Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most exciting players in the National Hockey League. A creative puck handler with tremendous vision and hockey sense. Speedy, slippery, poised and patient. Gaudreau has more than earned the nickname “Johnny Hockey” since going to the Calgary Flames with their fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft.
Three times an All-Star and 2016-17 winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability, Gaudreau doesn’t really look the part at just 5-foot-9 (they probably measured him in his skates) and 157 pounds.
Nor does his gear look the part. Gaudreau uses a custom Warrior stick that is short even for a player of his size, hitting him about throat level while on skates, with an exceptionally whippy flex rating of 55 — a number generally considered more appropriate for Bantam players.
Gaudreau uses a Warrior Alpha QX, to be precise. It is the most popular stick in the NHL, currently used by 14.5 percent of the league’s players.
It is considered a low-kick point stick, designed for quick release and accuracy.
Gaudreau’s customization, though, takes a ubiquitous stick and makes it unique.
A Deep Dive Into the Bends
Simply put, flex refers to the amount of force, measured in pounds, needed to bend the shaft one inch. A bent shaft is loaded with potential energy that can be transferred to the puck. The less flex a stick has, the stiffer it is — but remember that a flex number equals the pounds of force required to bend a stick. Thus, a 100-flex stick (requiring 100 pounds of force to bend it one inch) is stiffer than an 85-flex stick.
For the science-minded among us, manufacturers use a standard deformation equation to calculate flexibility:
F = 48EIδ/L³
F = Force applied at the center of the shaft
E = Young’s Modulus of elasticity of the material
I = Inertia of the cross section of the shaft
δ = Amount of vertical deformation when the force is applied
L = Length of the shaft
Basically, though, it breaks down like this: Puck handlers like whippier sticks with shorter shafts, better to keep the puck close to them in traffic and to fire off quick shots and passes without having to wind up. For more all-around play — think centers taking a lot of face-offs and needing to dig pucks out along the boards while still being able to play a variety of shots — the flex ratings tend toward the middle of the pack. Defensemen, needing length and stiffness for poke checks and slap shots, tend toward triple-digit flexes.
A couple of more things about flex:
- Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 Boston defenseman, uses a 150-flex stick.
- Alex Ovechkin use a 79-flex stick.
- The average NHL player flex is generally considered to be between 85 and 100.
- The rule of thumb for choosing stick flex is half your body weight — so a 55-flex would typically end up in the hands of a 110-pound youth player.
No Knocking the Numbers
Ultimately, Gaudreau has earned the latitude to defy convention. In four full seasons in the league, he’s consistently demonstrated highlight-reel puck handling while scoring at least 60 points each year.
Seeing him wheel through traffic with his hands closer together than most, his stick closer to his body than most, and the puck dangling from a blade that can snap off a shot in an instant usually means something interesting is about to happen.
“I always like using a smaller stick,” Gaudreau said. “I can feel the puck a little bit more. … The more-skilled guys have to keep it smaller so you can keep the puck in closer.”
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.