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As some of you know, I’m a pretty active Ice Hockey player. While I haven’t played at a level many of the players I write about have played, it doesn’t mean I can’t try out the latest gear right?
One of the benefits of this blog and even Twitter, that I never anticipated – are the opportunities to test and review the latest and greatest hockey equipment for my audience.
A few weeks ago a new company called MLX Skates contacted me about testing out a new pair of their custom built composite ice skates for a review. As much as I have bragged about my custom tailored Graf skates that Joe Ferraro worked with me on – I liked what I saw on the MLX skates and agreed to a review.
I wanted to post a preview of sorts on the review as I wait for the skates to be delivered, this way everyone has the chance to read about what’s already been said about MLX.
Here is their YouTube introduction:
Several NHL players have already made the switch to MLX, including Evgeni Malkin and All-Star Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to name a few. You can find out more about who uses the MLK Skates on their website.
It’s not everyday as a blogger or an avid amateur hockey player that a major equipment manufacturer contacts you and asks if you are interested in testing out the latest and greatest hockey equipment. Naturally, when the opportunity to test out some Easton equipment presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
Allow me to give you some background first. I am your typical beer league player, maybe I should say ATYPICAL because ironically I actually play for a brewery sponsored team here on Long Island (Blue Point Brewery to be exact). I also play roller hockey, so I go through my fair share of composite sticks and other equipment over the course of a season. I have been a pretty big fan of Easton composite sticks for quite some time, I have had at least a half dozen of the SE16 predecessor – The Synergy Elite. My flavor of choice for that model was a 100 Flex, Grip Shaft with a Joe Sakic curve. Ask any hockey player, if you’re a repeat customer of any one particular model of stick, you are either extremely superstitious or you really like the product. Fortunately for me, it is more of the latter. When I found out that Easton had “changed the recipe” and created the SE16 as a replacement, I got a little nervous but figured it would be for the best in the end.
The Easton SE16 was billed to me as the stick that “scored more goals, points and game-winners of any other stick manufacturer” during the 2008-2009 NHL season and post season. Having learned a little bit about the technology behind the stick and now having used it myself, I can totally see why.
When you think of hockey sticks, your mind doesn’t automatically go onto the word – technology. A stick is a stick right? Wrong. I knew that manufacturers spent time and money on research and development, but no where near to the amount of detail that I came to learn. Here is a brief description from Easton’s post season press release, you know as a warm up so to speak:
Introduced in 2008, the SE16 combines the same proven construction of the renowned Synergy Elite line with Easton’s patented, industry-first Focus Weight Technology™ to create a next generation Synergy stick unmatched on the ice.
Easton’s Focus Weight Technology uses a concentrated weight strategically placed in the blade’s impact zone to keep the puck on the blade, and in the shaft to counter-balance the stick and give added control. For the ultimate in power, Easton’s impressive Synergy construction is combined with it’s compression molded process to yield one of the most powerful shots in the game.
Before we dive right into the techno mumbo jumbo, I want to give you my opinion on the stick as the technology explanation ties into what I felt as I used the product.
I took my new SE16 (which by the way is the exact replacement in terms of flex, grip and blade curve for those curious) for a test run just over a week ago during one of our summer league games. I can tell you that I hate using new equipment during a game, it just never feels comfortable unless you get some good practice in to get used to the feel of whatever it is you are using, be it skates, a stick, gloves or even a helmet. This particular day I happened to get out on the ice 15 minutes early and concentrated on taking as many shots as I could, passing back and forth with a teammate and just stick handling around our half of the ice.
My initial reaction to the sticks feel was that it was more solid in my hands. A side by side comparison with my Synergy Elite proved that the stick weighed pretty much exactly the same as the SE16, which was confusing. Passing, shooting and even accepting a pass seemed as though the stick was balanced differently then before. The puck seemed to settle down quickly and come off the blade crisp and flat. So far so good they say.
I settled into one of the face off dots to the left of the net with a pile of pucks to take a bunch of shots. I also had one of my teammates snap a bunch of pictures so you can see the stick (and a beer leaguer) in action. After completing a battery of test wrist, snap and slapshots – I can honestly say that the stick opened up my eyes even more. The stick seemed to out perform my old model to the point that I was no longer just going to test it out, but I was going to use it during the game – how about that for a review?
After playing in the game, I made a few more observations:
The shaft wall seemed to be slightly thicker. I normally know when my stick flexes, you can feel the whip when you take a good wrist shot or slapshot. Like I said earlier, the stick just felt more solid then the previous model in this respect. Construction wise it appeared to be the same, but I felt maybe the materials used in construction had been changed slightly.
The flex rating may have also been changed. Again, with a 100 flex it offers a great deal of give (compared to wood), which in turn helps power through your shots. Even though I didn’t notice the stick flexing as much, it was definitely apparent in the photos my teammate had taken.
