Chalk Talk: Stats, science commonplace
It’s apparent to me that hockey has become like so many other sports.
Computers and statisticians are beginning to control the game. We’ve learned how to track every stat and every aspect of every minute of every game to the point where players can gauge their strengths and deficiencies in pin-pointed detail.
Not to mention, measuring body fat and the strength of every part of the body has become commonplace, and how those measurements translate to game performance is the scientific question.
Among other things, football is known for measuring foot speed in the 40-yard dash, and baseball measures ball velocity for pitchers and bat velocity for batters. Even golf breaks down the mechanics of the swing and club head speed to the point where robots could probably play the game better than us human beings.
Hockey is no exception as it relates to this growing trend towards scientific sports management – and it’s not a bad thing. We have our treadmills, speed guns, stop watches, mobile apps and other training aids, but the statisticians are becoming the real controllers of the game.
We measure face-offs won and lost, puck-touches, shot velocity, save percentage, hits, ice time and a whole lot more to help to determine what makes a better hockey player or hockey team and, if calculated correctly, it can prove extremely beneficial.
It makes sense when you stop and think about it; a harder shot should translate into more goals, a faster skater should also prove to be an asset, and of course more saves should result in more wins.
But didn’t we already know this?
Hockey players have been training to become better athletes since the game began; we just trained differently.
In the old days, we skated ladders and laps and we might have done some light weightlifting. We used weighted vests to improve our endurance, and we used weighted pucks to improve our shot. We even developed weights for sticks and skates as training aids.
Do all of the new sophisticated measuring devices and techniques make a difference?
Well, apparently they do. Being able to break down a stride to determine if the knees are properly flexed or the leg is being extended properly is the type of science that’s helping create better skaters today.
Measuring the techniques of shooting, skating and where and when things should happen on the ice are contributing to a more defined and certainly a more competitive style of hockey.
It’s no wonder that when you watch an NHL game today, it’s so much faster and the players look so much alike. Players at the elite level can no longer afford to take the summer off; in order to keep their spot on the roster, they must continue to stay in shape and improve during the offseason and be ready for camp come the fall.
And let’s face it: There’s a lot more at stake, financially, for the elite-level players today; years ago, players weren’t fortunate enough to sign multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.
In some sense, becoming so detailed with a training program is an investment; if you’re not as fast or strong as the player next to you, you might not get that big deal – or, in some cases, have a job at all.
The same holds true at the younger levels, where high-level junior opportunities are on the line, as well as college scholarships. Players and their families are putting a lot of time and money towards the sport, so why not approach your training the right way?
The latest in sports science is also becoming instrumental in developing better ways to stay healthy through training techniques and preventative-maintenance practices.
By being able to measure athletes’ fitness levels, we’re now better equipped to figure out what injuries are becoming more prevalent and why, and new methods of training are allowing athletes to perform and stay healthier in general.
Hockey players may be looking more and more like robots when performing at their best levels, but that may simply be a result of us treating them like machines as we rewire people’s thinking relative to training and fitness.
Larry Bruyere is the coach-in-chief of USA Hockey’s Pacific District and also operates Channel Islands Ice Center.