By Kelly Lockwood, PhD and Colin Dunne MSc, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Brock University

Traditionally, the cowling on a goaltender skate boot has served to protect the foot and hold the blade in position. Consistent with current innovations in players’ skates, the material properties of the goaltenders’ skate boot have evolved from leather to synthetic materials, carbon fiber and resins with reinforced toecaps to improve protection, structure and durability. Stronger, stiffer and more protective boots have eliminated the need for the cowling and as such, the cowling has been replaced by a blade holder that resembles the design of a players’ blade holder.

What is Blade Alignment?

Blade alignment is the positioning of the blade holder and blade on the skate boot. It is common practice at more advanced levels of play and athletic abilities to customize blade alignment of a player’s skate to suit technical styles of play, individual preferences, and specific anatomical configurations, for example if the athlete is knock-kneed or bow-legged. Specific to goaltenders, the concept of alignment has traditionally been handcuffed by the design and fit of the cowling preventing any movement of the blade holder in relationship to the boot. The redesign of the goaltender blade holder provides the opportunity to move the holder medially (towards the inside arch of the foot) or laterally (towards the outside of the foot) and customize alignment.

But how do we decide if alignment matters?

The contribution of equipment to performance starts with an understanding of the movement characteristics of technique and the demands of the game. Goaltenders block shots. The butterfly is the most common save technique; performed approximately 34 ± 6 times per game at the elite level [1]. The butterfly technique is initiated in an upright ready stance position, the goaltender drops to both knees causing leg pads to flare outward and flush with the ice. Following the drop, the goaltender can either recover to their original ready stance position, recover to a new position on their feet, or can slide across the goaltender’s crease while maintaining the dropped butterfly positioning, referred to as the lateral butterfly slide. In today’s game, the butterfly is frequently used due to the effectiveness of the position – the legs cover the bottom of the net while the goaltender’s upper body remains upright with arms free to move in order to simultaneously maximize coverage of the top of the net.

Research supporting the contribution of equipment and/or the customization of equipment setup to a goaltender’s performance is somewhat limited however, there is some evidence to suggest that technique can be improved by manipulating equipment design, fit and function. For example, the influence of the width of leg pads to the butterfly save technique has been examined and results have demonstrated that an athlete can achieve greater hip internal rotation with the use of worked-in 27.9 cm wide pads in comparison to new 27.9 cm wide pads [2]. Furthermore, the effect of different leg pad channel conditions, namely, the housing of the leg in the pad, has demonstrated differences in mean peak butterfly drop velocities measured between 2.82 ± 0.58 m/s and 3.05 ± 0.64m/s [3] and differences in butterfly width of 0.22 cm [4]. These results suggest that manipulations to the goaltender leg pads can influence function and improve butterfly drop performance.

But what about the location of the blade on the boot? Would alignment enhance the execution of goaltender-specific movement patterns?

Adopting player-like blade holders for goaltenders has presented an opportunity to explore the effect of blade alignment on the execution of goaltender-specific movement patterns, with the goal to enhance technique and ultimately playing performance. The purpose of our research was to investigate the effect of three different blade alignment positions (medial, lateral and neutral) on kinematics and kinetics during the execution of two different goaltender-specific movement patterns; the butterfly drop to recovery and the lateral butterfly slide to recovery. The study initially addressed differences between the cowling versus a player-like holder when both were mounted in a neutral position. This allowed us to suggest that the cowling did not offer any further advantage to the player-like holder when both were mounted in a neutral alignment. We then compared the three blade alignment conditions facilitated by a player-like holders (medial, lateral and neutral) on the kinematics and kinetics of the butterfly save technique.

Research questions are often guided by theoretical concepts or as in this case, biomechanical models. It would seem logical, if you can position the athlete to be ready to drop and apply greater pressure; the initiation of the movement would be quicker and the drop velocity faster. Outcomes revealed that the medial blade alignment positioned the athlete to generate higher peak plantar pressure and drop a faster. The results of the study provided empirical evidence to support our biomechanical understanding of how shifting the blade to the medial aspect of boot would enhance save potential.

How do small tweaks in equipment create a significant impact?

Hockey is a game of seconds – a lot of time and resources are spent training hockey goaltenders to ensure they are physical fit, technically astute and mentally prepared to perform at their highest level or ability. However, previous research has revealed that even small tweaks in equipment can have a significant contribution to performance. If we were to interpret the data in isolation or outside the context of game performance, the differences revealed may seem relatively minimal, or so what? However, when interpreted in the context of the fast-paced sport of hockey and specifically, the execution of save techniques, outcomes may have significant practical applications, specifically the goaltender’s ability to save shots. For example, based on the mean vertical displacement from ready stance to butterfly positioning for the goaltender (0.49m) and mean shot velocities by college level players (30.6m/s) [5], the goaltender could achieve the butterfly positioning in time for the puck to make contact with them for a shot from: neutral blade alignment – 9.27m (30.41 feet); lateral blade alignment – 7.56m (24.80 feet); medial blade alignment – 7.22 m (23.69 feet). Therefore, in a scenario where the goaltender is using a medial blade alignment, they can perform the butterfly drop into butterfly positioning for a shot from 2.05m (6.72 feet) closer compared to when in a neutral blade alignment. The ability to execute the butterfly drop faster is a major advantage in a hockey game as it provides the goaltender the ability to get into position for a larger percentage of total shot scenarios, especially considering the offensive zone of the rink is only 19.51m (64 feet) long.

Outcomes of this study may not explicitly inform equipment managemers what blade alignment is best suited to ALL goaltenders; there is no one size fits all. However, the research provides some insight and understanding to further explore customization beyond the traditional neutral alignment provided by equipment manufacturers.

Blade alignment has the potential to contribute to goaltending-specific technique and performance benefits.

References

  1. Bell JG et al., 2008. Int. J. of Sports Physiology & Performance (3).
  2. Wijdicks CA et al., 2014. Clin. J. of Sport Medicine (24).
  3. Frayne RJ & Dickey JP, 2017. Int. Sports Engineering Association (20).
  4. Frayne RJ et al., 2015. Am. J of Sports Medicine (43).
  5. Wu, T.C et al., 2003. Sports Engineering (6).