The blade looked slightly thicker and felt more solid and reinforced then it was previously. I didn’t know whether the composite was laid differently or if they changed how they constructed the blade – but it seems as though it would hold up to abuse better.
When I inquired about some of the questions above as a follow up, I was referred to Easton stick engineer Mike Mountain and did a quick interview with him. Mike was very gracious, he’s an avid beer leaguer himself and he took the time to answer my questions with great detail:
Michael Schuerlein: Tell me a little bit about about the new SE16 Mike.
Mike Mountain: The SE16 has technology behind the stick that we call a Focus Weight Technology. What Focus Weight Technology is, is a concentrated mass in the blade which controls puck vibration and blade reaction. The premise is to be able to have a better feel for the puck when stick handling, better control when catching passes and better control overall in general. We discovered the idea, by putting weights on our normal blades. We found that when catching passes with these weights attached, the puck would settle down and it literally made the puck stick to your blade. We figured out a way to place this centralized weight internally, and from there we achieved the same performance level.
MS: Moving from the Synergy Elite Series that I used previously to the new SE16, I felt as though the stick was stiffer. Can you tell me about the wall diameter or the materials used in the shaft and if they have changed at all with the new model?
MM: We did a couple of different things with the shaft portion of the stick. First, we incorporated part of our Focus Weight Technology there as well. We internalized some weights to the upper region of the stick and this acted as a counterweight to the blade. By using your bottom hand as the pivot point, this creates a blade light feel so as able to counter balance the stick in general.
The second thing we have done to the shaft, and it sounds as though you were able to pick up on this – we wanted to figure out a way to make the shaft stronger, while maintaining the same weight. So the wall thickness actually changed slightly. On the narrow sides it got a little bit thicker and we were able to pull material from wider sides. So what that did was give us a much improved corner impact strength, but at the same time keeping the same weight. In truth, it hit the same stiffness profile, but we have a tolerance and perhaps one stick to the next there will be slight differences in the flex so maybe you noticed something there as well.
MS: That brings me to my next question actually. I use a 100 flex, and the stick I used previously seemed to have a little more whip to it. It felt as though maybe the Focus Weight Technology counteracted some of the flex or the flex ratings have changed with the new shaft composition. Have the flex ratings changed at all?
MM: There are certainly going to be a lot of different variables that go into the way a stick feels and performs, so yes the FWT in the blade is going to affect the reaction on the puck. When we are developing new models, especially when they are replacing existing popular ones – the spec for flex and stiffness and our stiffness profile doesn’t change. We try to engineer it in a way that it will be somewhat seamless to the player. What we did find when we went into the SE16, because we were changing the thickness profile, that there was going to be a slight change in stiffness, so I think that is what you are picking up on.
MS: Can you tell me more about the blade? It felt as though the composite was different and thicker, did you do anything in that respect to stiffen that part of the stick?
MM: No, in terms of going from the SE to the SE16 the construction is very similar. You have the multi-rib construction, a micro-bladder process that gives great compaction and there is structural foam. We use that micro-bladder to actually insert the focus weight, so it’s able to be right in the middle of the blade right in that heal area where you have most of your impacts to help settle the puck down.
Over time though, we discover different things about the blade and how we put down the composites, so there are things that differ slightly. But overall, the stiffness profile hasn’t changed much at all.
MS: Composite sticks seem to break all the time, sometimes rather easily. Have there been any reports from the guys in the NHL that the SE16 seems to hold up any better with use?
MM: Oh yes, absolutely. When we went to the SE, that’s when things really started to improve for us. We were basically asking guys to see if they could break them and guys were having trouble doing that. We realized that we were stepping into a new area of durability. There are still obviously some challenges with durability, it’s always a focus of ours that we want to concentrate on that when we are developing a new model. We make improvements each and every time. So, to answer your question – the players have noticed an increase in durability, yes.
So, in conclusion – the Easton SE16 stick lives up to the Synergy Elite sticks that came before it and have even surpassed it on many levels. This can only be a testament to the research and development that goes behind the design of each and every model of stick produced. As you can tell by my glowing review, I am a completely satisfied player when it comes to my stick selection. Any fear that I may have had due to the changes in the new model were eased after using this stick during the game I played in last week. I noted improved durability, balance, overall feel, stronger and harder shots and of course, better puck control. All important aspects to any player and at every level of hockey.
My recommendation is that you show Easton some love and purchase the SE16 at any of your local proshops or the various online merchants across the internet.
Seriously, go right now.
Don’t just take my word for it either, sixteen of your favorite Islanders players used Easton composite sticks in the 2008-2009 season: Jeff Tambellini, Trent Hunter, Andy Hilbert, Mark Streit, Dean McAmmond, Richard Park, Andy Sutton, Jack Hillen, Tomas Pock, Josh Bailey, Tim Jackman, Mitch Fritz, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Bruno Gervais, Doug Weight. When one team has that much trust in a specific brand of equipment, it speaks volumes.