Current Ice Hockey Research

I’m really looking forward to this week. On Wednesday I’m taking off for Lincoln, Nebraska for a 4-day course called Advanced Integration from the Postural Restoration Institute. Lincoln isn’t exactly the most ideal December destination (I would have preferred they host the course in St. Maarten), but the course is going to cover integrated ways to assess for and apply corrective strategies for the hip and thoracic dysfunctions covered in two previous courses that I’ve taken. Should be a great experience.

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on some of the “newer” hockey-related research, so I wanted to give you a quick update on what’s been going on in the literature. Some of these studies are over a year old, but I’m coming across them for the first time.

Accuracy of professional sports drafts in predicting career potential
This was an interesting study looking at the relationship between games played and draft round in NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB athletes drafted from 1980-1988. The analyses included 4,874 athletes over that time span. The assumption is that games played is indicative of career success. Naturally, there are some inherent limitations to using such a general marker of success, but overall I think it’s probably the best choice, especially in consideration of the intent to make generalizations across several sports. As would be expected, they found a significant difference in games played across draft rounds, and a significant negative relationship between draft round and games played (earlier draftees played more games). However, the authors note that draft round accounts for only 17% of the variance in games played. In other words, while the relationship between draft round and games played may be statistically significant, the relationship between draft round and future professional success is extremely weak. This provides support for the long-term athletic development model, as it’s evident that early successes (indicated by being drafted early) do not always develop into later success at the professional level. I’ve written quite a bit about this in the past, but this same concept can be applied when looking at how dominant peewees play at the midget level, how dominant midgets play at the junior or college level, and how dominant college players play at the pro level. Development is a long-term process!

Examination of birthplace and birthdate in World Junior ice hockey players
This study examined 566 junior ice hockey players from the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Finland that competed in the International Ice Hockey Federation World U20 Championship between 2001 and 2009. They found a consistent relative age effect (RAE) across ALL FOUR countries, and that players were less likely to be from major cities. They also noted that there was no interaction between RAE and birthplace. For those of you that aren’t familiar, RAE refers to a phenomenon whereby players born earlier in the calendar year (e.g. January-March births) are relatively older than those born later in the calendar year (e.g. October-December births), and therefore are more developed and perform at a higher level compared to their age-matched peers. This leads to these players being selected as “more elite” and being provided with better development opportunities (play at higher levels with more ice time and better coaches, more positive reinforcement of them being “elite”, more exposure opportunities, etc.). This is strictly a consequence of our rush to identify early talent, which inevitably cheats many potential high-performers out of development opportunities strictly because they were born later in the year. This finding also prevails in the NHL. Turns out if you want to create an NHL player, you need to cluster your romantic endeavors around April and May!

Intragame blood-lactate values during ice hockey and their relationships to commonly used hockey testing protocols
This study looked at blood lactate levels in 6 NCAA division 1 hockey players during certain shifts in the first and third period of a game. They found that players’ blood-lactate values ranged from 4.4 to 13.7 mmol/L with a mean value of 8.15 (+2.72) mmol/L. As a general statement, the thought is that the ability for the body to provide energy using primarily aerobic systems diminishes around work intensities that results in blood lactate levels ~4 mmol/L. This is obviously an over-generalization, but will suffice for our purposes here.  The findings of this study are far from groundbreaking, but highlights the intensity and fatigue accumulation associated with typical hockey shifts. This should not be interpreted as evidence AGAINST the use of aerobic training for hockey players. Quite the contrary. It’s the adaptations from aerobic training that facilitate an expedited recovery from these intense work bouts, AND that can minimize the metabolic damage associated with prolonged high intensity work (e.g. provide more energy from aerobic systems at higher intensities, so to somewhat spare the lactic system).

That’s a wrap for today. In a couple days I’ll be back with research updates on a common hip abnormality that is leading many players to get surgery. Stay tuned!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. I also wanted to remind you that I’ve added an “ebook only” option to Ultimate Hockey Training, so if you don’t want to shell out for shipping a physical copy, you can now get instant access to the entire package digitally here: Ultimate Hockey Training

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