About the Authors

Colin Dunne is currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University. His research focuses on biomechanics and specifically, the contribution of equipment to performance in on-ice sport.

Dr. Kelly Lockwood is a Professor and Applied Sport Researcher in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University. Through the disciplines of exercise physiology, biomechanics and engineering, her work explores human and non-human factors that contribute to athletic performance.

Photos courtesy of Kelly Lockwood and Colin Dunne

By Grace Heidinger  

Social distancing and self-quarantine have become the new normal for people across the world as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. Surrounded by uncertainty, people are filled with mixed emotions about what the future holds for all aspects of life, including sports. Once COVID-19 began to rapidly spread across the country, it was only a matter of time that the sports world was going to experience symptoms of the virus, too. Due to the global pandemic, the sports world has been on pause more than a month and people are wondering what the future holds for sports.   

Sports are a big part of the culture in the city of Buffalo, even if the Buffalo sports teams are not always winning. Former Buffalo Beaut Hayley Williams does not forget her Buffalo roots after moving to Russia to continue her hockey career. She recently decided to start coaching online hockey training through Zoom for girls in Buffalo.

Williams meets with players live online Monday through Friday and if a player was unable to make the session because of school or other obligations, they receive a recording so they can follow along later in the day.

“It is very rewarding for me to still work with these players even in these tough times,” she said.

While Williams works a lot on stickhandling, mobility, stability and strength, she doesn’t stop there. In addition to her online coaching, she also designed offseason training programs for hockey plays and for her own offseason training.

“All in all, I’m staying very busy and involved in hockey, even if I can’t go to the rink,” she said.

Through training programs, athletes are still able to train during this time in preparation for the next time they will be able to put a jersey on and play a game. But for some high schoolers, the last time they put on their jersey or played a game on their home field would be their final time. High school senior Ariana Nieves had her final year of high school sports and senior year at Buffalo Seminary cut short due to the virus.

“It has definitely affected my senior year as a whole because I am not able to have that bond with my teammates, have a senior night, or final practices with my team,” she said.  

Nieves was a member of the basketball and lacrosse team at Buffalo Seminary. Her final high school lacrosse season was completely cancelled, but her basketball team advanced to the state championship for the first time in history- and they could not even compete in it.  

“These things are what you look forward to all four years of high school, and to have it taken away from you so suddenly is hard, especially when you don’t get another shot at it,” she said.

While some people ended their sports career in high school, some continued to play in college. Sam Bulow is a member of the Women’s Lacrosse team at Buffalo State and was less than halfway through the season when the NCAA and Athletic Directors in the SUNYAC league cancelled the remainder of the season.  

“It is a moment that I’ll never forget as a couple of my teammates and myself went into our coach’s office after what was our last practice, and anxiously waited for our Athletic Director to give the verdict of the season,” Burlow said.     

The virus also affected Burlow’s workout habits as the student athletic center and gyms closed shortly after the decision was made to cancel their season. What were mandatory lift sessions and cardio training turned into backyard training for Burlow.

“While I keep up with my stick skills in my backyard every day, my weight training is not as strong because of lack of equipment,” she said.

The verdict to cancel the season is still not easy for Burlow and her teammates to process.

“At the end of the day I know it was the right thing to do, but it does not make it easy when I look at a calendar and realize that we should have a game this day,” she said.

What was hard news for student athletes to face, was an even harder decision for athletic directors to make. Bishop Timon St. Jude High School athletic director, Joe Licata, is still hard at work despite the current absence of spring sports. Licata, along with other athletic directors from the Monsignor Martin League in Buffalo, N.Y., have weekly meetings via Zoom to discuss different options for the season if students were to return to school.

“The main thing is to give our seniors one last send off so we are going to try to do whatever we can to make that happen,” he said.

Licata is also the football coach and gym teacher at Bishop Timon, so he has been sending at-home workouts to his students and athletes to stay active.

“Staying physically fit and active during this time will keep everyone sane,” he said.

On top of being involved at Timon, Licata has his own football program that runs in the offseason to train football players, which was also affected. He was in the middle of a 10-week program with two weeks left when he had to postpone the session, but he plans to make it up to the athletes at some point in the future.

“Yes, it’s frustrating but people’s health is more important. Sports do give an outlet for people, so if we can get back to some normalcy, hopefully we can get back to sports,” he said.

While high school and college sports have been affected by the Coronavirus, so have all aspects of major- and minor-league sports. Neal McMullen, the director of corporate sales for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which oversees corporate partnerships for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, is lucky enough to continue working during this time. But that is not the case for others in the organization.

“Unfortunately, our department had to furlough eight people due to the current pandemic and in total, 104 people were recently furloughed in our entire organization,” McMullen said.

His daily routine transitioned from working in an office to now working from home with his family of six, which was an adjustment. Due to the fact that McMullen cannot be in the office, he spends his days on phone calls and then catches up on emails in the evening, or on the weekends.

“It’s tough to stay focused with all the different activities going on in my house, but despite the big adjustment, my routine is starting to feel normal,” he said.

Unlike other major league sports, as of right now, business in the NFL has not been affected. However, the offices and training facilities are completely closed to everyone.

“The NFL is very proactive, and they know they need to have a plan in place for a number of possible scenarios in the fall as no one knows what kind of situation we could be looking come the fall,” he said.

Due to the unforeseen circumstances, the NFL Draft could not happen in person, but they successfully pulled it off virtually while setting a record when over 8 million people watched it. With the uncertainty surrounding the season in the fall, live entertainment for fans could be much different than anything anyone has ever experienced.

“People are starving to get their mind off the realities of everyday life, and entertainment is the best way to do that,” McMullen said.

