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Straight Talk About The Beginnings Of The Curved Hockey Stick

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Of the alleged inventor of the curved-blade hockey stick, only this much is certain: There was no Stan Mikita’s Donuts in Aurora, Illinois.

But getting at the truth behind the preferred mythological munchies of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar in the 1992 classic “Wayne’s World” is far simpler than unpacking the tales of hockey’s greatest innovation. Still, if Mikita — the Blackhawks’ all-time leading scorer and the only player ever to win the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng trophies in the same year (he did it twice) — wasn’t the first player to bend a blade, he was instrumental in the practice spreading.

Flat Came First

When hockey began, sticks were one-piece affairs, carved by hand. In the 1800s, among the first-known commercial hockey sticks were shaped from the wood of the hornbeam tree by native Canadians, Mi’kmaqs, in Nova Scotia.

By the 1920s, two-piece sticks appeared. In the ’50s, fiberglass-wrapped wood blades debuted. All the blades were flat. The backhand was a very popular shot. Wrist flicks were big. Slap shots were used, but nobody was sniping the top shelf.

Then, as the tale goes, in the 1960s Mikita’s blade lost a battle with the boards — or, more accurately, wedged his blade in the crack of a door in the boards and broke it, though not all the way through.

Stan and Bobby Get the Bends

According to a Feb. 21, 1969, Time Magazine article, Mikita accidentally split his blade into a V-shape at a practice seven years earlier. “Without pausing to change sticks, Mikita … found that he could rip off a shot faster and harder with his crooked cudgel,” Time wrote. “Soon he and teammate Bobby Hull were warping the wooden blades of their sticks into scoop-like curves by soaking them in hot water and wedging them under door jambs overnight.”

Mikita had never been in the top 10 in league scoring prior to the 1961-62 season. From that season on, he and Hull were both in the top 10 for eight straight seasons, finishing 1-2 three times.

Soon, curved blades became wildly popular. Too popular. Big curves increased velocity, but they also made it tough to control the powerful shots they produced. So, in 1969-70 the NHL legislated limits on the curve, first to one inch, then to a half-inch.

The rule is still on the books — violations are supposed to earn a two-minute minor penalty — but it doesn’t seem to be enforced much. And players continue to massage their sticks. Some like wedge curves, where the bottom edge of the blade is forward of the top edge, making pucks easier to lift.

Was Stan the Man?

New York Rangers star Andy Bathgate claimed he was curving sticks as youngster in the 1940s, and Mikita knew it. Mikita denied the story. Hall of Famer Bert Olmstead said he was bending blades in the 1930s.

Then there was Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators, who according to some accounts was bending sticks in 1927. But, his unpredictable, occasionally knuckling shots put other players off the idea, which was forgotten for years.

Until Mikita broke his blade on the boards.