The Washington Post

Adam Oates and hockey sticks

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Adam Oates is detail oriented. But there might be no aspect of the game that he analyzes and studies quite like sticks. The radius of the curve, the pattern of the blade, the length, the lie of the blade — they can all help improve a player’s game if they’re tweaked correctly to each individual.

As Oates notices how a higher lie would allow a player to skate more upright, using their full size rather than hunching over, or how a deeper curve gives them better control of the puck. It’s part of his process of searching for improvement.

Capitals season preview: Coach Adam Oates thrives on attention to detail

“They know structurally how we want to play the only thing we can do is try and refine every little decision, every little play,” Oates said. “What caused that mistake? Is it because you’re fatigued? Is it you? Is it your positioning? What is it?”

If the answer to that question is that a different stick could help a player make a better decision Oates, as he has throughout his coaching career, advocates change.

“To me when I show a guy situations, what’s getting in the way? If it’s his tool, then let’s work on the tool,” Oates said. “I don’t want to be sitting here a year from now and [a player] make the same mistake based on his tool. That’s dysfunctional for you and for us. Sooner or later, if we’re failing, we’ve got to figure out why.”

Many have used the same stick for years and are guarded against the suggestion of change, but Oates shows them video evidence and sometimes even examples on the ice of how altering that tool can make them better.

For Brooks Laich, one video clip in particular illustrated Oates’s point.

“He said, ‘When you’re on your forehand and you try to cut to the middle on your forehand, your legs go wide because you have to push your arm out and put the puck in a certain position based on the lie of your stick,’” Laich said. “And I thought, ‘Well, no, I can cut that with my legs.’ My arms are different than my legs. But watching some video on it, it was pretty evident that if I changed something I could make that move a little more aggressive.”

Now that he’s adopted a more significant curve and an upright lie that allows him to have a better stride, Laich understands exactly what Oates was getting at.

“I’ve been figuring it out and it makes a world of difference. I feel so much more freedom on the ice,” Laich said. “I could usually always move where I wanted to when I wanted to on the ice but now I feel completely unobstructed by anything. I can change, I can cut, I can go forehand or backhand, any which way. It’s a credit to him. I never would have changed it if it weren’t for him.”

Jack Hillen was skeptical, too, but started experimenting with a larger curve late last season. Over the summer he grew more comfortable with it and is keeping the new, Oates-recommended blade and lie for the start of the 2013-14 season.

“He wanted me to try a little bigger curve just to try to help handle pucks better so I can shoot and make passes from different positions with the puck not always being necessarily in the right spot,” Hillen said. “Getting a shot through is everything for a D-man or handling the puck and making a good breakout pass. If you’re fumbling the puck, then you don’t have time to make a good pass.”

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Katie Carrera · October 1, 2013