While there is still potential for the NFL season to take place in the fall, the start of the Minor League Baseball season is still delayed due to the virus. The stands at Sahlen Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons, were empty on April 17, the originally scheduled home opener- and remain empty through the postponed season thus far. Mike Buczkowski, President of Rich Baseball Operations, fears that there won’t be a season.

“The unique thing about the Bisons is that we have to wait for the government to say it’s okay to gather, but we also have to wait for the MLB to determine what they’re going to do,” Buczkowski said.

A challenge that Buczkowski is facing with the Bisons, like all other sports teams, is working through all the different scenarios with other states as each state is in a different situation with the virus. The problem arises that every state has to allow sporting events for the season to happen.

“You can’t have a league if one state has different rules and guidelines where that one team can’t play,” he said.

The MLB might play in empty stadiums and stream games on TV, but that does not work for the minor leagues.

“It’s hard on everybody because our business is all about the people coming to the ballpark, the fans miss baseball, and we miss the fans,” he said.

All sports are going to have to learn and adapt to the new norms once the business can reopen. Leagues are going to have to put different things in place that they did not have before the virus.

“Despite having plan A through Z ready, there is no clear cut plan on what is going to happen, but we will learn as we go to figure out what’s going to be the best and safest for everyone,” Buczkowski said.

Where the Minor League Baseball season was unable to start, the NHL regular season was coming to an end and the Stanley Cup Playoffs were approaching when the virus hit. The Buffalo Sabres were in Montreal preparing for a 7 p.m. game against the Canadiens when the team’s General Manager, Jason Botterill, informed them that the game that evening and the rest of the season was delayed until further notice.

The team followed their normal morning routine, but they were not allowed to hold their morning skate at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. Botterill told them to act as if there was going to be a game that night so the players continued to stretch and enjoyed their pregame meal.

“At around 3 o’clock they were told there would not be a game played that night, and the next hurdle to jump was to get a plane to fly into Montreal and fly the team back home to Buffalo,” said Head Equipment Manager Robert “Rip” Simonick.  

Throughout these challenging times, Simonick still stays in contact with the players. But he misses the in-person interactions with the players at the rink on game days and shaking their hands after a win. The passion for all sports throughout the team is something special Simonick and the players bond over.

“What’s on the first page in the sports section is what these kids live and die for, and what we talk about in the locker room. I’m sure the most recent conversation would have been about Tom Brady going to Tampa,” Simonick said. 

After being with the Sabres for 50 years, this is the most consecutive games Simonick has not participated in, even through other viruses and strikes.

After being with the team for so long, not being able to go to the arena makes the days long for him. Despite the uncertain status of the NHL season, he knows he has to be ready.

“We have all the sticks, pucks and gloves ready to go so if the light switch comes on, we will be there,” he said.

Going about everyday life without sports is hard for all organizations, people who work for these sports teams, the fans, but for the professional players, too. For Buffalo Sabre Jake McCabe, hearing the news that the rest of the NHL season was postponed was still shocking to hear, even though he saw it coming.

“Once the NBA cancelled, I figured we were next and everything happened very quickly once they made the decision,” he said.

Like all athletes, the virus forced McCabe to come up with and adapt to a new workout routine to stay active while away from the game. Although McCabe’s at-home gym looks slightly different from the workout room at the KeyBank Center, he is adjusting to his spin bike and other exercise equipment he has access to. 

“I’ve also been going on a lot of runs because it’s also allowing me to get outside along with getting a workout in,” he said.

Although he misses going to the rink, hanging out with teammates and competing out on the ice, being away from the rink does have a perk for McCabe and his family. On April 20, McCabe and his wife, Gabriella, welcomed their new baby girl, Georgia.

“The silver lining through all of this is I’ve been able to spend every second with my little girl and it’s the best thing in the world,” McCabe said.  

People don’t realize how important sports are to their everyday lives until they are without them. Throughout this time, organizations are working on potential plans for the future when they are able to return to normal while still providing entertainment for fans. Teams are using social media to their advantage to keep the fans engaged and playing games or memorable moments from previous seasons.

“We are doing the best we can for what we have to work with and in hopes that everything gets under control, we can get fans back in arenas and current sports games back on TV,” Simonick said.

Photos courtesy of Grace Heidinger  

Sports are special for a variety of reasons, one such being how it seems to create bonds between people. In sports, friends become family, families become friends, and family itself comes closer together with fond memories that will last a lifetime. Click here to continue reading

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Improving sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) outcomes in hockey

By Rick Garner CEP, Team Paramedic Arizona Coyotes and Arizona State University Athletics

Firefighters, Paramedics, and EMT’s see and treat more out of hospital cardiac arrests than anyone else. These scenes are much different than in-hospital arrests. I’ve responded to 100’s of arrests during my career with the Phoenix Fire Department, and every scene and circumstance were different. Aside from a pediatric drowning, cardiac arrests are one of the most emotionally traumatic scenes a First Responder will ever face. Due to the unexpectedness of SCA’s, the pain and collateral damage experienced by family/friends is heart wrenching. They realize that just minutes ago their friend or family member was alive and well, and now they lay lifeless on the floor. Like a player who comes off the ice after a shift, then suddenly collapses, becoming apneic and pulseless. Cardiac arrests can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. SCA’s leave bystanders in a state of disbelief and shock.                                                                 

From an emergency medicine standpoint how well we manage an arrest depends largely on how well we’ve prepared for them, and how calm we can stay during them.                                       

If you’ve ever participated in a successful resuscitation you know it’s an incredible feeling to see life return to a lifeless body. Sadly, if you do it for a living, you soon realize that no matter how well you perform during an arrest many times people just don’t survive.  It’s out of our hands.

Sudden cardiac arrests (SCA’s) are commonly referred to as “witnessed” or “unwitnessed”, and as “in-hospital” or “out of hospital”. Game time SCA’s are considered “witnessed, out of hospital” arrests.  There are over 1000 out of hospital cardiac arrests (OOHCA) each day in the U.S. The current survival rate is less than 6%. That means less than 60 out of every 1000 will survive. However, during a game we have the potential to achieve much higher survival rates if we’re prepared to manage our patients quickly and effectively.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) *Estimates suggest that cardiac arrest is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. behind cancer and heart disease. Every year in the U.S., approximately 395,000 cases of cardiac arrest occur outside of a hospital setting, in which less than 6% survive. In hospital cardiac arrests have a 24% survival rate. Survival rates depend greatly on where the cardiac arrest occurs.

