Holding The Stick

Of the twenty-two players on the Habs, only eight shoot right-handed and include Brian Gionta, Colby Armstrong, Brendan Gallagher, Petteri Nokelainen, Ryan White, Raphael Diaz, Yannick Weber, and P.K. Subban. Although we still don’t know whether P.K. counts or not. Maybe it’s only seven. Maybe in short time it could be down to five or so.

Not that it matters, I guess. But it does let me mention something I read recently in the library, the one with the sink and toilet bowl, and even though I’ve re-read it a couple of times, I still don’t buy it.

First off, I think it’s a given that when a hockey stick is handed to a little kid for the first time, the kid holds it whichever way is most natural. I think it’s as simple as that.

The first couple of paragraphs in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader seem normal enough, and actually quite interesting. It’s after that that I have trouble with, the part where they explain “why.” You be the judge.

Here’s the story:

In February 2010, the New York Times took note of a strange anomaly: hockey stick manufacturers send mostly left-handed sticks to Canada, and mostly right-handed ones to the United States. A check of professional teams discovered that, indeed, most Canadians play lefty and most Americans play righty. (The exceptions are players from British Columbia, who play like Americans.)

It doesn’t stop there, though. According to the Professional Golfers Association, left-handed golfers are more common in Canada than in any other country. But the reason isn’t because the Great White North has more left-handers. By percentage, Canada has about the same number of left-handed residents as the United States. So what’s the story?


Many Canadians take the approach that right-handed people should logically put their right hand on the top of the stick; it works better for them to have the stronger, more dexterous hand there. The lower hand, they say, mostly just acts as a fulcrum for the top hand’s strength and dexterity.

So why don’t Americans do that too? One theory is that it’s the fault of American parents and store clerks who don’t know any better. A kid goes in to buy a hockey stick and the clerk asks, “Are you right-handed or left?” Then the clerk gives the kid the hockey stick that matches the answer. Another theory is simply that new players do what they see their friends, coaches, and teammates do – but that only explains why the practice continues…not how it got started.

The most likely reason is this: people tend to imprint on whatever sports equipment they first started playing with. In the United States, that’s almost universally a baseball bat. After getting used to the bat’s hand position, reversing it feels unnatural. As a result, righties on the ball field usually stay righties on the ice.

This would also help explain the disproportionate number of left-handed golfers in Canada: starting out with a hockey stick makes self-taught golfers more comfortable slap-shooting the ball off the tee as lefties.


11 thoughts on “Holding The Stick”

  1. Maybe there is some truth to that theory Dennis.

    Take for example the legendary Happy Gilmore. An American golfer and hockey player who shoots right handed…

  2. I agree with you, that a kid will hold a hockey stick whichever way is most natural. But I also agree with Uncle John, that what is natural is strongly influenced by what you see others do.

    I’m right handed and I bat right handed and I shoot right handed. As a kid I wish I shot left handed like all my friends. When things weren’t going well for them, they would swap sticks, me I was stuck.

    For me the lower hand is where I use the strength and dexterity, the top hand is the fulcrum for stability.

    As an interesting test, compare how you hold a rake or a broom versus a hockey stick. The hockey stick is predominately held left handed in Canada, while the rake or broom are more evenly split.

  3. Where were you and your spare sticks when I was growing up? If I could have swapped sticks with you every time I missed a shot, I could have become a super-star. Instead I just kept missing shots with my own stick.

  4. Hey Dennis,Good article buddy,kinda makes you wonder where the influence is really from,my youngest son played defense since he started playing hockey,being left handed he shot right and did so until he was ten and wanted rto play goal.Now get this,he plays goal like a right hander,catching with his left hand and blocking with his right,he then found it was difficult to handle the puck with the goalie gloves on and shooting right,so he taught himself to shoot left and can fire a puck the length of the ice in the air with no problems with a goalie stick and gloves,I guess we can adapt to pretty much anything eh.

  5. Is this a guy’s article or what eh? Like some above I’m right handed and shoot right. I rake and shovel both ways during the chore but probably start right. Like Derry’s son I started catching left handed in goal but was frustrated when I had to handle the ball,in floor hockey, so my solution was to catch right handed which was an easy adaptation for me, easier than trying to shoot left. I think the baseball theory holds some water. When you were in school Dennis did they try to switch your writing hand?

  6. D-John, I don’t remember if they tried, but I know that my grandmother, who was the only other lefty in our family, was forced to become right-handed when she was a kid. Gawd, my handwriting is bad enough. I can’t imagine if I was doing it right handed. It’d look like an NHLers autograph for goodness sakes.

  7. Ha ha I know what you mean. There is still one on that habs shirt I can’t figure out! Both my parents were born lefties but my dad was switched in school and then did everything right whereas my mom ended up writing right but cutting left and sort of ambidexterous. Their kids ended up split 2L and 2R. I look at the way some lefties have to contort their hands to write and I really feel sorry for them. You know that lefties have a shorter life span than righties eh?

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