the toe, it is easier to be accurate if the toe is flatter.
You can still find heel curves on sticks today, but if you go to most hockey stores, you’ll primarily see the P88 (mid), P92 (mid/toe), and P28 (toe), which are more suited for toe drags unitising the curved end of the stick, and can propel the puck rapidly top shelf with proper technique. This, at least in my opinion, signifies a real change in the game of hockey. While player such as the aforementioned Joe Sakic used more mid-curves like the P92, there is a reason the P92 is known today as the “Crosby”. As players such as Sidney Crosby entered the league and brought a pacier, more skilled focus to the game, sticks changed to favor a blade where you can dangle with the puck easier and get shots off quickly to surprise the goaltender. The P28 is essentially an evolution to do just that, and with it being known by some as the “McDavid”, that hook on the toe has almost become essential to becoming elusive with the puck at your stick. That’s at least my assessment!
Simon Gagne 2006-2010
Bauer Vapor XXX (05-06), NikeBauer Supreme one90 (06-07 and 07-08), NikeBauer Supreme one95 (08-09), Bauer Supreme one95 (09-10). He had very little use with the Vapor X60 in the Fall of 2009.
Curve: no retail comparison, narrow blade, mid-toe curve with deep pocket
From his game winning goal in Game Six of the 2003-04 ECF against Tampa, to his heroics in the 3-0 comeback series in 2009-10 against the Boston Bruins, there are few players who span eras quite like Simon Gagne does. To put it this way, Gagne played with Rick Tocchet, Ulf Samuelsson, as well as with Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, and Keith Primeau, as well as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier.
While Gagne may not be a hall-of-fame caliber player, he iced in 822 games and scored over 600 points, which is no small feat.
Like Mike Richards, Gagne stuck with Bauer throughout his career, primarily using the Supreme line of sticks and skates, though Gagne used the legendary Vapor XXX (low kick) during his breakout 2005-06 campaign (47 goals, 79 points). At the time of its release, the XXX was the lightest stick on the market, and it was noted for having exceptional puck-feel on the blade. A lot of its users from back when it was mass produced, player and consumer alike, rate it as the best stick of all time, which is more than high praise.
While the Richards/Gagne/Jokinen curve was a mid/heel, Gagne was more well known for using a curve that was mid/toe similar to the P92 but was less open than the former, more like a P88. It was a very deep curve with a square toe and long blade, meaning that Gagne could stickhandle easily and not compromise on any type of shot he wanted to make. It was certainly a unique curve for the time, and can be considered quite modern by today’s standards.
Danny Briere 2008-2010
Easton Synergy SE Grip and Easton Stealth S17 Grip (07-08), NikeBauer Supreme one95 (08-09), Bauer Supreme one95 (09-10)
Curve: no retail comparison, but best described as a heel/wedge. Some announcers even referred to it as similar to a “6 Iron” in golf
Mr. Playoffs himself was a beauty, as we all know, and with his certified beauty status comes a strange aspect to Briere’s specs.
Briere switched from Easton to Bauer for the 08-09 season, and stuck with the Supreme sticks and skates after his switch, similar to a few of his Flyers teammates. However, what stands out about Briere is his stick blade.
Now, many of you may know this, as it was a pretty unique feature of Briere’s stick build, but he essentially used a wedge curve on his sticks. Here is an image of a pro-stock Briere stick:
It looks more like a golf club face than a hockey stick, and I’ve never seen any other stick like it! Briere was ripping backhanders with this thing like no other! Briere was also known for starting with a fairly high flex stick, but lowering the flex down as the season progressed.
Jeff Carter 2008-2011
NikeBauer Supreme one95 (08-09), Bauer Supreme one95 (09-10), Bauer Supreme TotalOne (10-11)
Curve: heel, retail comparison “Staal” P91A
Jeff Carter was one of the premiere goal scorers on the Flyers teams that went to the ECF in 2007-08 and the Stanley Cup Final in 2009-10, and similar to Simon Gagne and Mike Richards, he stuck with Bauer.
Carter used a popular curve at the time, the P91A, known as the “Staal” or “Drury”. It is a curve that, due to its openness, is great for lifting the puck to either clear the zone or shoot high when in close as Carter was known to do. It is also a great stick for tipping and deflecting the puck due to the relative straightness of the curve as well.
It is a much flatter version of the P88 and the curve on the P91A starts much earlier on the blade than the P88.
It is interesting that a perennial 35+ goal scorer like Carter used a blade more associated with net-front players and grinders that dig in the corners, however, Carter certainly made it work. Meanwhile, most modern day snipers are using a variant of the P92 or the P28.
Kimmo Timonen 2008-2010
Warrior Dolomite Grip (08-09), Warrior Dolomite DD (09-10), Bauer Vapor X60 (09-10)
Curve: mid-heel, looked very similar to Rick Nash’s pro stock curve
Last but not least, we will look at a defenseman in Kimmo Timonen. Acquired from the Nashville Predators after the Flyers’ disastrous 2006-07 campaign, Timonen became a key member of the Flyers’ blue line and would eventually win a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Timonen stuck with Bauer Vapors for his skates, and used both Warrior and TPS gloves as a Flyer, but stick wise, he used Warriors (a first in this article) before eventually switching to Bauer. It is interesting to note that as a defenseman, especially in that era, he was using two low kick model sticks. While it is common today for defenders to use low kick sticks as they like to pinch from the blue line and shoot from closer range, back in the past, it was more common to see defensemen bomb slapshots on net with a more stiff, higher kick stick.
Timonen bucks this trend, though he still uses a standard mid/heel curve as was common practice at the time. Interestingly, the TPS variant of the P92 was retailed as the “Nash” but Timonen’s stick featured a curve more similar to the P91A or P106.