*Source: The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine

How can we achieve the best outcomes if/when a SCA happens during a game?

Over the past 6 professional hockey seasons we’ve had 3 game time “witnessed” cardiac arrests. In each of these cases the athlete survived. How did the pre-hospital care of these patients beat the odds and contribute to their survival?

  1. 2014 Rich Peverley – Dallas Stars
  2. 2016 Craig Cunningham – Tucson Roadrunners
  3. 2020 Jay Bouwmeester – St Louis Blues

I’ve been asked how hockey has managed to achieve a 100% survival rate for game time cardiac arrests? My response: “It didn’t happen by accident.” These cases had special advantages. The patients were in great shape, the healthcare providers on scene (along with the emergency departments/hospitals) did an excellent job in managing these arrests, and the game time emergency action plan (EAP) for SCA worked.

Some Keys we’ve learned to having a successful resuscitation:

In each of the arrests I’ve responded to with the Phoenix Fire Department, not a single incident happened at the fire station with crew and equipment ready. Each time we responded 4-8 minutes with lights and sirens before reaching our patient. This response time combined with the time it takes bystanders on scene to recognize the severity of the situation and call 911, negatively effects patient survivability. It can ultimately end up being 10 minutes after the arrest before First Responders arrive.                                                                                                                                                                    

In each player arrest we had “Luck by Location” and “Early Recognition”. Each arrest happened during a game and was “witnessed” by healthcare providers who could immediately start providing care. Luckily each arrest happened in just about the best possible place it could, outside of an ER or hospital. All of the medical resources needed for a successful resuscitation were already in place and ready to respond. If these arrests would have happened at home, at a restaurant, while driving, or on a plane, the outcome most likely would have been much different.

Unfortunately, I have also been witness to either poor quality CPR or NO CPR on a SCA patient upon EMS arrival. More lives could be saved if people would immediately become hands-on and start doing hard and fast chest compressions prior to the arrival of 911/EMS resources. CPR is a take home skill we should all have.

Effective CPR was started immediately on each player. It’s important to note, these incidents involved elite athletes in great physical condition, and who’s blood was well oxygenated at the time of their arrest. Chest compressions were started immediately to circulate the oxygenated blood to the brain. Without these compressions the brain does not receive the oxygen it needs to survive.  This is a learned skill that is practiced each year during the PHATS/NHLTPS conference.

Each year at the annual PHATS/NHLTPS conference the following courses are offered:

1) CPR/AED certification with a focus on high-performance CPR                                         

2) ACLS Refresher course for team physicians                                                                  

3) Sports Med Team Based EMS training session

During a cardiac arrest it’s important to remain calm and focused on the immediate priorities. We need to get EMS resources coming, clear the patient’s chest for AED pad placement, and begin high-quality CPR. We need to quickly apply an AED to determine if the patient’s heart needs to be shocked. The AED should be applied without stopping chest compressions. The compressions are only stopped when the AED advises “do not touch the patient”. Remember, for every minute it takes to administer a shock the chance of survival goes down by 10%. If the patient’s heart needs to be shocked, the AED will advise to do so. The shock allows the patient’s heart to reboot and start up again on its own, hopefully in a rhythm that will push pulses and create a blood pressure. This is called “Return of Spontaneous Circulation” or (ROSC). The sooner we apply an AED after a cardiac arrest the better chance we have for achieving ROSC and patient survival. *Always remember to say “Clear” and look to make sure nobody is touching the patient prior to pressing the shock button. It’s a good practice to have everyone working close to the patient acknowledge the “Clear” command by also saying “Clear”.

In each arrest a shock was provided in under 2 minutes. In doing this we gave our patients better than an 80% chance of survival.

After achieving ROSC, we still need to manage our patient. This includes assessing vitals, providing oxygen/airway management, administering ACLS medications, providing safe transport, and advising the hospital of the patient’s status. Successfully managing a cardiac arrest is a fluid production and takes an entire team effort to get a win.

Team Practice of the EAP worked. Professional hockey’s medical personnel have put in a great deal of time and effort when it comes to player safety and planning for EMS incidents. SCA scenarios are constantly being reviewed and discussed by Sports Med staffs throughout hockey. You need to practice how you want to play. This is a major contributor to hockey’s success in managing cardiac arrest patients. Each Sports Med team member knows how the play is supposed to be run and how they fit into the play.

 At the annual PHATS/NHLTPS conference attendees have the opportunity to participate in a Sports Med Team Based EMS training session.This session is highly attended with excellent hands-on participation from the group. I believe the positive outcomes we’re seeing is a reflection of the work that’s being put in on the front end. During these sessions we have AT’s and team physicians going through EMS scenarios together. The sessions are being led by the paramedics and emergency medicine physicians who cover the games. This educational formula promotes collaboration, discussion, and team building. Ultimately, this model has created a high-performance CPR EAP that appears to be on track.

Moving Forward, we need to remain proactive and prepared for the cardiac arrest patient that doesn’t achieve ROSC on the scene. Remember, maintaining blood flow to the brain is crucial for survivability. If ROSC isn’t achieved, the use of mechanical CPR devices should be considered. They can provide quality chest compressions in the ambulance while advanced airway management and ACLS care is being provided. They will also create a much safer environment in the back of the ambulance while transporting Code 3 to the hospital. At the end of the day patient and provider safety are always the top priority.  

 “Improving Player Safety through Emergency Medical Preparedness

By Derek M. Hansen, CSCS @derekmhansen RunningMechanics.com SprintCoach.com

I have been working as a coach and consultant for speed and sprint-based athletes for over 30 years beginning in the sport of Track and Field.  As an athlete, I was always competing in sprinting and jumping events from a very young age and was also very capable in a multitude of sports.  As such, I have always used sprinting as a foundational element in all of my training programs, regardless of the sport.  For the most part, athletes continued to improve as long as we were making them sprint maximally a few sessions per week in their off-season preparation. 

