Let us first go through a few basics on the goaltender hockey stick. The stick is composed of three parts, the shaft, the paddle and the blade.
The shaft is the longest and thin section, it mostly serves to grip the stick and facilitate handling the puck.
The paddle is the thicker section directly below the shaft. This section is wider in order to cover more surface and to facilitate the stopping of pucks. Some goaltenders place the paddle length along the ice in some positions in order to cover the bottom portion of the net.
Finally, the blade portion of the stick is used to stop pucks along the ice and to handle the puck. The blade section will be in contact with the puck more often than any other section.
The first thing to consider when purchasing a goalie stick is the material from which it is made. If you have read our article on hockey stick materials you will recall some of the materials used and their properties.While having a lighter stick can improve performance for a player who uses his stick often, for a goaltender this is not as much of a factor.
A lighter stick will enable the goaltender to move his blocker hand more rapidly and increase his chance of blocking a shot but in my experience, balance is more important than weight. Balance is dependent on the weight distribution of the stick. The centre of gravity should be located directly at the top of the paddle section where the stick is held. This allows you to move the stick much more easily even if it does weight more than an unbalanced stick. To check for the centre of gravity of the stick hold the stick in a horizontal position with one finger, move your finger along the stick length until it is balanced on both sides. (the position of your finger will indicate the centre of gravity)
You should aim for the centre of gravity to be as close to the junction of teh paddle and the shaft as possible.However, due to the nature of the sticks, the centre of gravity will usually be on the paddle, approx 12-21cm from the junction of the shaft and the paddle. It should be noted that the addition of tape will slightly shift the centre of gravity towards the shaft.
Other than balance, some factors to consider are material durability, flex and vibrations. As was seen in the hockey stick materials article, while carbon is extremely light and stiff, it is also weak during impact loading. A stick which receives numerous impacts should therefore be made of a limited amount of carbon fibre to ensure some durability.
The flex of a player stick is quite important to ensure the strongest shot possible, however for a goaltender, shots are not as important. The goaltender must be able to pass the puck and clear it out of his zone which does not require a high stick stiffness. Furthermore, the stiffer the stick, the more vibrations will be felt when blocking a shot. These vibrations can be uncomfortable and distracting.
If the stick is properly balanced, the weight savings of using carbon and increase of stiffness are not significant when considering the loss of durability. I prefer a stick with a mix of fibreglass and carbon for balance, durability, relatively low stiffness and light weight.
Now that we know the ideal materials of the stick, we have to find out what is the correct sizing. There are three categories of sticks to consider : Junior, Intermediate and Senior. Junior sticks are the smallest in size, designed for goalies up to 12 years of age. Intermediate sticks are slightly longer and bigger than the Junior sticks and are for goalies between 11 and 15 years of age. Senior sticks are the largest and meant for goalies 15+. Keep in mind the age ranges are dependent on individiual height.
Once you have selected the appropriate stick category for you, you must then choose a paddle length. The paddle length is important as it will dictate how high your blocker will be from the ice. If you choose a stick with a paddle length that is too short, the heel of the stick will not be in constant contact with the ice. The goaltender may hold his blocker too low for comfort to compensate for the inadequate length of the paddle.
On the other hand, if the paddle length is too long, the tip of the stick will not be in contact with the ice. The goaltender may hold his blocker too high for comfort to compensate for the length of the paddle.
It is therefore important to choose the correct length of paddle to ensure the stick is in constant contact with the ice and increase the chances of stopping pucks. Don't be afraid to bring your skates in the store and wear them while trying out sticks. Get into position with the stick and look down at your stick to see if the blade makes contact with the floor.
Finally, the curve in the blade should be shaped to the preference of the goaltender. The shape is truly a personal preference but only really comes into play when shooting or passing the puck which does not occur extremely often.
In conclusion, the next time you go buy yourself a goaltender stick. Ensure that the stick is well balanced. Find the stick's centre of gravity, see how the stick feels when you move it around holding it correctly.
Next, ensure the paddle length is adequate by taking your regular stance and looking at the blade of the stick. (this works better if you have your skates on)
Make sure the stick material suits your needs. Favour fibreglass or wood for durability or carbon for extremely light weight. (As mentionned previously, I find balance is more important than weight).
Finally, check the stick's flex and curve as per your personal preference.