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http://www.thespec.com/Sections/designhope/article/722824
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — What is the difference between a Canadian and an American? The old question is coming up again here at the Olympics, with answers involving eagerness for war, ketchup, the pronunciation of toque or the ability to identify poutine and the Tragically Hip.

But none may be so simple as how one holds a hockey stick. According to sales figures from stick manufacturers, a majority of Canadian hockey players shoot left-handed, and a majority of American players shoot right-handed. No reason is known for this disparity, which cuts across all age groups and has persisted for decades.

Most Canadians, like most Americans, are naturally right-handed, so the discrepancy has nothing to do with national brain-wiring. And how you hold a pencil, say, has little or no bearing on how you hold a stick. A left-handed shooter puts his right hand on top; a right-hander puts the left hand there.

For years, how a hockey player picked up his stick was of little importance. The blades were straight and a player could swing the sticks from either side. Two Hockey Hall of Famers from the mid-20th century — wing Gordie Howe and goalie Bill Durnan — actually played ambidextrously.

But the advent of curved blades in the ’60s not only spelled the end of the classic backhand shot, it also meant that manufacturers had to label sticks L and R, and inventory personnel had to ship more left-handed sticks (with the blade curving to the right) to Canada and more right-handed ones to the United States.

“I have no idea why this is so,” said Mike Mountain, who is in charge of hockey sticks for Easton, a sporting goods manufacturer based in Van Nuys, Calif. “But it has been true for years, and it doesn’t change; it stays consistent over time.”

Roughly 60 percent of the Easton hockey sticks sold in Canada are for left-handed shots, Mountain said. In the United States, he said, about 60 percent of sticks sold are for right-handed shots. Figures over the years from other manufacturers have put the ratio discrepancy between the two countries as high as 70 to 30.

The difference even trickles over into golf, where the swing is not unlike that of a slap shot. According to the Professional Golfers Association, 7 percent of Canadian golfers play left-handed, which is proportionally more than any other nationality. The reason is probably that Canadians pick up a hockey stick first and are therefore imprinted by the time they take up golf. Especially if they are from Quebec, where hockey players are even more left-handed than players in the rest of Canada.

Oddly, British Columbia — sometimes said to be the most American-like of the Canadian provinces — skews the other way. “The rest of the country goes 2 to 1 in favor of left sticks, but it’s reversed in B.C.,” said Marc Poirier, a customer service representative who handles Canadian orders for Warrior Sticks.

Europeans also tend to be left-handed shooters. The International Ice Hockey Federation does not keep figures by European nationality, the communications director Szymon Szemberg said. But, he said, lefty shooters have predominated. “For long spells, the great Soviet teams of the ’80s never had a player who shot right,” Szemberg said.

The Canadian journalist and author Bruce Dowbiggin noted the Canadian-American handedness split in his 2001 book, “The Stick: A History, a Celebration, an Elegy.” On Dowbiggin’s Web site, a reader named Kent Mayhew suggested the difference may have to do with how old a player is when he first picks up a hockey stick.

“The top hand on a hockey stick has to be able to handle the torques of a stick while the bottom hand just has to handle the weight with no torques,” he wrote. He theorized that American children, who tend to take up hockey when they are older and bigger, can afford to put the stronger hand, generally the right, on the lower part of the shaft for more precision.

A lot of experts would argue, however, that having the dominant hand on top makes for better control and stick-handling.

The United States Olympic women’s hockey coach, Mark Johnson, is in that camp, but he said: “Whether you’re living in a hotbed hockey community or you live in a naïve place where you don’t really know hockey, and you’re a mother or a father taking your daughter to a hockey shop, you’ll ask, ‘Which way do you write?’ If she says right-handed, well, she’s going to be right-handed.

“That’s generally not the way you want to do it. You want your dominant hand on top of your stick. But you look around and there’s a lot of right-handed female players, more so than with men.”

On the women’s 2010 Olympic teams, which feature 21-player rosters, 15 members of Team Canada shoot left-handed compared with 10 on Team U.S.A. On the men’s rosters, the difference is less pronounced, with 15 left-handers on Team Canada and 13 on Team U.S.A. out of 23 players on the roster.