It was not until I started to work with Olympic level speed skaters that I realized that the same could be said for athletes who wanted to skate at high velocities.  Much of the off-season preparation for these skaters was sprint-based on a conventional rubberized track surface using track spikes.  The faster skaters were also fast sprinters.  And many of the tendencies – good and bad – they demonstrated in dry-land scenarios, also came out when they were on the ice.  When I started to use the same approach with ice hockey players, we had similar outcomes and the players enjoyed the change from all of the conventional on-ice and gym work they were accustomed to during the off-season.  As we made the transition to a more comprehensive sprint-based program, in some cases eliminating on-ice work for a significant period of the off-season, we experienced even better results.

We know that over-training a specific movement or activity can quickly lead to a training plateau and diminishing returns, as well as a whole array of over-use problems, particularly in the hip and groin area of the ice hockey athlete.  This article reviews an extremely productive alternative to developing on-ice speed without all of the negative side effects of excessive on-ice work.

Distinguishing Between Specific and General Adaptations

Most sport coaches want more of what happens during games and competition.  If the game is played on ice, the practice will take place on the ice and any supportive skill work or drills will also occur on the ice.  It only makes sense.  However, there are many good reasons to consider dry-land solutions to on-ice demands.  There are specific aspects of dry-land sprinting that mirror the actions of skating acceleration as we will identify in this article.  Additionally, there are a whole host of systemic, general adaptations that occur in maximal sprinting that can contribute to improved on-ice performance.  Shorter ground contact times, more profound elastic responses and greater central nervous system demands are just a few of the reasons to sprint maximally at specific times of the year to build a faster and more resilient ice hockey athlete.  Chasing specificity can have immediate positive effects, but coaches and trainers must support this work with general activities that bolster physical resiliency, improve overall fitness and performance, and minimize both physical and mental burnout in ice hockey athletes of all ages and levels of ability.

The Myth of ‘First-Step’ Quickness

Many a physical preparation coach have staked their reputation on the importance of ‘first-step’ quickness.  It makes sense!  Going back to Neil Armstrong’s first ground contact on the moon back in 1969, we were inundated with the “One small step for man… one giant leap for mankind!” and we were hooked.  Strength coaches have promoted their weight room routines or plyometric exercises as part of their ‘first-step quickness’ program, rather than placing equal importance on every step and every contributing training element.  But even though a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, the quality of all of those steps is critically important.  I’ve seen amazing first movements and initial steps decimated by horrible execution of steps 2, 3 and 4.  In fact, if an athlete is encouraged to do something sensational with their first step, chances are they will over-commit to that acyclical effort and ruin the smooth execution of the cyclical action of sprinting or skating.

Because both sprint and skating acceleration are cyclical activities, the distribution of effort must be balanced between each stride.  Too much emphasis on one stride can rob the other strides of proper position, frequency, range and, ultimately, power.  Finding the optimal cadence for any cyclical activity is critical for acceleration performance whether you are on a track or on ice.  In ice hockey scenarios, it is more common to initiate three to five strides before gliding on two skates, so it may be unnecessary to sprint far in dry land scenarios.  There are a few good reasons to sprint to maximum velocity that we will address later in the article.

The Biomechanics of Sprinting and Acceleration

Sprint – and in particular – acceleration mechanics can be simplified in a manner that divides up the action of the upper and lower extremities into front-side and back-side contributions.  Movement along the sagittal plane by the arms and legs about the frontal axis will involve the rapid flexion and extension of joints.  While many athletes are initially taught to ‘push’ out back to create propulsion, most of the top sprint athletes understand the importance of attaining range on the front-side of the body.  While some coaches may refer to a lifting of the knees, ideally the athlete is bringing their foot to the front side of the body at a height that allows them to accelerate the leg downward forcefully toward the ground to create both vertical and horizontal propulsion.  Any extension to the backside of the body is simply a byproduct of front side intent, ground preparation and overall force production.  When combined with a stride frequency of approximately 4.5 steps per second (in sprinters) good things can happen.

Some basic statistics on sprinting will help to illustrate what is clearly happening ‘on the ground’ and how this data can support a sprint-based approach to on-ice performance both specifically and generally.  Credit is provided to Dr. Ralph Mann and his research work with elite sprinters, documented in his book, “The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling.”


Figure 1 – Horizontal sprint velocity in world-class male sprinters (Source: Ralph Mann)

It doesn’t take many steps for an athlete to approach top-speed as illustrated in Figure 1.  Horizontal speed is achieved not by first-step quickness, but a well-coordinated array of successive steps.  Over-striding, stumbling or standing up too quickly can all significantly impact acceleration rate.  This information does allow us to understand that short sprints and accelerations of even three to seven steps can contribute toward overall speed abilities of an athlete.  In ice-hockey players, this plays an even more significant role, as more than three to five skating strides are required in game-specific scenarios before a bilateral glide phase is employed.  While ice-hockey athletes do not accelerate at the same rate as sprinters in the early phase of a sprint – primarily due to the ice surface itself – a steady rate of acceleration is similarly experience by on-ice athletes.

Examination of athlete ground contact times during a maximal acceleration in an elite sprinter reveals that the amount of time on the ground quickly diminishes as velocity is increased.  Figure 2 illustrates the fact that world-class sprinters can quickly achieve ground contact times of no more than 1/10th of a second.  While ice-hockey players do not utilize the stretch-reflex in the lower leg complex as much as a dry-land sprinter, the initial steps in an on-ice acceleration will display similarly short ground contact times until the athlete begins to enter a unilateral glide phase.  As mentioned previously, this may happen as quickly as the fourth or fifth skating stride.


