There are many things to consider when buying a hockey stick, particularly since sticks today are getting more and more complex and expensive. Some of the considerations include type, shape, pattern, flex, texture, brand, and features. Also, you should consider warranty and price.
The best stick is one that meets your personal preferences, not the one that everyone else has.
TYPE OF STICK
Wood - These sticks have been around the longest. They are the most affordable, however they are not very durable, which means that in some cases they may even be more expensive in the long run. For young or beginning players, wood sticks are the best choice. There is not enough value gained from the more expensive sticks for beginning players to warrant spending up to 10 times more. Some NHL players even prefer wood, as many think it offers greater ‘feel' for the puck.
Two-piece composite - Composite shaft with either wood or composite replaceable blades. The advantage of two-pieces is that if you break one part of the stick, the other part can be salvaged. Also, they allow you to try different blade patterns more affordably than one-pieces.
Composite material is lighter and more durable than wood, however it does cost more. Many players like two-piece sticks because they can combine the lightness of a composite shaft, with the ‘feel' of a wood blade.
Note: Blades are interchangeable between brands as long as they are the same hosel classification. For example junior shafts only fit junior blades, while intermediate and senior shafts accept senior blades. Also, some shafts are tapered, which allows for a lower ‘kickpoint' in the stick. Tapered shafts require shorter blades and will not work with regular blades.
One-piece composite - These are the lightest and most expensive sticks on the market. They are more durable than wood, and the special materials allow for faster recoil, which generally creates more velocity.
Note: Don't get sucked into the hype of composite sticks just because everyone else has one. Unless you think that you will break a lot of wood sticks or are playing competitively and require more expensive sticks, wood or two-piece is often the best choice. Preference is much more important than keeping up with the hype. Believe it or not, there still are many professional players who prefer wood or two-piece sticks to one-pieces.
Note: If you buy a one-piece, ask about a 30-day warranty against breakage.
Junior sticks - skinnier, which makes it easier for children to hold.
Senior sticks - thicker, which makes it more suitable for physically stronger players.
Intermediate sticks - in between, which may appeal to lighter adults, women or teen players.
Even under the same classification (ie. senior), sticks may come in different girths and shapes, including shaved handles and round, square or concave shafts. These features are all about preference. When you pick the stick up, you will be able to tell if it feels more or less comfortable than other ones.
Each stick comes with a flex rating that tells the stiffness of the stick. The higher the flex number, the stiffer the stick. A stiff stick that can be flexed sufficiently by the player will create greater velocity than a whippy stick, however, if the stick is too stiff and thus cannot be flexed by the player, it would be advisable to switch to a more flexible stick. Experienced players will come to know which flex produces the best blend of shooting and puckhandling ability, however, for less experienced players, using a flex approximately equal to half of your body weight would be a good starting point.
Note: It is important to consider more than just shot velocity when choosing the flex rating. Many players have sticks that are too flexible, which hurt their ability to receive passes or win stick battles, therefore it is important to consider what type of player you are, and choose a flex that suits your strengths and weaknesses.
Note: For most brands, the flex rating equals the pounds of force required to flex the stick 1 inch. So for a 100 flex stick, in order to flex it one inch, 100 lbs of force are required, however there is no parity for flex rating between all brands.
A general rule is that the stick should be around lip height with skates on, however height can vary. Some NHLers use sticks that match their height, while others use sticks that go up to their chest. Longer sticks obviously mean greater reach and perhaps a harder shot, while shorter sticks allow for better puck control when the puck is close to the body.
Note: For children that are growing, it is OK to cut the stick 1 or 2 inches high, so that the stick will last longer, however many parents cut a stick 6 inches too high in order to make it last. If the choice is between a wood stick for $20 or a composite for $100, you are better off buying multiple wood sticks and increasing the height as the child grows, rather than a $100 stick that the child has to grow into for a while.
Blades vary in lie, length, height, toe shape and curve. Choosing the best one is a matter of personal preference and tinkering.
Lie - The angle of the blade and shaft. The lower the number, the less upright the stick is. If there is no lie label on the stick, assume it is 5.5. The lie is very important because it determines how much of the blade is on the ice. Obviously, you want as much blade on the ice as possible. Determinants include height, arm length, stick height and posture of the player.
Length - The measurement from the heel of the blade to the toe. Longer blades mean a larger surface area to receive or shoot the puck, while increasing weight and reducing control.
Height - The measurement from the bottom to the top of the blade. There is not much room for choice here. Most blades come in the same heights, however, there are some that are taller, which could make picking pucks off the boards easier.
Toe Shape - Toe shapes include round, square and options in between. Square toe blades may be better for picking up pucks off the boards, while round toes may be better for toe-dragging and puckhandling. Most blades come with a rounded toe.
Curve - Describing a curve in words is nearly impossible. The important distinctions are in loft and curve. Loft is on the vertical plane, just like a golf club, while the curve is on a horizontal plane. Curves are often described as toes, heel or mid, with each title referring to where the blade curves most.
Note: When choosing a blade pattern for wood, it is important to realize that they are made by hand very quickly and have a great deal of variance. Two wood blades with all the same specs may not look exactly the same. For composite and one-piece patterns, there is much greater consistency.
Note: For children, it may be best to get a straight blade (not Left or Right handed) until the child decides what handedness he/she is. Too many parents try to force their child to shoot right, only for the child to use the stick backwards. The child will decide what way is most comfortable. Also, shooting left in hockey in no way suggests that he/she will be a southpaw!
Tape - Tape can help with puck control as well as extend the life of the blade. Overlap the tape such that the whole stick is covered, but is not too heavy. Some colors may be more preferential than others. Some players put tape residue on the shaft for increased grip.
Wax/Stick Lick/Puckhog - Other accessories that may help your puck control or extend the life of your blade.
Shaft texture - Snakeskin, grip and other shaft textures are available, which may improve the feel.
Shaved Handle - Some players prefer to shave the handle of their stick for increased comfort.
Knob - There are many types of knobs out there. Play around with knobs of different shape and size to find the best one.