Honest Hockey Review: Reebok AI9/20K Hockey Stick

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As of Fall 2015, the Reebok brand is being phased-out as a major equipment label, with most of Reebok’s equipment (notably the RibCor line) being re-branded as CCM equipment. Adidas, the parent company of both Reebok and CCM Hockey, is choosing to consolidate most of its hockey equipment lines under the CCM banner, while using the Reebok brand primarily as a fitness/active-wear label.

As a result, lots of Reebok Hockey gear is showing up on Closeout. Reebok’s remaining top sticks from 2012, the AI9 (mid/variable-kick) and 20K (low-kick) were heavily-discounted in time for the 2015 Holiday shopping season. I was able to pick up one of each, and wanted to get a quick review out in case you wanted to consider one as a 2015 Holiday purchase.

Below is my Honest Hockey review of both the Reebok AI9 and the Reebok 20K Hockey Sticks. Both sticks were unused Pro Return sticks, meaning I reviewed the best possible versions of both the AI9 and the 20K. Feel free to provide feedback or intelligent criticism.

Basis of Comparison

I’ve been using Sher-Wood sticks for most of the last four years, and I’ve been rotating a pack of Sher-Wood T100 Pro sticks for the last four or five months. I’ll write my valentine to the T100 Pro in the near future, but take my word that it’s a phenomenal stick. If I have the choice, I’ll ordinarily opt for a Sher-Wood stick, as I have developed quite a bit of brand loyalty to their stick lines since 2011.

Having said that, I try to make an effort to try different twigs when the opportunity arises. Prior to picking up my pack of T100s (say that five times fast), I used a few Warrior Covert Pro Return sticks, and prior to that I was using the Sher-Wood Rekker EK9 and the Easton Synergy 60 I reviewed for Reboot Hockey.

The Ai9/20K lines are over three years old, and I initially purchased the sticks because the price was too good to pass up. The last time I consistently used Reebok sticks was in Summer 2011, and I have a vivid memory of the blade of my last Reebok 11K flying away into the night as I followed through on a slap-shot. It was one of those deals where the broken blade went further than the puck. But I digress.

I recall being quite pleased with the Reebok line up to that point. Prior to the 11Ks, I was using packs of Reebok 5Ks, notable for something called “Snake Grip”. I was one of those weirdos who liked different brands of sticks for Ice Hockey versus Inline Hockey, as I preferred mid-kick Warrior sticks for Inline and Reebok sticks for Ice. But since that last 11K broke in 2011, I’ve almost exclusively used Sher-Wood sticks, excluding some test-runs/reviews here and there.

Because I purchased unused Pro Return sticks, I was using the best version of both the AI9 and the 20K released. I’m grading both the AI9 and the 20K against other Pro Return sticks I’ve used recently, noting that most of those have been Sher-Wood T90/T100 Pros.

Personal Biases

I am more than pleased with the Sher-Wood T90/T100 line, and would be happy to use those sticks until the end of time. Having said that, I try to keep an open mind while reviewing. I’ve had mostly-positive experiences using Reebok equipment, and would have no issue switching stick-brands if a product outperformed Sher-Wood.

First Impression

Here are a few more pics of the sticks I purchased:

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The blade pattern on both the AI9 and the 20K I purchased is called H-114, which is a slight mid-heel. It’s pretty comparable to a Bauer P88 (Kane). The closest Reebok Retail pattern to the H-114 is probably the P42 (Duchene) pattern.

I ordinarily use a PP77 (Coffey) or something highly-curved, but I’ve used mid-heel curves quite a bit over the years. The adjustment for the blade pattern was minimal.

Both Reebok sticks were marked as 100 Flex, and I cut my customary 4-5″ off of each. Both actually felt softer than my 95 Flex T100 Pros, even after trimming. They were right around Reebok/CCM 110 Flex after trimming, which is well within my effective range for Stick Flex.

I used the AI9 first, as I ordinarily prefer mid-kick sticks. I used it at a stick-and-puck in which I had plenty of ice to work with.

The AI9 took some getting used-to, as I’ve grown very accustomed to the T100. The blade on both the T100 and the T90 (as well as the Rekker line and all of their derivatives) is quite stiff, but it works for the Sher-Wood line. I think the blade stiffness on Sher-Wood sticks allows for optimal Shot Power, while the stick retains much of the Puck Feel that Sher-Wood sticks are known for.