Figure 2 – Ground contact times in world-class male sprinters (Source: Ralph Mann)

Once we start to look at the stride/step frequency element of sprinting, we see that consistency is imperative.  There are no sweeping variations in stride frequency.  Sprint athletes quickly achieve their optimal stride frequency from step one and continue that pattern for their entire race.  This is important to realize for dry-land sprinting applications, as athletes must be taught to relax and maintain fast and consistent strides.  Athletes that can rapidly cycle through strides will often have better acceleration abilities whether on the track or on the ice.  While excessive stride frequency can diminish power, much like a car spinning its wheels without moving, it is recommended that training sessions focus on attaining maximal frequency with a measured amount of relaxation to allow for optimal stride length.  Once again, the ice skating athlete will peak in stride frequency much earlier than the sprinting athlete due to the nature of skating mechanics.   However, hitting a high frequency as soon as possible should still remain one of the goals of acceleration training regardless of the training environment.   Higher stride frequencies also allows for more accessible direction change abilities due to the fact that a step is always ready for force application on the ice.


Figure 3 – Stride frequency in world-class male sprinters (Source: Ralph Mann)

We have always been taught that good sprinting is the result of the optimal combination of stride frequency and stride length.  This is no different for the skating athlete.  The only difference is in how the stride length is attained in sprinting versus skating.  In sprinting, athletes drive more force into the ground for shorter instances of time to take advantage of elasticity so that the athlete is vaulted further and faster forward on each stride as shown in Figure 4.  In skating, athletes modify their stride mechanics to push laterally to essentially move up to larger ‘gears’ to create higher velocities of movement.  While stride frequency remains constant in sprinters over a six to seven second duration, stride frequency is skaters will actually slow down to accommodate a modified and more efficient stride mechanic.  Pushing laterally and crossing-over substitute bigger gears for high stride frequencies as proven by both science and practice.


Figure 4 – Stride length in world-class male sprinters (Source: Ralph Mann)

Application

So how do we modify sprinting to fit the parameters of ice skating?  Fortunately we don’t have to answer that question.  When on solid ground, sprint!  When on the ice, skate!  This may sound all too easy, but it works perfectly.  When athletes enter the initial start and early acceleration phase, they assume the same positions.  Figures 5a and 5b are of former Canadian Olympic speed skaters (500m distance) in their initial acceleration for both dry-land (inset) and on-ice scenarios.


Figure 5a:  Canadian Olympic Speed Skater – Jamie Gregg

In both cases, the off-ice posture and limb placements closely resemble the on-ice positions.  While these similarities may only last for three to four strides, sprinting still represents a more than suitable means of simulating the positions and stresses of on-ice early acceleration from a pure specificity point of view.  Skating will typically have a lower heel recovery position – during the swing phase of the stride – due to a lower elastic contribution from the foot at toe-off and the weight of the skate versus a sprint spike or running shoe.  As was mentioned previously, off-ice errors will typically manifest themselves as on-ice errors.  This reinforces the concept of ‘fixing’ mechanical errors in dry-land training sessions where more reps are possible, less equipment is required and facility accessibility is not an issue.  If you can fix it on dry land, you may not have to fix it once you hit the ice.  I believe this is one of the more compelling specificity arguments for dry-land sprinting.  And, I would argue that the stretch-reflex throughout all musculo-tendo structures in the lower extremities play a larger role in skating speed than most people would like to admit.

Figure 5b:  Canadian Olympic Speed Skater – Mike Ireland

For those of you that are not speed skating aficionados, fortunately, this tendency can also be seen in some of the faster ice hockey players.  Fast skaters have to produce adequate force into the ice at a high enough frequency to produce fast locomotion in a limited amount of space in game scenarios.  Figure 6 depicts one of the faster NHL players executing a powerful acceleration at an All-Star event competition that looks very similar to the positions of a dry-land sprinter.  I superimpose my proprietary “Be the Hashtag” symbol on sprinters and skater videos and photos to show how the posture and limbs should line up during acceleration and maximum velocity sprinting.  All good sprinters and accelerating skaters exhibit this posture, and it is a very simple way to convey optimal positions to athletes – particularly younger athletes – with a simple smartphone camera and app such as Dartfish Express.

Figure 6:  Connor McDavid accelerating in an All-Star speed competition

Figures 7 and 8 show examples of former NHL athletes accelerating maximally on a rubberized track.   In both cases, their off-season dry-land preparation was comprised of no less than two sessions per week on the track focusing on starts, accelerations and – in some instances – maximum velocity sprinting.  It is also important to note that both athletes readily enjoyed the training sessions, as it was a significant departure from the higher volumes of on-ice work that they were accustomed to during the off-season period.  There were no instances of muscle strains or other injuries during the course of the training periods and, if anything, the athletes exhibited a much lower incidence of injury once they resumed their on-ice activities and regular season commitments.


Figure 7:  Jason Garrison accelerating over 20 meters

Figure 8:  Manny Malhotra sprinting out of starting blocks

While maximal upright sprinting may not specifically address the requirements of ice skating, hitting higher velocities beyond 20 meters of sprint distance allows athletes to benefit from the greater forces required to run fast.  In Figure 9, you can see this former NHL player hitting top speed with maximal velocity mechanics over 40 meters with relatively good technique.  This approach is supported by the research of Nagahara et al. in Figure 10 demonstrating that ground reaction forces increase dramatically as athletes hit higher running speeds.


Figure 9:  Manny Malhotra sprinting maximally over a 40-meter distance
Figure 10: “Step-to-step spatiotemporal variables and ground reaction forces of
intra-individual fastest sprinting in a single session”  Nagahara et al.  2018. 

Return-to-Play Protocols

Another one of the benefits of employing a dry-land, sprint-based approach to training is that you also create another means of strengthening the athletes should they have the misfortune of getting injured.  Most of my lower body rehabilitation protocols involve the significant integration of sprint drills and accelerations on a daily basis.   I have presented on two occasions in the last five years at the NFL Combine for PFATS on the subject of a sprint-based approach to hamstring injury prevention and rehabilitation, and my methods have been adopted by a majority of teams. 