A 2006 study found that 60 percent of all National Hockey League forwards were left-handed, as were 70 percent of all N.H.L. defensemen, but those statistics were not sorted by nationality.

Three players with Team U.S.A. said they had not noticed the discrepancy until it was brought to their attention Monday.

“I noticed a lot of righties when I was growing up, but now I see a lot of lefties,” said Ryan Suter, who plays for the Nashville Predators and shoots left-handed.

There are oddities, too. For example, all the regulars on the New Jersey Devils’ defense corps — three Americans, four Canadians and a Finn — shoot left-handed. For every left-handed-shooting Wayne Gretzky, there is a right-handed-shooting Mario Lemieux. The career top-scoring American, Mike Modano, shoots left. His predecessor as the Americans’ top career scorer, Joe Mullen, shot right.

“It’s probably a cultural quirk,” offered Brian Tran, a hockey-playing sales clerk at Cyclone Taylor Sports, a Vancouver hockey store. “Everybody’s doing it one way, so you follow along.”

He sought out Toby Higo, the only righty working at the store Monday morning, to find out how he had gone so terribly wrong.

“It’s something that comes the first time you pick up a stick when you’re a kid,” Higo said.

Parents regularly arrive at the shop uncertain about what kind of stick to buy their children. Higo said Cyclone Taylor employees apply a simple test: “We give the kid a stick and see what they do.”

Interesting. When I think about it, I shoot left. But I probably started playing shinny when I was 4 or so. Shinny=pick up hockey (and for the Brits, hockey= ice hockey).

I could never play in a league because "girls don't play hockey, they play ringette". I envy the little girls today who can choose to try to play hockey in a league.
 

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One of my kids shoots left and one shoots right (it would make it easier if they both shot the same way, we could save money on sticks). My husband shoots left, and I shoot right. I started playing pond hockey with my brothers when I was a little kid, but didn't play organized hockey until a couple of years ago when we formed some "hockey mom" teams. :)
 

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I don't know a single person that plays hockey, so I have nothing to add other than I'm a lefty, so I'm assuming I'd shoot (is that the right word?) right-handed since I tend to do everything sports-related opposite from my dominant hand.
 

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I don't know a single person that plays hockey, so I have nothing to add other than I'm a lefty, so I'm assuming I'd shoot (is that the right word?) right-handed since I tend to do everything sports-related opposite from my dominant hand.
Possibly. I'm a righty but I shoot left in hockey. (My right hand is on top of the stick-that makes me a lefty).
 

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That is a very interesting article. My house is within the average, LOL we all write with our right hands but i'm the only one that shoots with my right. Hubby and both of our boys shoot all sports with their left hand. I played hockey back in the 70's, yes in a girls league and it as full blown contact hockey, when i started out i played with my brother's stick, lol makes me laugh today because he was a lefty and the stick had a curve the wrong way for me, so i opted to play goalie after the first year. I also played baseball and i had to use his glove lol yep i had to wear it backwards, hey it worked for me!!!
 

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I've never played hockey (me on skates is a hazard to myself and others), but I'm right-handed and do sports stuff right-handed also.

So, Canadian righties that shoot left - if you played softball would you hit left, or is it just a hockey thing?
 

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I've never played hockey (me on skates is a hazard to myself and others), but I'm right-handed and do sports stuff right-handed also.

So, Canadian righties that shoot left - if you played softball would you hit left, or is it just a hockey thing?
Just a hockey thing. I hit right.
 

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Both of my guys bat left, as well. And so does Kelsey, who also writes with her right hand.

DH's theory after I just explained to him why I asked which way him and Cameron shoot- He thinks it may have to do with how early most kids here start playing hockey. A good majority of kids who play hockey are in some sort of hockey league by 3 or 4 years of age. So it is just their natural way to do it, as they haven't had as much time to form the strength in their right or left hands- does that make sense? Cameron started hockey school when he was 3. He's only 6 and already in his fourth year of hockey. And in the US- kids tend to start at an older age- and by older, I am only talking a couple years- probably 5, 6 or 7. Again, it's just a theory.
 

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I'm a lefty - and now that I'm remembering back, there were only 5 right handers on our entire team. I did get called out at hockey camp though because we went golfing for a day - I don't swing left in golf, I shoot right, which seemed to be a bone of contention to others there.
 
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