The blade on the AI9 felt flimsy by comparison, and I soft-tossed quite a few weak Wrist Shots into the net with it. I could feel the stick flexing pretty significantly while I was shooting, but the flex was not transferring well. By the time the flex reached the blade, the puck released slowly and fluttered to the net. Net-tight and backhand shots were inconsistent, at best.

I found a kid who could barely skate, and decided to do some saucer-passing with him to test the touch on the AI9. I was very pleased with how consistently I was able to throw quality saucers to the kid, whose stick I had to hit perfectly lest the puck carom down to the far end of the rink. The sauce was equally-good on the backhand. Excellent feel on the AI9.

The entire time, I was very impressed with how the puck followed the blade of the AI9 around. Hockey Players talk about the puck following a particular player during certain games, and the pucks seemed to hit the blade of the AI9 and stick to it.

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Like a wooden stick, the blade of the AI9 settled the puck down quite well. A lot of composite stick-blades are so “lively” that pucks glance off of them even in routine passing, but the puck stuck to the AI9. Again, very reminiscent of those Sher-Wood 7000/9950s I’ve used so fondly.

The AI9 played very much like a wooden stick, even more so than the T100 Pro. Like a wooden stick, the AI9 has a “deadening” feel that greatly aids Puck Control and Touch, but makes shooting a relative chore compared to some other composite sticks. The only other composite stick I’ve used that played so traditionally was made by Fischer.

(Note: I went back to my T100s after testing the Reebok sticks, and a few very routine passes clanged off the blade of my stick during pick-up hockey. I had never considered the blade of the T100 to be particularly lively, but the contrast between the blades of the AI9/20K and the T100 was pretty stark. I’ll stop before I go on my rant about how composite sticks and their unnatural feel are ruining Hockey.)

Overall First Impression: Very good handler, great feel, so-so shooter.

Second Impression

I liked the AI9 much better the second time around, as my body apparently learned to compensate for the softer blade. I wouldn’t say I was gunning pucks, but I was shooting with much more accuracy and power. The mid-flex AI9 allowed me to really thump some slapshots, once I got the hang of it.

The AI9 continued to be a very sound puck-handler. With the slight mid-heel on my H-114, I was doing more of those Kovalev-style backhand moves I’m so fond of, and with precision.

As noted above, the extra “give” on the blade that allows for smoother stick-handling and touch also detracts somewhat from Shot Power. The AI9 continued to play very much like a wooden stick, which I mean as a compliment. But if you’re a pure shooter, you may find the AI9 a little unimpressive compared to a higher-end offering from Easton or even the current Tacks line.

After warming-up with the AI9, I switched over to the 20K. The 20K handled identically to the AI9, but I noticed and preferred the mid-kick on the AI9 for shooting. It seems strange to me to put a low kick point on a stick that plays so traditionally, but plenty of pros liked the 20K (and its derivatives) just fine.

To confirm my opinions, I went back to one of my T100 Pros, and it reinforced my initial thoughts: the T100 is a much-better shooter than either the Ai9 or the 20K, but both Reebok sticks shockingly surpassed the T100 Pro in Puck Feel.

Balance

I’m not going to blaspheme and say the AI9 has better balance than the T100 Pro, but after trimming the AI9 I was extremely pleased with how it felt. I was twirling the thing effortlessly in the Pro Shop, and found it equally-easy to handle the puck. Ditto for the 20K.

I’ve found a lot of Pro Return sticks feel much more like wooden sticks than their Retail counterparts, which makes sense. The equipment companies are going to pump their best engineering into their professional-team accounts, and like many others, the Pro Return Reebok sticks were made for higher-level players who grew up using wood.

I would very likely use a stick like the AI9 if I had an unlimited supply, but much like a wooden stick, I could feel the AI9 grow more whippy with relatively-short use. Like most readers, I pay for my own sticks, so Durability is a consideration. But fresh off the rack, the AI9 felt great.

A lot of the higher-end Sher-Wood sticks are stamped “Pro Balance”, which I use as my control in grading. As much as I like the Balance on the T90/T100, I have to grade the AI9/20K Pro as being a bit better.

HH Score: 9.5

Durability

As written above, I took about four inches off of the 100 Flex AI9/20K sticks, and both felt more whippy than my 95 Flex T100 Pros. I could feel the AI9 “break-in” more after a few sessions, as noted above.