The same approach can easily be adopted for ice hockey players as part of a transitional ‘step’ between the clinical rehabilitation phase and return to on-ice activities.  Sprint drills and dry-land acceleration work will safely strengthen the muscles and connective tissues to the demands of on-ice locomotion.  We even use sprint accelerations for upper extremity injuries to maintain the strength of the upper body, as many athletes comment on how sore they are in the shoulders, biceps, traps and upper back, with some even commenting on hypertrophy gains after as little as three weeks of sprint work.

Concluding Remarks

One of the symptoms of presenting this type of information is that you will get the hecklers from the back row chiming in with, “Well, you can’t take a sprinter and put him in skates expecting him to be an NHL level player!”  I would never assert that this is the case, just as I wouldn’t suggest that sprinters would make great basketball, football or tennis players.  We all understand that sport specific skill is critical to success in every sport.  However, integrating some of the valuable qualities that dry-land sprinting brings to the table for most athletes in various sports – without creating significant over-use issues – is a compelling option for players and teams looking for easy-to-implement solutions for off-season preparation, in-season maintenance and year round return-to-play protocols. 

I am not proposing a massive shift towards excessive dry-land training, but simply a subtle re-orientation to some very effective off-ice solutions that don’t require significant equipment or training to implement on a consistent basis.  Once all professionals attain a level of comfort and competence around this modality, significant benefits can be made available to all players from the development levels all the way up to the elite performers.


Derek M. Hansen is an International Sport Performance Consultant that has been working with athletes all ages and abilities in speed, strength and power sports since 1988.  He has worked closely with some of the top performers in the world as a coach and a consultant – including Olympic medalists, world record holders, Canadian National team athletes, and professional athletes from numerous sports. Most recently, he worked progressively over the last five years on speed development and sprint integration with the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.  He worked as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Simon Fraser University for 14 years, the first non-US member of the NCAA.  He also serves as a performance consultant to numerous professional teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS, as well as NCAA Division 1 programs throughout North America, specializing in speed development, strategic performance planning, return-to-competition protocols and neuromuscular electrical stimulation programming.  Derek also offers continuing education courses around sprint-based solutions via his Running Mechanics Professional curriculum at RunningMechanics.com.

Rich Stinziano, Head Athletic Trainer, Buffalo Sabres

PHATS: What made you want a career in the athletic training profession and how did you get your start?

RS: My parents had season tickets for Syracuse University football at the Carrier Dome back in my hometown of Syracuse NY. Watching the athletic trainers take care of the athletes on the sidelines was interesting to me- I said I’m going to do that one day.

While I was working as a physical therapist/athletic trainer for a clinic in Buffalo, I also took care of a Jr B ice hockey team- the Wheatfield Blades.  The GM for the Blades, Greg DeSantis at the time was the son-in-law of the goaltending coach for the NJ Devils, Jacques Caron.  The Devils were looking for an athletic trainer.  I met with Jacques who introduced me to Lou Lamoriello. I went through their interview process & was hired soon after.  Many thanks to Greg, Jacques & Lou for giving me the chance!

PHATS: Can you speak to returning to Buffalo in 2016 after 10 seasons with the New Jersey Devils?   What was that transition like?

RS: It was an unexpected & interesting opportunity to return to my “roots”-since I went to college at the University at Buffalo for undergrad in athletic training & graduate school for physical therapy.  I had a network of family, friends & colleagues established in Buffalo.

The GM for New Jersey at the time was Ray Shero. He pulled me aside and told me that the GM for the Buffalo Sabres (at the time was Tim Murray) called to ask if I’d be interested in getting back to Buffalo to work with the Sabres organization.  I told Ray, it doesn’t cost anything to talk.  The rest is history.

The transition was with mixed emotions.  Sad to leave an organization that had treated me well for 10 seasons but excited to be closer to family, friends and the chance to work with old colleagues again.

PHATS:  Having been a part of two NHL Clubs, what advice can you give to a Member who might one-day make that transition?  

RS: Each day is a transition and EVERYTHING can and will change.  Do not fear the challenges that come with change.  You will adapt and overcome these challenges.   Use them as a learning experience. Lastly, never burn bridges- you never know if you will have to cross them again.

PHATS:  You reached 1,000 games earlier this season, congratulations!  What does this accomplishment mean to you?   

RS: I guess I’m becoming one of the old dogs.   I am not one to count games but I realize how very fortunate I am to get to work with great people and top athletes with the support of my family.

PHATS:  Even though you don’t often get a lot of time in the cities you travel to, what is one of your favorite hockey cities to visit and why?

RS:  Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning as I get to visit with family.

PHATS:   As we are gearing up for the 2020 Conference, what is one course you took that you felt changed how you work the most, and why?

RS: Every year there are courses that change how I work. We as professionals must continue to change and adapt to new ideas and technology.  We must continue to grow as practitioners in our profession.

PHATS: What advances in your profession have been the most beneficial to you?

RS:   From player data collection of workloads etc. and how we use it for mental health, nutritional and rehabilitative aspects.  There are advances all the time in the evolution of technology and science and its ever changing.

PHATS:  Do you have a professional mentor or Athletic Trainer/Therapist you admire?

RS: Mike Adesso was my mentor and boss through my college clinical years as an athletic trainer & physical therapist.  I got the chance to work with him again when I made the move to Buffalo.

PHATS:  What is one thing other Members would be surprised to know about you?

RS: I’ve never played ice hockey.

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I enjoy spending time with family and friends and traveling with my wife Jen, our daughter Olivia and Bailey, our Boxer/Labrador. I enjoy golfing in the off-season.

All photos courtesy of Rich Stinziano

Joel Farnsworth, Head Equipment Manager, St. Louis Blues

SPHEM: What got you started in the equipment profession and how did you get your start in Professional Hockey?

