This is one in a 2014 guest column series which builds on the one in 2009 where 50+ had written about how science/tech has evolved their hobby/interest.
This time it is Eric Dirst, President of Online Services at DeVry Education Group (DVG). a market funded higher education company. (NYSE: DV) who writes about hockey - the ice, not the field variety.
My family life seems to revolve around hockey. I have 3 sons that play hockey at multiple levels (college Division 3 club, high school, and travel club Bantam). My wife (in middle in photo above) is the President of the high school hockey club, and she skates occasionally too. I still play hockey 1-2 times per week in various men’s leagues. Lastly, we are season ticket holders for the Chicago Blackhawks, and have been for a long time, since the Blackhawks had less than 4,000 season ticket holders instead of the ~17,000 waiting list today.
I have watched technology improve hockey over the years especially in the last two decades. Below I highlight a few areas of improvement from technology – safety, training, speed/endurance and spectating.
The safety technology that goes into protecting players includes helmets that help reduce the likelihood of concussions. Hockey today is much faster than it was in the past, primarily due to improvements in the technology of skates, training, and lighter-weight pads and protection. With the higher speed of the game have come improvements to helmets to reduce the chance of concussion. Can you imagine today’s high speed hockey game played without helmets as it was years ago? Today’s helmets are even labeled to let you know by which date you should stop using your helmet due to the degradation of the helmet’s safety capabilities. For defensive players, technology has been used to develop specialized coverings, or shot blockers, for the top of your foot and front part of your lower ankle to protect you from slap-shots. This safety feature is one of the many reasons you see players willingly putting themselves in harm’s way to block a 100 mph slap-shot—because they worry less about experiencing a career ending injury to their foot or ankle.
Training is the area that has been impacted by technology the most, especially off-ice training. My oldest son trained on a tread mill (yes, with his normal hockey skates). The tread mill has variable speed and can tilt upward, allowing him to train as if he is skating up-hill, which builds strength, balance, and an explosive stride. Synthetic ice is used at many training areas to allow a player to practice specific skills in a small area without having to rent out the entire ice at the rink. You can even build a small synthetic rink in your basement or backyard allowing your player to practice year-round. Lastly, synthetic ice requires a player to skate with more precision to experience a similar feel as ice, which thereby improves their stride.Another technology training example is off-ice stick handling training balls that mimic the feel of a hockey puck, but allow you to practice your stick handling on concrete or wood floors while at your own home.
For speed and endurance, technology has helped with training as mentioned previously, but technology has allowed the development of lighter and faster skates. High-end skates today weigh sometimes 2+ pounds less per skate than just a decade ago. This is accomplished using carbon composites and other high-tech materials. Two pounds doesn’t sound like much, but that is estimated to save you lifting more than a thousand pounds during the course of a regulation hockey game. Lightweight composite materials are now part of almost every piece of hockey gear, dramatically reducing the weight of wearing all the gear required to play the game. Nowhere is this truer than with goalies, where the leg pads have drastically reduced in weight through the use of synthetic leather and high density foam.
Of course, as a parent and a NHL fan, being a spectator is my most frequent activity. Thankfully technology has come to help me out with even this mundane activity. When I travel out of town on business, the hotel or local pub usually does not have the Chicago Blackhawks game on TV. No worries, because with my NHL GameCenter subscription, I can watch the Chicago Blackhawks play on my PC, or on my iPad, or even on my iPhone (yes, it works for Androids too). I can also view replays of previous games, highlights of games, and all the statistics I desire, including a graphic of where every shot was taken from on the ice, and by whom, in a given game. Also, as a spectator who wants to take pictures of my kids on the ice, in the old days I would have had to invest $10,000+ dollars in a high end, zoom, sports camera system that I still would have difficulty operating to get clear, blur-free pictures of high speed hockey action. Today I can put together a decent sports camera system for around $1,600. That includes a low price digital SLR camera and a minimum 200x auto-focus zoom lens. For novice sports photographers, like me, the most important feature is “auto-focus”. This feature allows me to take decent shots of my kids on the ice while they are skating at full speed. I fully expect that in the next 5 years you will be able to take high quality, high speed, distance pictures, with just your cell phone.
These examples are only a few areas where technology has impacted the game of hockey. I could just as easily written about the composite stick revolution, outdoor ice technology using glycol coolant allowing Winter Classic NHL rinks to be quickly built while supporting variable weather conditions, or the myriad of coaching tools and applications now available on your tablet for use on the bench or during practice. Regardless, hockey, like every sport, is being impacted by technology, for the improvement of players, coaches and fans.