High Tech, Scouting, and Predicting Success in Hockey

In a Globe and Mail story by technology reporter Matt Hartley dated September 23, 2008 read how high tech is becoming part of scouting with the help of a devise called a Phantom.  It was developed in the artificial intelligence lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Here are clips from the article.

Scouting young hockey prospects is, at best, an inexact science. Something Lauren Sergio is aiming to change with the help of her trusty “force field-creating robotic arm.”

Science fiction it’s not. Since 2003, the York University associate kinesiology professor has spent two days each June running the top 100 NHL prospects through a hand-eye co-ordination test during the league’s annual scouting combine.

“We’re excited about the potential,” NHL Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire said. “But to this point, we are waiting on some of the longitudinal effects to come in on this kind of research.”

It seems simple enough. Each player must stickhandle a ball through four pylons spaced an even distance apart.

There’s just one small catch: the obstacles exist only on a computer screen and the stick is attached to a robotic arm that pushes back against the player, making it harder to maintain control.

In effect, it’s a way of measuring whether a player has “soft hands.” But Sergio believes it could become a predictor of whether a prospect will make it to the NHL or spend years toiling in the minors.

“We want to see if there’s any way to predict performance,” she said. “It’s all about control.”…

Sergio and her team are currently developing a formula that gauges the success each prospect has early on in their hockey careers – ice time, points etc. – and how those results compare to their Phantom tests. She hopes certain scores will indicate whether a player is more likely to develop into a Dion Phaneuf, a Matt Stajan or an Alexandre Daigle…

“The challenge is to come up with the best weighting factor,” she said. “So that, at the end of the [scouting combine] we can give the scouts all the scores and … tell them that this player has a 68-per-cent chance of being in the NHL in the next year, or two years, or three years.”…

Sergio’s colleague, Norman Gledhill, has run the fitness component of the scouting combine for the NHL for more than two decades, and was the one who initially suggested Sergio when the league asked for a way of testing hand-eye co-ordination…

“This gets down to the hair-splitting when all these other factors start to wash each other and you’re sitting at a draft table in the fourth round, or even before that, and you’re looking to set up your team’s hit list for this year,” McGuire said.

NHL Players Recognize the Importance of Year Round Training

Every time I come across an article like the one by Canadian Press writer Chris Johnston, I see the value of our book The Hockey Conditioning Handbook. Click on the Store tab above to check it out. The article is on www.canoe.ca and it titled NHLers spend summer training. Here is an excerpt.

Whether Rod Brind’Amour’s season ends in June, April or February, one thing always remains constant – he starts training for the next one as soon as he can.

The captain of the Carolina Hurricanes is one of the fittest players in the NHL because he refuses to stop exercising. He turned 38 over the summer and still has three years left on a contract he fully intends to play out.

Brind’Amour typifies the character needed to be a veteran in today’s NHL. In the past, some believed that longevity was best achieved by taking extensive time off over the summer to let the body heal before essentially starting anew during training camp.

That strategy simply wouldn’t work now.

“It’s definitely a year-round job,” Brind’Amour said during a recent interview. “I think the guys that approach it that way are the ones that last the longest…

The training methods vary by individual.

Brind’Amour likes to get up by 6 a.m. for a bike ride before hitting the gym or going for a skate. Alzner has added more bench press and chin-up exercises to his normal routine that focuses on core strength. Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins is a friend of Simon Whitfield’s and participated in triathlons while taking time away from skating early in the summer.

The key to Jason Spezza’s off-ice workouts is the presence of other NHLers. He’s one of 10 guys that train together at a gym in Toronto over the summer.

“It’s pretty intense,” said the Ottawa Senators forward. “That’s why you try to have other guys around you that are kind of working towards the same thing.

“It makes it a little bit competitive and keeps the edge on the days you don’t feel like getting out of bed. You’ve got to beat the other guys.”

The 29-year-old Ference believes his generation of players is used to working out all summer long and showing up to training camp in top shape.

However, one change he’s observed over nine seasons in the league is the different approach players now take to their workouts.

“Some guys used to think training was all about going in the gym, pumping iron and getting huge,” said Ference. “They forgot they’re not professional weightlifters or bodybuilders – they have to be ready for hockey.

“I think the type of training, guys have maybe adjusted that to be more specific to our sport.”

Read the rest of the article for more insight on NHL players feeling for the importance of year round specific training for hockey.