ZURICH – Common wisdom has it that more NHLers shoot left than right, and more Europeans shoot left than North Americans, but if the current rosters for the World Women’s Championship can be trusted as an accurate gauge (and why wouldn’t it?), the discrepancy is even more pronounced among women.
In fact, of the 152 registered players on the eight teams here in Switzerland, 106 (69.7%) shoot left. The Swedes have 18 lefties and not a single right-handed shot. Not one. At the other end of the range, the Americans have 12 righties and only six left-handed shooters. Surprisingly, the next most right-favoured team is Kazakhstan, with seven players. Canada has six, Finland four, Switzerland three, and Russia and Slovakia two each.
This doesn’t seem to be a blip on the screen. At the 2002 Olympics, for instance, there were 144 registered players, 110 of whom shot left, an ever greater percentage (76.4%). Back then it was the Russians that had a perfectly left lineup, with 18 lefties and no right-handed shooters. The Americans were again most right oriented, along with the Canadians. Both had eight righties while Germany was next with five. This year, playing in Division I, Germany had just one righty and 17 lefties.
“I have a theory,” said Peter Elander, longtime coach of Team Sweden and now associate head coach of the women’s team at the University North Dakota. “In Europe, you’re taught to hold the stick with one hand when you’re skating, so players hold it at the top, with their dominant hand, which is usually the right. In North America, you’re taught to skate holding both hands on the stick, and players are more naturally going to grip the stick like a baseball bat or golf club, with the strong hand at the bottom.”
In other words, if you ask a European kid to pick up a hockey stick, she is more likely to pick it up with her dominant hand, the right hand, than with her left. This theory is further enhanced by looking again at the 2011 WW and 2002 Olympic rosters. If you take away North Americans, an incredible 83% of European women at the 2011 WW shoot left (88 of 106). At the 2002 Olympics, 83.5% of European women shot left (91 of 109).
Elander has clearly spent time thinking of this strange phenomenon. After all, it is not a good thing to have an all lefty lineup, given that a coach needs four right wingers and three right-side defencemen. It makes passing and shooting all the more tricky, not to mention trying to draw up a successful power play.
“You can tell the right-handed righties because they use that powerful lower right hand to generate a good shot. But they are also not very good stickhandlers,” Elander elaborated. By right-handed righties, Elander means a player who does everything away from hockey with her right hand – write right-handed, throw a ball, or favour the right hand in all aspects of life.
“Left-handed righties don’t have as strong a lower hand, so they don’t shoot as well, but they’re much better stickhandlers,” he explained. “But it all starts at a young age. Once you’re older, you can’t change from shooting left to shooting right.”
With NHLers and men, there are various ways to analyze the information. For instance, a New York Times story last year suggested 60% of all Canadian players were lefties and 60% of Americans shot right (based on stick sales in those countries). Because more than half of NHLers are Canadian and another quarter European, some 60% of NHLers were also left-handed. That only makes sense.
But why the dramatic increase between the men and women, from 60% to 70%, and up to 83% in Europe? And why the huge difference between American women and Canadian here in WW 2011? It makes even less sense when you consider that ten per cent of men in the world are left-handed while only eight per cent of women are lefties, thus skewering the ratio even more.