Pro Stock vs Retail: Is It Worth The Price?

Pro Stock vs Retail: Is It Worth The Price?

The topic of equipment is something that I hear about all the time, either at the rink or through email. Is an expensive stick really worth it? Should I spend the money? What is pro stock? What's the difference between sticks? These are a few of the questions I have gotten over the past few months and decided to reach out to the guys at Pro Stock Hockey to get their take. I'm not directly affiliated with Pro Stock Hockey, but they're an industry leader for a reason. As a special bonus for being a part of this community, you can get 10% off any purchase this week by using the code BOOST10

If you’ve spent any sort of quality time at your local hockey rink, no doubt you’ve heard the term “pro stock” kicked around.

Perhaps a player was discussing the prospect of getting actual NHL-used game gear in order to be outfitted with the coolest things on ice. Perhaps someone who pays said player’s bills was wondering if going the pro stock route was a wiser path than shopping the high end of a retail line.

Simply, there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of the “pro stock or retail?” conundrum — but it is absolutely worth considering the pro stock option.

What Is ‘Pro Stock’?

It comes from the same manufacturers — Bauer, CCM, Warrior, Easton, among others — that will happily sell you brand new gear at retail prices. But, as the name implies, pro stock is gear manufactured for and distributed to professional (and in some cases, college) players.

Some of it is game-used — heavily or barely, depending on the player. For instance, Patrick Kane goes through approximately 100 sticks in a season. His Blackhawks teammate, Jonathan Toews, uses a new one every game — and always has another two or three on hand.

Some of it languished in the equipment room, extra sticks or gloves waiting to be snapped up in team tent sales where they might find their way to collectors, or to eBay or Craigslist.

More often, though, online resellers are acquiring NHL overstock (i.e., unused) gear. Typically, after an inspection process, the gear is then made available to the public — at prices that frequently beat retail versions of the same gear.

Is It Better?

Even high-end retail sticks, branded with the name of the superstar du jour, are simply less robust than the blades custom-made for the pros.

Almost certainly, you’ve played with a cheap stick and a more expensive one, and noticed that the latter is clearly more lively and responsive than the former. The difference between a pro stock stick and top-of-the-line retail will be subtler — depending on your skill level, you might not even notice — but regular pro stock users tend to find that pro stock sticks retain their playing characteristics long past the typical shelf life of retail versions.

Those characteristics are, by design, highly specific. A pro stock stick has been manipulated by flex profile, length, weight, balance and kick points, shaft contour and paddle stiffness, and curve to suit one particular player’s preferences.

Side-by-side comparisons of pro stock sticks actually used by a player and his retail “signature” model typically show beefier hosels on the pro stock stick (better to survive faceoffs). Shaft walls are thicker (and thus break less often). The sticks are often heavier — but given the meticulous detail that goes into balancing that weight, the feel is less cumbersome than quick and explosive.

Here are a few more things to consider when pondering a pro stock vs. retail stick purchase:

  • Retail sticks are designed for broad appeal, thus tend to have middle-of-the-road playing characteristics inoffensive to a wide range of playing styles but perhaps less suited to specific strengths.
  • Pro stock sticks are generally produced by the most experienced craftsmen available using specialized machinery.
  • Finicky about blades? Pro stock sticks are super-consistent in the design, size and curve of any one player’s blade, given that custom molds are created to ensure that consistency. Mass-produced models are pumped out to more forgiving tolerances.

When Not to Go Pro

Some gearheads will advise you that sticks are the only area where it really makes sense to buy pro stock. But the argument here is that skates are probably the one big-ticket gear item that is a must-buy at a retail shop.

Why? Two main reasons: A personalized fitting and a place to go for further adjustments as you acclimate to the skates. Your skills and size might suggest a certain player’s stick will fit your game, but feet aren’t so forgiving as to be shoved into a skate molded for other toes.

Gloves can be tricky when going the pro stock route, but they can also be worth it. Some customization over retail models is performance-based — bulky slash guards on the back of the hand, extended cuffs for protection, trimmed cuffs for dexterity. Some is just cool — unusual colors or stitching, a player’s name on the cuff, his number on the thumb. In the end, you’re going to find similar quality in pro stock and retail gear, but more unique options plus the collectability factor when pro stock gloves reach the end of their playing days and make that route a perfectly reasonable option.

The Pro’s Con

The biggest strike against buying pro stock is that it is rarely warrantied. As it has been sold to a team, before being sold again, the manufacturers’ warranties no longer apply. However, some online retailers will replace or refund a stick if it breaks within a defined time period.

Besides, most manufacturers’ warranties on sticks is 30 days. If you’re going to break a stick, it usually happens well after that.

What’s the Verdict?

Assuming you’ve done your research about the sellers, pro stock gear provides an assurance of the best materials and the best construction at very competitive prices.

If you find a pro stock item you like, it’s wise to grab as many copies as you can. You know the quality will be there, but that particular player’s gear may not be.

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey gear. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.