Science Behind It: Stick Flex

It’s no secret that the flex of a stick can greatly influence the outcome of a shot- as well as the outcome of a goalie’s chance to save it. With proper flex and the right skill set, a player can be nearly impossible to play against.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara recorded a 108.8 mph slap shot in 2012 (image from leagueittous.com)

Stick flex is typically categorized by a number, printed on the side of the stick to indicate the pounds of force it takes to bend the stick one inch. In other words, in “inch pounds”. Zdeno Chara, for instance, uses a 150-155 flex. To put it into comparison, it is typically recommended to use a stick with half of the player’s bodyweight in inch pounds. With the average NHL player coming in at around 200 pounds, that means that the “recommended” average stick flex is around 100 inch pounds.

So what is the actual science behind stick flex, and how does it add onto or take away from a player’s game?

Stick flex can be compared to a moment. A moment of force, typically known as simply a “moment” is the product of force and distance of lever arm on a specific rotary point. In hockey, the “moment” would be the amount of force the player was putting on the stick, and the distance that the grounding force (the player’s hand) is from the point of contact with the puck.

Torque/Moment as demonstrated by a wrench (image from tien-i.com)

The example of a wrench is nearly perfect… but wrenches don’t bend. The material hockey sticks are made of allow them to bend and return to their original state easily, giving the iconic “flex” that most fans drool over. Each type of stick has a different type of flex, and therefore different advantages. Players with hard shots want a stick that requires more inch pounds, and will therefore snap back to their initial position with more force and launch the puck at unbelievable speeds. Other players enjoy a lighter flex that gives the puck some twang but doesn’t take as much effort to shoot with.

In the end it comes down to preference, but each type of stick gives very distinct advantages. For instance, a player that rockets pucks from the blue line and doesn’t need as much painstaking precision would rely heavily on a stick with higher inch pounds. A player that fires off quick wrist shots with deadly accuracy relies on a stick with less force behind the flex. Make sure to keep an eye out for that deadly flex on the ice, and watch as it snaps and fires the puck straight past the goalkeeper. Looks great in slow motion, too.

Article by Tess Garchinsky (@flyersnbuckets)

Cover photo from bardown.com

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