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The Gearhead: Easton’s New S17 stick

I recently spoke with Easton Hockey’s product manager Mike Mountain, about the company’s new S17 stick, which has an elliptical bulge below the lower hand, called “Torx” technology, which is supposed to help reduce energy loss and the tendency of composite stick blades to “open up” when they hit the ice. 

There are a lot of products out right now that claim to strengthen the bottom of the shaft in terms of blades twisting, but when I saw this product, it just made intuitive sense to me, so I was really excited to talk about the concept of using an ellipse to strengthen the shaft.

I led off with the question at hand, asking about the physics that make “Torx” work:

The Gearhead: More than any other technology I’ve seen thus far in terms of stick manufacturers looking to address the loss of potential energy transferred to the puck when the stick deforms as it first hits the ice, and then hits the puck, as well as the fact that these events cause the stick blade to move laterally both times the shaft loads energy…Looking at this from a “I had a semester and a half of college physics” perspective, the mechanics of taking a shot aren’t truly circular or radial as there’s an angle at which the stick and blade are offset from 90 degrees, but…The concept of using an ellipse to reinforce the shaft makes a lot of sense.  I’d imagine that the elliptical design allows the shaft to continue to load potential energy because the “weave” of the graphite fibres in an ellipse are more likely to absorb energy along the grain of the woven graphite fibres, and as such, the elliptical design would thus prevent the blade from “torquing” because it’s going to both provide better reinforcement as the stick follows through on that semi-circular track and, like I said, continue to absoreb energy instead of deforming…Is that correct?

Mike Mountain:  You’ve got that down pretty well.  The concept of Torx is about changing the geometry of the shaft from a rectangle to an elliptical geometry, and as all the energy and power that are used in taking a shot comes from your hands on the shaft, some of that energy is lost when the blade twists—that’s essentially the shaft twisting—and in terms of geometric shapes, a rectangle is a lot easier to twist than a cylinder because a cylinder has continuous walls, so that geometry helps control that torsion, so you don’t lose energy like you would with that standard “rectangle” geometry, and in helping to control torsion, that transfers the torque from your hands to the blade.

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Gearhead: And how does the construction of the blade itself help reduce torquing, or the blade “opening up?”

Mountain: Easton has been here for a while, so what we had in the past was the first ribbed structure inside a blade, and what that does is help control the stiffness of the blade, and it connects the face of the blade to the back of the blade instead of having the blade deform and open up.  It’s about the idea of keeping the blade from opening up on that impact with the puck, we’ve had that in our lineup for years now, and what we’re working on now with the S17 is determining how we can continue reducing that torquing of both the blade and continuing up into the shaft itself.  You don’t want to interfere with a player’s hands, so the S17 shaft is seamless from your top hand to your bottom hand, which is what we’ve had on all our other models, and that gives the player, essentially, the same feel that they’ve had with other Easton products.

Gearhead: But you’ve also got this bulge toward the bottom of the shaft…how does that affect the stick’s “taper”...and would you be willing to give the “for dummies” explanation of what a tapered shaft is, exactly? 

Mountain: The elliptical geometry actually thins out shaft taper a huge amount, so if you look down other shafts, the Synergy SL, to the Synergy Elite, the Synergy ST, and even the current Stealths, the taper isn’t as thin as the new S17 technology because with this new geometry, we can achieve the same shaft strength with a much thinner taper.

Taper itself—any time you’re talking about energy going from point A to point B, you want a consistent, seamless transfer of energy, and a short, abrupt tapering of the shaft would make it harder for that energy to get down through the shaft.  With a tapered shaft, the stick “thins out” from below your hand as opposed to just above the blade.

As far as our shafts are concerned, we offer advanced technology throughout our lineup, as you can see on the S17 mini-site, and we use compression molding to provide a smooth energy transfer down the stick via our tapered shafts, and our blade also sets us apart from any other stick on the market as we have a micro-rib system and use air bladder construction to make our blades tremendously consistent.

Gearhead: Along those lines, would you be willing to expand on your blade construction?  A lot of companies use foam cores in their blades, as opposed to the ribbed design Easton uses…how do ribbed blades perform better?

Mountain: When you’re talking about a ribbed design versus a foam core blade, with a foam core blade, you’re asking the foam to do a few things—one, be durable and structural, and two, to expand while curing the blade, because so many layers go into a mold that you want everything to act as a solid structure—otherwise you’re compacting the layers.  With composites, you either cram the mold with a larger piece than the mold can fit, and compress it, which can damage the blade, or you expand the blade while you’re inside the mold to reach the walls.  Foam can only be structural or expand, not both, so with our micro-bladder process, air pressure does all the expansion we need, and we can turn to a durable, structural foam that adheres to the blade, so everything acts as one piece.  The foam gives durability and structure, so it creates a better-performing blade, one with a livelier face, and one that will last longer. 

Gearhead: And the compression-molding process?  That’s a big selling point in terms of the S17’s technical specifications.  How does that improve performance, using a mandrill instead of using an air bladder to expand the shaft to a hard outside mold?

Mountain: Compression molding does a few things.  It makes everything consistent because you wrap everything around a solid metal mandrill, and those consistent shaft walls give you much easier energy transfer from your hands to the blade, whereas a bladder mold expands, but you don’t really control how it expands, so the shaft can be thin in some areas, and flex in different spots. 

Gearhead: And you use Kevlar in your shafts for impact absorption?  Some companies use fibreglass, some are even using titanitum now, and some claim that their graphite is strong enough to handle impacts, but you see a pretty decent amount of shaft breakage, and not many of the shafts that break are Eastons…

Mountain: We can wrap Kevlar around our shafts because we use a compression mold instead of a bladder mold, because Kevlar is a woven material, and when you put it in a bladder mold, you get a seam, and you can’t sand a woven material because it’s like thread.  We can wrap our shafts in Kevlar with the compression mold, and that does two things: it dampens vibration, because it’s woven, and Kevlar is obviously used in bulletproof vests for impact resistance, so we use it as protection for our carbon layers.  Any contact with the stick, whether it’s a slash or whatever, hits the Kevlar, and the Kevlar protects the carbon, so when you put pressure on the shaft, it remains intact.

