Do you, or someone you know, play hockey? If so, have you ever wondered what characteristics the top players share? If you put a number of hockey players through a battery of tests which ones would the top hockey players excel at?
This would be important information to have if you were a hockey player. You could see what the top players all do well. Next you could get an assessment done to see how you rank in these areas. Finally you could have a top level strength coach design and coach you through an effective program to develop these abilities as well.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research compared three groups of hockey players with respect to the their anthropometric measures, dryland and on-ice testing. 45 players at either the D1, D3 or junior elite level of hockey participated in the study.
These players were assessed on-ice for their top end speed as well as a repeat shift test. Off-ice looked at their vertical jump, Wingate test, grip strength and skate treadmill VO2max.
Here’s what they found.
First of all, D1 players typically had lower levels of bodyfat than D3 players. So if you are a young player that has had success in the past but has poor nutritional know that this will catch up with you. You cannot get the majority of your calories through a window and maintain a lean body mass.
Secondly they found there was no significant difference between the groups in terms of the aerobic capacity of the players. Whether the player was at the D1, D3 or elite level of junior did not make much of a difference on their VO2max.
However what they did find was that D1 and elite junior players had better anaerobic fitness, vertical jump, Wingate performance, grip strength, top speed and repeat sprint ability. All of these tests are a function of rate of force production.
In other words the best hockey players can not only generate high levels of force, they can generate these forces more quickly than D3 players.
This is where some people that work with hockey players can get tripped up. They want to prove to the parents of the hockey player that they are getting their money’s worth. The young hockey player leaves each session a dripping mess, sore, tired and out of breath from all the aerobic conditioning and strength training that was performed.
But the hockey parent believes this must be effective. And the fitness person charged with designing and implementing the training can point to improvements in aerobic conditioning as well as bigger deadlifts, squats and bench press.
Unfortunately increased aerobic capacity is not a distinguishing feature between top level and next tier hockey players. And unless the young player has trained all three phases of the muscular contraction they will be great at slow, power-lifting style training but lacking in the ability to produce force quickly, which is essential at the highest levels of hockey.
The take home message for college and junior level hockey players is to maintain a lean body mass while working on increasing the rate of force production in their training. These two things will have the biggest impact on their hockey performance.
Peterson, B. et al. 2015. JSCR. Division I Hockey Players Generate More Power Than Division III Players During On- And Off-ice Performance Tests. 29(5):1191-1196.