I play pickup hockey about once a week. Maybe twice a week if I'm lucky and/or the opposite of lazy. Even just playing so little, though, I've broken my fair share of composite sticks. I probably go through one a month, and trust me, I don't have even half the shot that Al MacInnis had.
You can imagine, then, how many sticks are broken in the course of a typical week in the NHL. They're just extremely flimsy and they break essentially on command. It's frustrating, especially when you're paying for them yourself -- something NHL players don't exactly have to worry about.
There's good news, though. A professor at the University of Waterloo (that's Ontario, not Belgium) has created a robot named SlapShot XT that mimics the human slap shot action, similar to the machines that test golf clubs by mimicking the swing.
The robot is the brainchild of University of Waterloo engineering professor John McPhee and his team of students. They believe that once their robot gets his slapshots up to 110 miles per hour - he topped out at 60 in his unveiling last month - he'll help solve the perplexing mystery revolving around the high failure rate of composite hockey sticks.
The robot has been five years in the making, ever since McPhee decided it was time that hockey sticks went through the same rigorous testing that golf clubs face. But the plan didn't get very far until [project leader Jean-Samuel Rancourt, whose father is chairman of the board at SBK Hockey, persuaded the company to come up with some financing and equipment.
The hope is that the machine can test sticks to the point where we understand exactly what causes so many of them to break so easily. The why, when, where and how of stick breaking, if you will.
Of course, the other potential benefit is in simple knowledge that SlapShot XT could bring us in terms of how we shoot. How can we use that knowledge to make our shots even harder, better, faster and stronger? As those in charge of the project point out, hockey is years behind golf in terms of this technology, but who knows what it could mean down the road?