JF: I got started in the equipment profession as a student manager for the University of Vermont hockey team in 1995.  My neighbors in the dorm were on the hockey team, we became close friends, which eventually lead to me working for the team.  In 1996, the New York Rangers started coming to Burlington for training camp, and they needed an extra pair of hands, particularly with the laundry, since we didn’t have a towel service available.  I worked the next 4 years of training camp, offering whatever help I could.  In the summer of 2001, Cass contacted me to see if I would be interested in getting my foot in the door of professional hockey as the assistant equipment manager in Hartford, working with Jason Levy, and the rest is history!

SPHEM: You have been with the Blues organization since the 2002-03 season working for their AHL affiliates in Peoria and Worcester before joining the Blues in 2009.  What are the benefits to working with different levels of an NHL Club’s organization? 

JF: I would say the biggest benefit is being able to build relationships from the bottom up, gaining trust and respect along the way by working hard and helping the organization in whatever capacity that you can.  I have been very fortunate to be able to stay in one organization for almost 20 years.  I would also say that working your way up from the minors within one organization also gives you a greater appreciation for the time you get to spend in the NHL. 

SPHEM:  If you could go back to 2002-03 what would you tell your younger self?

JF:  I would say the biggest thing I would tell my younger self is: Patience.  You aren’t going to get to the NHL your first year working in this business, you can’t solve every problem instantly, so have patience, and persistence.  Work hard and enjoy the ride.

SPHEM:  The St. Louis Blues had an incredible turnaround last season, culminating in winning the Stanley Cup!  What was that experience like for you? 

JF: It was an absolute whirlwind experience last season.  To have gone from the depths of standings in January, to the top in June, was totally unexpected, exhilarating and incredible all in a stretch of 5 months.   It was awesome to watch our players, coaches and trainers come together and believe in one another so strongly.  Having never worked the Finals before personally, I was extremely fortunate to have Rich Matthews working along side of me as well, his experience in previous Finals was so helpful throughout our playoff run.  The entire staff worked so hard, and it was such an incredibly rewarding feeling getting to lift the Cup.    

SPHEM:   What did you do on your day with the Cup?

JF:  My day with the Cup started by surprising the workers at Liebe, our jersey customizer’s factory, it was great getting to see so many smiles on their faces.  Then we headed to my children’s school for a couple of hours.  We went to each of my children’s classrooms, then surprised a few other teachers and classrooms before taking a school wide photo out on the playground.  Then we had an open house for some friends and family, before ending the night with a private function for our closest friends and family.  It was an incredible day, that included eating Ben and Jerry’s from the Cup and lots of smiles!

SPHEM:  In your opinion, what has been the greatest technological advance in equipment?  Is there something you’d still like to see?

JF: Without question to me, the single greatest advancement in hockey equipment in my time working in the sport is the evolution of the removable skate blade.  To be able to change out a damaged blade on the bench, and have the player never miss a shift is such a massive leap from where we were just a few years ago even.  Beyond that, I think the constantly evolving science behind sticks is incredible.  I also think the increased attention to shot blocking, and the various protective strategies that are constantly improving are going to be an area that we see incredible advancement in the coming seasons. 

SPHEM:  Even though you don’t often get much time in the cities you travel to, what is one of your favorite hockey cities to visit and why?

JF:  I really enjoy visiting Nashville as a big country music fan.  I also think it is incredible how much the atmosphere of the building in Nashville has improved over the seasons.  It is also one of the closest cities to St Louis, so we tend to have a lot of fans travel there for games, which adds to the atmosphere.   Having Partner (Craig Baugh) helping in the room is always a great experience too!

SPHEM:  Do you have a professional mentor or Equipment Manager you admire?

JF:   There isn’t a single equipment manager or professional mentor, because in all honesty, I have learned a tremendous amount from every single coworker and peer that I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with during my career.  However, I would be remiss to not mention Cass for giving me my first opportunity in professional hockey, and his willingness to offer advice or guidance whenever asked.  I also need to mention Al Coates, who was my GM in Hartford, who has always been great with guidance and an encouraging word as well.  Rich Villani with the NHL has been incredibly helpful as well, always offering a suggestion or a helping hand when he can.   We are so fortunate in this industry to have so many selfless people, that are always willing to lend a helping hand. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself… Away from the rink I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife Angie, and our 2 kids, Abby and Joel.  We all enjoy watching movies, playing board games and watching sports together as a family.  I also try to spend some time each summer working on my antique farm tractor.

All photos courtesy of Joel Farnsworth

Hope this finds everyone doing well during this unprecedented time of the suspension and cancellation of our seasons. We hope that everyone is using this time to take care of their families and themselves. 

As we all know, the Covid-19 virus is a very fluid situation and, in our case, the PHATS/SPHEM Annual Meeting is a little under three months away.  At this time the meeting has not been officially cancelled, however we are in a holding pattern.  We know the personal strain this time has put on everyone and we are aware of the financial ramifications this has put on our valuable sponsors, vendors, members and teams.  We would encourage you to wait to register for the meeting, book flights or make hotel reservations until we can make final decisions in regards to our meeting in Orlando.We are continually monitoring the situation and relying on the information provided by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Infection) and WHO (World Health Organization) to monitor the status of Coronavirus itself as well as the response and best practices of our industry (exhibitions, meetings and events). 

We understand there are many questions and concerns. We assure you that we are considering all options, and nothing is more important than everyone’s health and safety. 

We look forward to honoring Peter Millar as the next PHATS/SPHEM Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.

Peter spent 11 years with the Edmonton Oilers as their Head Athletic Therapist winning four Stanley Cups.  After leaving Edmonton, he landed in Los Angeles as the Head Equipment Manager for the Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club. Peter spent the next 17 years in that position before moving on to his current position with Warrior Hockey. All in all, Peter has dedicated the last 42 years of his life to the world of professional hockey.Thank you all for your patience and be well.

 Darren and Chris

by Todd Klein
Head Athletic Trainer
Waterloo Black Hawks


What a crazy finish to the hockey season! Here in the USHL we have suspended operations for now hoping to return soon, but things don’t look too good. Hope to see everyone at the PHATS/SPHEM this summer.  Stay healthy!

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