So how many layers of carbon fiber make up the shaft?” I ask Ned Goldsmith, vice president of Easton’s hockey division. Uncomfortable silence is followed by whispering and then, finally, “We can’t tell you that.” Geez, is this hockey stick a matter of national security or what?
I’m the first journalist to enter the recently hallowed halls of Easton’s Tijuana, Mexico, factory, where the company produces the world’s lightest, strongest, most reliable hockey stick–the one-piece carbon-fiber Synergy. After 18 years of R&D, Synergy sparked a one-piece revolution three years ago, and since then the Nikes of the world have been dicing the thing in an attempt to reverse-engineer it. Other companies now offer one-piece sticks, but nothing has matched the Synergy’s performance. The missing piece is not the material; it’s Easton’s top-secret recipe, which Goldsmith and his team spend the day distracting me from.
The key to Synergy’s performance: There’s no seam where the blade meets the shaft, resulting in a stiffer stick with a lower flex point. This translates into more velocity. Several NHL players have said the stick adds 10 mph to their slapshots.
At first glance, the recipe seems simple: Carbon fiber and resin are molded, pressurized, and cooked. But there are hundreds of variables, including the type, size, angle, and order of fibers, chemistry of the resin, pressure, oven time and temperature, and more. These factors enable the company to customize the stick for balance, torque, durability, and flex.
Goldsmith and CEO Tony Palma hand me goggles and lead me to the custom lab, where boards display the names of pros and the specific angular measurements (which I promise to forget) for their sticks. Mass-market Synergies are machine-cut in the main lab, but I will hand-cut and roll my stick here. Each Synergy begins as two pieces: the shaft and blade. Starting with the shaft, I muscle a box cutter through the five layers of resin-impregnated fiber (each with a different pattern, again for customization) and one layer of Kevlar. Each layer is wrapped around a long, thin rectangular rod and then cooked in an oven.
I then slip a dry-fiber “sock” over a blade-shaped foam core. While the shaft is molded around a steel bar, the blade is compressed by an exterior mold in the oven. At some (secret) point during the cooking process, some (secret) amount of (secret) resin is injected into the blade through a small hole in the mold–this adds the desired flex. Last, I glue the shaft and blade together, then put the works in the oven again, where a (secret) combination of time, heat, and pressure bonds the fibers to create the one-piece masterpiece.
Thirty minutes later, my stick is complete–they even put my name on it. If only I could skate.
**HOW TO MAKE A SUPERSTICK
1. Cut 10 54- by 34-inch sheets of resin-impregnated carbon fiber off a roll; cut one 54- by 5-inch sheet of Kevlar.
2. With iron, press carbon fiber sheets into five two-layer sandwiches.
3. Slice the carbon fiber sheets to make them 5 inches wide, then roll all six layers around a 4-inch-dia-meter mold, with the Kevlar on top. Heat.
4. Pull three dry-fiber socks over blade-shaped foam. In oven, impregnate with secret resin.
5. Glue shaft and blade. Cook one last time.