Gearhead: Are you still using the CNT (carbon nano-tube) material in the S17?  From what I understand, you’re using the CNT material, carbon Buckyballs, basically, in the resins, in the stuff that binds the graphite fibres together…

Mountain: We use the CNT material in the resin for our RTM (resin-transfer molding) process, for the blade technology in the Stealth CNT.  Buckyballs, they’re little soccer-shaped spheres of carbon, and when you put them inside a resin, you make that resin 25 times stronger than it is normally.  Atom for atom, it’s eight times stronger than steel, and lighter, but we use it mostly for the blade, because our goal is to get our blade geometry as thin and light as possible, so the CNT resin holds the blade together in a way that normal resins wouldn’t. 

Gearhead: And you’re still able to use aerospace-grade graphite and Kevlar, accounting for the fact that the military gets its hands on those materials first, and they’re in somewhat short supply these days?

Mountain: We use aerospace grade graphite and Kevlar.  We’ve built up relationships with carbon vendors, to the point that we have to secure a certain amount of material each year. 

Gearhead: And, obviously, the reason hockey companies have professional hockey players test equipment first is because they’re so finely-tuned, so sensitive to the equipment they’re using that you can use them as a test bed and receive, arguably, more nuanced feedback in terms of how your product performs than machine testing.  What’s their response to the S17 been?

Mountain: In terms of pro response, they’ve said that the balance of the stick is incredibly blade-light, which is especially important for stickhandling and passing, and players like Getzlaf and Heatley, they feel that they can get incredible velocity on their slap shots.  The overall feel of the stick is attracting NHL players to it. 

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Gearhead: And, fundamentally speaking, there’s still a widespread media belief that wood sticks are a cheaper, better alternative, but I don’t think they understand how graphite responds to structural deformation as opposed to wood.  How would you sort of “bust that myth,” and what would you characterize as the fundamental advantages of using graphite sticks?

Mountain: The original advantage of graphite is both its light weight and its ability to return to zero—back to its original shape—when it deforms.  It’s like going down to a lower flex—you get a much better response from graphite to wood in returning to zero, and that creates more energy when you put it into the stick. 

Gearhead: And since wood is in a constant state of degrading, it’s incredibly inconsistent from what I understand; you might get the same shot for 20 or 30 shots with a wood stick, but graphite degrades so slowly in comparison that you really get a consistent shot from, say, your first shot to your 1,000th, or even more…

Mountain: That’s correct.

Gearhead: In terms of your line-up, you’re still offering the S17, the Synergy Elite, can you describe the difference between those sticks?

Mountain: We’ve actually got three high-performance sticks.  The S17 is about energy, velocity, and accuracy; the Synergy Elite provides a quick release and incredible balance; and the Synergy ST is our legacy model, which has been improved over years and years of use, and it’s about power and durability.

Gearhead: And if we’re already seeing the evolution of three-dimensional shaft geometries, the use of nanotube resins, I’ve got to imagine that what’s coming down the line is even better…

Mountain: The stuff we’re starting to work on for 2009 is incredible.  It never seems to end!  And the combination of geometry and material improvement, and design changes, who knows where we’re headed.

Gearhead: I was sent some of the stats for your sticks in terms of the number of playoff goals and assists, and it was just ridiculous, I think it was something like over 50% early on, and as the playoffs advanced, the vast majority of the goals and assists were scored with Easton sticks…

Mountain: The playoffs last year were incredible, and the league, in general, the numbers tend to fluctuate as to who’s in what, but the general trend is that the next three competitors in the league combined don’t have as many players as Easton does in their sticks, which is a testament to our sticks. 

Gearhead: And going back to “Mythbusting” the mystique about wood sticks, there are some commentators who get to spread their messages to big audiences, and they’ve suggested that maybe a heavier stick would provide more consistency in terms of shots…

Mountain: Put simply, heavier does not translate to better energy transfer.  It’s about the transfer of energy from your hands, down the shaft, to the blade, and between shaft taper and graphite’s ability to return to zero…

Gearhead: And those comments about shaft breakage?  Obviously, I’m very biased; I’m a believer in graphite sticks, and you see a stick break on TV, you hear the commentators clucking their tongues about another shaft breaking, but…You hear about guys like Nick Lidstrom and Dany Heatley changing their sticks out during each intermission out of superstition, but you don’t hear about guys like Chris Chelios, who obviously takes a lot of abuse, and how he can use the same stick for three or four games, practices included, before he wants to change his stick….

Mountain: It’s very visual when the graphite stick breaks, as opposed to a wood stick, which breaks down over time.  You can swap your wood stick out before it fails, and even when a stick breaks, sometimes it’s still in one piece, so you can go to the bench and get another one.  When graphite sticks break, it’s very visual, and so it looks bad on TV.

Gearhead: Gotcha.

This has been a great conversation, I really appreciate it.  I usually ask each manufacturer I interview what they’d like to say to the consumer, why they believe that a consumer should purchase their product.

Mountain: To the consumer…In general, Easton separates itself from the competition with the materials we use, the processes we have, and the designs we use in our products, and each and every year, the things our engineers turn out become benchmarks for the industry—sometimes it’s 4-5 years down the line before we see our features in competitors’ lineups, and that’s what keeps Easton ahead of the game.

 

Filed in: Hockey Equipment, Easton, | KK Hockey | Permalink
 

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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