Avalanche Journal: Sam Girard’s resurgence started after he switched to a longer stick in December

MONTREAL — Jared Bednar often notices a direct correlation between a player’s productivity and his equipment tinkering.

“If things go well, you’re not going to see them change their sticks much,” the Avalanche coach said, grinning. “If things don’t go well for a while, you could see them change it every day.”

Things weren’t going well for Sam Girard in December. As the NHL holiday break approached, the Avalanche defenseman’s point production was down — five in the first 25 games — and his two-way game had dropped off a bit.

Initially he thought the slump had something to do with the lingering effects of a broken sternum that knocked him out of the 2022 playoffs. “Maybe the first couple weeks,” Girard said last week. “But after that … nothing was coming, so it was kind of hard mentally.”

Queue the equipment tweak. Girard is among the Avs’ shortest players at 5-foot-10, and his hockey stick has always been proportionate to that — even a bit short for his height. At some point in December, he changed that.

“I’m trying a new thing,” Girard said. “Longer stick right now. It helps with my shot and finding the shooting lane as well. So yeah, I’m pretty happy about it.”

The stick he has been using the past three months is approximately 5-6 inches longer than his previous one, he estimated. He can feel it making a difference. He feels more confident putting pucks on net. He’s creating more for his teammates. In the last 31 games, Girard has 23 points, and the Avs are plus-two goals when he’s on the ice.

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During a stretch when the Avs went 7-3-1, he averaged a point per game. He’s only one point behind Cale Makar for most among Colorado defensemen since the calendar flipped to 2023.

“Yeah, G uses a mini stick,” Makar joked when asked about Girard’s adjustment. “So hopefully he keeps going longer and longer.”

Makar has never made a drastic change to his sticks in the middle of a season, he said. Opinions vary on the matter. “I’m pretty particular about my sticks,” Alex Newhook said. Bednar said he “stays out of it” because “I feel like players are finicky when it comes to those things.” Evan Rodrigues, on the other hand, often enjoys experimenting.

“That stuff doesn’t bother me; I’m not particular,” he said. “But yeah, I did change brands from a Bauer Supreme to a Bauer Nexus (during a season). And then switched out the blades the next year, back to Supreme. Every summer I get the new model. Just to try something. If I like it, I start using it. Sometimes if something’s not working, I just want to mix it up. Sometimes it gets it out of a slump.”

Makar, Logan O’Connor and Devon Toews have not made in-season changes. Mikko Rantanen said he switched from a Bauer stick to a Sherwood for 15 games during the 2020-21 pandemic-altered season, but he ultimately changed back to Bauer, which he has used his whole career.

“I’m not a big ‘try new things’ guy,” he said. “If I like something, I just stick with it.”

“I think it’s all a personal preference,” Toews said. “Some guys like (their stick) shorter, some guys like it longer. Some guys toy with it. Some guys don’t.”

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Longer sticks are generally accepted as being more ideal for defensemen, who benefit from having more reach when it comes to poke-checking, or preventing a puck from leaving the offensive zone while positioned at the blue line.

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Against the Los Angeles Kings in early March, Colorado was seconds away from a penalty kill when the Kings attempted a backdoor pass to set up an unmarked scoring chance.

Girard lunged at the puck, stretched his stick and barely disrupted the pass with his blade. He gathered himself and cleared the zone as the Avs returned to full strength — a high-effort play emblematic of his belief since the early-season slump that “if you stay positive, good stuff’s going to happen after that.”

The length of his paddle helped, too.

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