Faceoffs are always a major test of Durability. Anyone who plays Center with regularity will tell you that Faceoffs just murder sticks. While I liked the precise feel I got from using the Reebok sticks on Faceoffs, I also got the impression that either stick wouldn’t hold up well after multiple games. My opinion is that both the 20K and the AI9 were constructed for Touch, not Durability.

Acknowledging that, my experience has been that Pro Return sticks are much-sturdier overall than Retail sticks. If you are choosing between something like a $260 Retail CCM Ultra Tacks stick and a Pro Return AI9, I would still opt for the latter if Durability is a prime concern.

HH Score: 7.5

Looks

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The AI9 is painted in a standard Red/White, and the 20K was marked up in Reebok/RibCore’s signature Black/Neon Green:

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Unless a stick is parking-cone orange, I absolutely do not care about the color. Having said that, I had been using the nightmare-inducing T100 Pro, which is marked up in a menacing Black/Red scheme. No other stick can hope to look that good.

Both the AI9 and the 20K look fine, but neither would have jumped off the rack in the distinctive way the Batman-esque CCM Ultra Tacks or aforementioned T100 would.

HH Score: 8.0

Performance

I am trying to be fair in evaluating Performance, as I am reviewing a pair of three-year old sticks. The CCM/Reebok line has obviously made technology leaps since 2012, and the Reebok RibCor received a very positive review from Reboot Hockey partner Randy. It goes without saying that a 2015 CCM RibCor outperforms a 2012 AI9 in most respects.

But as I write this, both the AI9 and the 20K remain market options. Value is likely to play a big role in your decision to purchase an AI9 versus something like a CCM Ultra Tacks or Easton Synergy HTX, but Performance is a consideration.

I was very pleased with how both sticks performed, and would have no qualms about buying either. But I’m someone who grew up using wooden sticks, and I put a premium on my ability to pass and feel the puck.

If I was someone who preferred a livelier stick line such as Easton, I would like find both the AI9 and the 20K to be disappointing. Neither stick auto-fires the same way that something like an Easton Synergy HTX does.

If you’re a puck-handler/passer, take a look at the AI9/20K. If you’re a shooter, you’ll probably want to keep looking.

HH Score: 8.0

Value

As I write this in December 2015, both the AI9 and 20K are being closed-out. If you can find either, you will likely be able to purchase them at great values.

Both the AI9 and the 20K originally retailed for $209.99. For Black Friday 2015, I saw both sticks advertised in the neighborhood of $50-$60. I would recommend picking up either at that price, if you can find one in a usable blade pattern/flex.

HH Score: 9.0

Final Thoughts

Here’s my final thought on the AI9/20K:

I had a four-game stretch before the holiday break in which I would be using the sticks, along with some pick-up games and practice sessions. I opted to go back to my T100s rather than continue using the Reebok sticks, because A) I did not have confidence in their durability, and B) I was not shooting with them especially well.

Had I purchased four Reebok sticks instead of two, I might have rolled the dice. But the Reebok sticks were wearing down quickly, and I don’t think two of them would have held up under a month of my use. The Reebok sticks were actually fun to use because of the great Puck Feel, but I did not trust them to maintain performance. If I had six fresh ones waiting on the bench like the Pros do, it might be a different story.

You may not play as dense of a schedule as I do, so sustained durability/performance might not be as big of a concern. But with the way I go through sticks, these are both considerations.

I don’t want to diminish how well the AI9 and the 20K play, or discourage you from making a purchase. You will get good performance from either of these sticks while they last. If I broke all of my T100s, I would have no issue going to one of these Reebok sticks. But for me, the AI9 and the 20K are more great backups than a top choice.

Again, to be fair: these sticks are both three years old, and I am grading them largely against a 2014 stick in the T100 Pro. A fair test would be to grade the T100 Pro against the first generation Tacks Pro stick or a Reebok RibCor Pro, and when I get the opportunity I will.

Overall, I think both the AI9 and the 20K were more-than-solid entries in their respective lines. Either stick, and in my opinion the AI9 in particular, would be a high-value purchase if weighed against the current asking price. You’re unlikely to find sticks of this quality this far under the $100 price-point. If you can still snag one, I recommend you do so.

HH Overall Score: 8.5

Thanks for reading. As always, Like Reboot Hockey on Facebook. If you want to be a peach, tell your friends about this blog.

Jack

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