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The NHL : Many Resist, but More and More Pros Are Siding With Aluminum

December 02, 1987|Jerry Crowe

In the five years since the introduction of sticks with aluminum shafts, the number of National Hockey League players using them has risen each season.

The reasons are varied, but mostly the players who use them say that aluminum sticks are lighter, more accurate, more uniform in weight and have a more powerful snap than wood sticks.

"They snap back a lot quicker, so I don't have to lean into a shot as much as I would have to with a wood stick to get the same power," said Jay Wells of the Kings.

Walt Poddubny of the New York Rangers, who never scored more than 28 goals in a season before switching to aluminum last season and scoring 40, told the New York Times that aluminum "improved my shot by 35 to 40%."

Tim Kerr of the Philadelphia Flyers had never scored more than 22 goals before switching to aluminum for the 1983-84 season. Since then, he has not scored fewer than 54.

And yet, fewer than 50 NHL players use aluminum sticks, said Ed Wholley, product manager of Easton Aluminum in Van Nuys, which manufactures them. Wells and Bryan Erickson are the only Kings who use them regularly. Tim Tookey has tried them.

"There are very few players who try things on their own," said Wholley, meaning that players are reluctant to change.

The Kings' Bob Carpenter, asked about aluminum sticks, said: "Never tried them. Never wanted to."

If more players tried them, Wells said, more would use them.

For one thing, he said: "players always complain that of a dozen (wooden) sticks, only about three feel right (because of variances in weight and balance). With aluminum, every stick that comes through is exactly the same."

Also, the aluminum shafts last longer than the wooden models, Wholley said. Whereas players use an average of three or four wooden sticks a game, he said, they can get through an entire season with that many aluminum sticks.

Aluminum sticks aren't indestructible, as Easton had to prove to NHL officials before getting them approved. "They thought of them as a weapon," Wholley said.

Still, they are virtually unbreakable, having to be replaced only when they bend.

Like the blades on wooden sticks, those on aluminum sticks are made of laminated wood that is heated and shaped to the desired curve. However, unlike the blades on wooden sticks, those on aluminum sticks are replaceable.

"I think that in 10 years, a majority of the players will be using them," Wells said.

Said Wholley: "We've had companies try to buy 50-goal scorers out from under us, but once they've gotten used to aluminum, it's very difficult to go back to wood."

According to the Hartford Courant, one of the items being discussed in Moscow this week between Soviet and NHL officials is a possible world series of hockey between the Stanley Cup and Soviet league champions.

Alan Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players' Assn., told the newspaper that the playoff format could be reduced from 16 to 8 teams, and that the series would be played in May.

The series would not be an annual event, he said, but would be held every second or fourth year.

"If the dollars are right and the television revenue is enough, I think everyone will go for it," Eagleson said.

Walt Poddubny, an avid fan of the Three Stooges, told Sports Illustrated: "Playing Philadelphia is like taking on Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp all at once. The difference is that when the Flyers poke at you, it's for real."

Actor Atanas Ilitch, son of pizza mogul and Detroit Red Wings owner Michael Ilitch, credits Bernie Nicholls with an assist in getting his film career off the ground.

In New York pursuing an acting and singing career, Ilitch learned of "Body Checks," a projected television series in which Nicholls, the Kings' center, was to star.

Wondering if there might be a part in the project for him, Ilitch phoned Nicholls' former publicist, Milton Kahn, who told him the series hadn't been sold.

But, Ilitch was told, Kahn knew of another part that might interest him. The result is that Ilitch landed the starring role as a rock 'n' roll singer in "Slumber Party Massacre II," reportedly beating out, among others, Billy Idol.

"Ironically," Kahn said, "Atanas and Bernie still have never met."

As has been well documented, Wayne Gretzky once lambasted the New Jersey Devils for "ruining hockey" and "putting a Mickey Mouse operation on the ice."

New Jersey fans, obviously, have long memories.

At the Forum Sunday night, where the Devils and Kings played to a 2-2 tie, a man wore a Devil jersey on which "M. Mouse" was embroidered on the back.

Sportswriters' friend: Asked how NHL hockey could be improved, General Manager Bill Torrey of the New York Islanders said: "The most important area to address is keeping it a 2 1/2-hour game and keep the game flowing.

"Long, drawn-out games hurt us. Keep the pace fast and the game moving. Fewer whistles--keep the puck in play. Raise the glass so pucks don't fly out. Have the goalies play the puck more."

Keith Gretzky, a first-year player with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and younger brother of the game's greatest player, is known to his teammates as the Good One.

Actually, they're being kind.

Gretzky, 20, is the Americans' fourth-line center. He has played in 14 of 23 games and has 3 goals and 8 assists.

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