Today we’ll wrap up the “2011 Review Week” with the top hockey training, player development, and hockey nutrition posts of 2011. Before we get to that, don’t forget to check out the two previous posts:

  1. 2011 in Review
  2. Top Athletic Development Posts of 2011

Without further ado, here are the Top Hockey Training posts of 2011!

Top 5 Hockey Nutrition Posts:

5) UCAN Break Carbohydrate Dependence

4) Hockey Nutrition: Supplements

3) Hockey Nutrition: In-Season Eating

2) Weight Gain for Hockey Players

1) NO-Xplode Exposed

Top 10 Hockey Training and Player Development Posts:

10) Three Things Every Hockey Player Should Own

9) Hip Assessment for Hockey Players

8) 3 Things Hockey Parents Should Know from David Lasnier

7) Early Off-Season Hockey Training

6) The Truth About Practice: The 10,ooo Hour Rule

5) In-Season Hockey Training

4) 3 Lessons for Hockey Parents from the NHL

3) Hockey Development Resistance

2) The State of Youth Hockey

…And the #1 Hockey Training Post of 2011 is…drum roll please…

1) Play the Underdog

Before we wrap up the 2011 review, I think it is worth pointing out that one of the most highly viewed posts of 2011 was written in 2010! If you missed this when it was first written, check out what is one of the Top 5 most popular posts I’ve EVER written.

Read the post here >> The Truth About Sidney Crosby

Please pass this along to your friends and family! Thanks again for being a loyal reader over the last year. I’m looking forward to an exciting year ahead and continuing to get to know you better!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Sidney Crosby’s concussion has been the cause of a bit of a stir within the hockey community. There has been an ongoing fear that Crosby, arguably the best player in the world, may be forced into an early retirement due to recurring symptoms from a concussion. Maybe on a larger scale, Crosby represents a larger problem in sports medicine in that a lot of athletes from different sports have suffered from longstanding concussion symptoms and there don’t appear to be easily identifiable solutions to these problems.

The Penguins recently posted a video from a press conference with Crosby and two of his doctors, Dr. Michael Collins and Dr. Ted Carrick, discussing his recovery process. The doctors do a great job of discussing his recovery and their approach to his rehabilitation.

Check out the video below:

One of the worst things a player can do is rush back too quickly. I picked up an alarming statistic from Dr. Josh Bloom at Pete Friesen’s Physio-Fitness Summit a couple years ago that 75% and 92% of repeat concussions occur within 7 and 10 days of the original incident, respectively. The recovery process and severity of symptoms tends to become increasingly worse with repeat incidences, which could be prevented with a more conservative return to play strategy. Understanding the nature of these repeat injuries has certainly been an instrumental part in prolonging the return to play recommendations. The doctors allude to the appropriate return to play process, but the general progression is:

  1. Sit out the remainder of the game
  2. No symptoms at rest
  3. No symptoms with light activity (aerobic only; no resistance training)
  4. No symptoms with more intense training
  5. No symptoms with non-contact sports participation
  6. No symptoms with controlled contact sports participation
  7. Return to play

In reality, most hockey players probably skip #1, half-ass #2, and then jump right to #7. Contrary to common practice, headaches are not supposed to be a normal part of the game, and the decision of whether or not a player is fit to play should never be left to the player, ESPECIALLY at the youth levels. Youth players simply don’t understand the severity if these injuries and will always err on the side of their competitiveness. It’s important that these injuries be taken seriously at ALL levels of play. The long-term implications can be severe and certainly warrant a more cautious approach than what has traditionally been taken. While no one would wish Crosby’s symptoms on anyone, I hope that his injury will bring an increased level of awareness to the severity of traumatic head injuries and that quality information will trickle down to youth, junior, college, and semi-pro levels where the quality of care may not be as thorough as what Crosby has access to.

To your health and success,

Kevin Neeld

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I hope you enjoyed your weekend. I’ve been glad to get out of the east coast rain for a few days and enjoy the seemingly perpetual perfect weather that the west coast offers. It’s been a great few days working with Mike Potenza at the Sharks camp. I haven’t had a ton of time to write over the last week so I thought I’d bring back two older articles that were really well-received when I first wrote them. Timely reads as hockey seasons are finally getting underway again.

Check out the two hockey development articles below and please pass them along to other players, parents, and coaches that you think would benefit from the information!

Click here >> Play the Underdog

And then here >> The Truth About Sidney Crosby

In a couple days I’ll have a couple other articles for you that my good friend David Lasnier recently wrote. Really great stuff on controversial topics!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Last week I came across a recent research article that I think is a real breakthrough in the hockey training world. Before I get to that, I want to quickly touch on the importance (or lack thereof) of testing.

First, let’s distinguish between assessing (screening for ROM, structural, or movement impairments), and testing (assessing performance). I think assessing has a place in many training settings, especially with older athletes who have accumulated more soft-tissue trauma and have more firmly rooted, but still reversible movement impairments. I think assessing a 12-year old with no training background is unnecessary and that time could probably be better spent teaching the kid how to move well. Groove and improve!

With regards to testing, I think using performance on tests as a comparative tool amongst players is a ridiculous notion. I’ve always said that if Sidney Crosby had a 15″ vertical jump (which is brutal for a player at that level), he’d still be one of the best players in the NHL. The off-ice performance testing shouldn’t determine the selection of players.

Think these guys have the best bench press on their team?

Simply, players should be evaluated on their on-ice ability. That said, using testing as a way for tracking and documenting a player’s off-ice development isn’t a bad idea. In fact, in the case of more elite players (more specifically, those with an “older” training age), it will help document the effectiveness of the program. In the case of players with a younger training (because any form of training will work for these players), showing objective progress will help them buy in to the importance of training, which is also worthwhile.

The big caveat with testing is that there has never been any real evidence that higher levels of off-ice athleticism lead to improved on-ice performance. In other words, we know that someone fast off the ice is likely to be fast on the ice (if they learn to skate well), but will that mean that they score more goals, have more assists, have a better +/- or are better than their peers at any other game-specific marker of performance? Intuitively I think we can all appreciate the importance of making improvements in athleticism (speed, strength, power, etc.). In fact, I make a living training hockey players to do just that. IMPROVEMENTS will lead to improved performance, but ABSOLUTES have never been linked to better performance.

“You can’t score goals in the weight room.”

That’s a running joke with me and a few of the players at Endeavor Sports Performance. While there is some truth to that, a new research article demonstrates, for the first time, that there is a connection between off-ice and on-ice performance.

Peyer et al. (2011) measured the Michigan State University Men’s Hockey Team’s (NCAA D1):

  • Age
  • Height
  • Body Mass
  • Body Fat %
  • Fat Free Mass
  • VO2 Max
  • Maximal Lactate Level
  • Max Heart Rate
  • Repeat Sprint Test Ability
  • Max Push-Ups
  • Max Chin-Ups
  • Max Leg Press Reps with 400lbs
  • Max Bench Press Reps with 155lbs
  • On-Ice Dot-to-Dot Sprint Time (Offensive face-off dot to far same side, but opposing end face-off dot)
  • On-Ice 1-Lap Sprint Time
  • On-Ice Lightening Drill Time (Start at blueline->redline->back to blueline->far blue line->back to redline-> finish at far blue line)
  • Plus/Minus throughout Season

Plus/Minus was used as the primary indicator of hockey performance because of it’s ability to effectively incorporate both offensive and defensive efforts. An argument can be made that a similar analysis should be performed with other performance measures, but we’ll leave that for future research. All things considered, plus/minus is the best single choice available.

Quick Editors Note: This study was conducted on MSU’s hockey team the year they won the National Championship. This may or may not mean anything to you, but I think it’s important to point out that this wasn’t performed on a team that got walked on through the year. This was an incredible group of players.

The Results

Notable findings included:

  • There were no significant differences in any of the measures between forwards and defensemen except for VO2Max, with the forwards having higher values.
  • Plus/Minus was ONLY significantly correlated with four of the other tests: Repeat Sprint Ability (12 x 110-m sprint every 45 s, off-ice), Chin-Ups, Leg Press, and Bench Press.
  • Interestingly, when forwards were dissected out and reanalyzed, only Chin-Up performance was significantly correlated with Plus/Minus (r=0.728, p=0.007)
  • When defensemen were segregated, body mass (r=0.651, p=0.041), fat free mass (r=0.682, p=0.030), and bench press (r=0.720, p=0.029) were all significantly correlated with Plus/Minus.
  • When the values significantly correlated with Plus/Minus were further analyzed using a step-wise regression technique, chin-up and repeat sprint performance were the best predictors of Plus/Minus (explaining 49% of the variance)

Interpreting the Findings

It’s not surprising to see that forwards had higher VO2Max values than defensemen. This is likely a combination of both an adaptation to the position and a natural selection precluding the athletes to start. In other words, players that have difficulty keeping up with the pace of forward play may be moved back to play defense at young ages and just stay there. This is NOT evidence that forwards need to do more aerobic training. Quite the contrary. The evidence is clear in that anaerobic interval training increases V02Max equally as well as aerobic training, and with hockey players interval training is much more sport-relevant. This is also reflected in the correlation between repeat sprint performance and plus/minus. Hockey players need to be fast, consistently.

While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the tests chosen, the authors explained that the tests were included as part of the team’s yearly testing and many are included in NHL testing procedures. This doesn’t make it right, but it allows me to understand why they chose the tests they did. That said, it was interesting to see that strength (lower body and upper body) and repeat-sprint ability were the two qualities most predictive of plus-minus. This should come as no surprise to most of you, but it certainly has some important implications. The authors summed up a major conclusion brilliantly:

“Aerobic fitness and body composition do not appear to be significant predictors of player performance as measured by the +/- system or coach evaluation. To maximize the efficiency of preseason testing, coaches may rely on strength (chin-ups, leg press, and bench press) and repeat sprint tests while decreasing the number of aerobic capacity and body composition analyses to minimize player burden…”

Hopefully this will provide further evidence for some of the coaches that have hesitated to take out their continuous run and VO2 tests that there are better ways of assessing a player’s conditioning.

One of the other interesting findings is that the coaches of this team independently ranked the players in order of ability. The authors took the top 6 (5F, 1D) and bottom 6 (3F, 3D) and found that the only variable that differed significantly between them was plus/minus. That is not surprising. You’d assume your best players have a better plus/minus than your worst. However, the authors noted that the top 6 players exhibited a trend toward being younger, heavier, faster in the repeat-sprint test, and stronger in their lower body. While you can’t draw massive conclusions from trends taken from a breakdown of a single team, I think this alludes to the importance of developing lower body mass and strength. This seems like a relatively intuitive concept, but the reality is that most high school players default to the “my legs are big enough” excuse for not lifting legs and focus primarily on their mirror muscles.

The big take home from this is that a hockey player’s training program CANNOT neglect strength work, and that interval-based work is more appropriate for conditioning purposes. It appears that strength and repeat-speed (e.g. hockey conditioning) are most predictive of on-ice success. That…and a clean sheet of ice:

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Reference:

Peyer, K., Pivarnik, J., Eisenmann, J., & Vorkapich, M. (2011). Physiological Characteristics of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Ice Hockey Players and Their Relation to Game Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5), 1183-1192.

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Last week, I got a message from Jim Cruver about a video on concussions in hockey that he thought I should check out (thanks Jim!). This actually aired on ESPN mid-last week; it’s definitely worth the 7-minutes to watch. Check it out:

Great to see some of the teams from my home-town making the video as part of the goon-squad. And I don’t have the cleanest mouth, but I’d be embarrassed if I were featured on ESPN saying some of the things these coaches were caught saying to young kids.

My pro-USA Hockey American Development Model stance continues. I applaud Kevin McLaughlin, Senior Director of USA Hockey’s Hockey Development program, for the steps he’s taking in trying to cut back on hockey concussions at younger levels, and most notably for pushing the checking age up to 13, instead of 11.

I know the contact-enthusiasts will argue against this change, but the bottom line is that the physical development range is too large and the psychosocial maturity is not developed enough at this level for checking to be safely and properly implemented. There needs to be a policy change in the interest of protecting our young players and Kevin McLaughlin is taking the steps to make this happen. If you’re initial thought is, “checking is a part of the game, and shouldn’t be removed from the 11-12 year-old level,” I’d urge you to consider how you may feel if your son was drilled from behind by a 12-year old that looked like a 16-year old, suffered a concussion, and missed 6 months of playing. The point isn’t that checking isn’t a part of the game, it’s that it’s being implemented the wrong way, especially at these younger levels. A change in emphasis needs to start with coaches and trickle down to players and parents, quickly.

The #1 concern in making this change is that players will be less “skilled” at giving and receiving contact at the 13-14 year-old level because they haven’t had as much practice or experience. Logical argument. I think the big thing is that MOST kids aren’t being taught how to give and receive hits at any age, they’re just told to go after people. But that argument aside, there’s actually been some research on this issue that will help shed some light on whether early exposure helps make contact safer at the bantam level.

Study 1:

Hagel, B., Marko, J., Dryden, D., et al. (2006). Effect of Bodychecking on Injury Rates Among Minor Ice Hockey Players. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 175, 155-160.

This study looked at the effect on injury rates that a particular rule change had. This rule change moved 11-year olds into a contact league with 12-year olds, opposed to keeping them in a non-contact league with 10-year olds. Notable results:

  1. The 11-year olds in the contact group had a 2.1x higher incidence of injuries than 11-year olds in a non-contact group. This injury rate was 85.5 per 1,000 players (astronomically high).
  2. More than 2x greater incidence of injuries classified as “severe” amongst 11-year olds in contact group.
  3. Contact-group had 3.4x greater incidence of concussions and 2.6x greater incidence of fractures

Study 2:

Macpherson, A., Rothman, L., & Howard, A. (2006). Body-Checking Rules and Childhood Injuries in Ice Hockey. Pediatrics, 117, e143-e147.

This study aimed to compare injury levels between Ontario youth hockey leagues (allowed body checking at 10-11 y/o range) and Quebec youth hockey leagues (allowed body checking at 14-15 y/o range). Straight from the abstract:

“Of the 4,736 hockey injuries, 3006 (63%) were in Ontario and 1730 (37%) were in Quebec. Most of the injuries occurred in areas in which checking was allowed (2824 [59.6%]). At ages 10 to 13, players had significantly greater odds of suffering a checking injury where checking was allowed (odds ratio [OR]: 1.86). Players in this age group were also more likely to suffer a concussion (OR: 1.42) or fracture (OR: 1.25) where checking was allowed. Among older players, when checking was allowed in both provinces, there were higher odds (OR: 1.90) of receiving a checking injury in the province that had introduced checking at a younger age, suggesting that there is no protective effect from learning to check earlier.”

Last sentence bolded for emphasis. Basically what this is saying is that players that have been checking since the 10-11 y/o age, were TWICE as likely to sustain a checking-related injury at the 14-15 y/o level compared to those that were just checking for the first time at this older age level.

These are far from the only two studies that illustrate these points, but they’re a good start. The take home messages from these studies is that introducing checking at younger ages substantially increases the injury rate at these levels, AND has absolutely no protective effect at older levels. In laymen’s terms, it’s a lose-lose.

Hockey can’t afford to lose any more players like this.

Hockey needs to get away from the “hit to hurt” mentality and get back to teaching the original intention of contact in the sport-separation of the player from the puck. Every hockey fan loves to watch a big hit, but we need to keep the potential consequences of these hits in mind. Some of the game’s best players have their careers cut short because of hits that probably shouldn’t have ever happened. Concussions in hockey deemed accidents are one thing, but coaches and parents (and even players!) encouraging players to take a run at someone is unacceptable. Hopefully the injuries to popular players like Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard, AND a growing body of research evidence will fuel a much-needed change in both the rules and teaching of the game.

To your HEALTH and success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Just a quick reminder that this webinar with Joe Dowdell is in a few days. If you’re interested in building a profitable fitness business, make sure you register today before all the spots are gone! The 5 Key Ingredients to Building a Successful Fitness Business & Career

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