What do off-ice hockey tests really test?
What Do Off-Ice Hockey Tests Really Test?
In just over a month there will be an NHL Combine in advance of the draft. I have trained a few players for the combine which can include bench press for reps, vertical jump, long jump, VO2max, the Wingate test, curl ups, sit and reach and push/pull strength.
I don’t know how much stock the teams actually put into the results of the combine, I hope they are looking to see who shows up fat, who battles to get that one extra rep and who just gives up as soon as it gets tough, who is just plain weak and who has room for improvement.
I hope they don’t actually think they are learning anything about the player’s on-ice performance.
I was reading over a research review article “The Usefulness And Reliability Of Fitness Testing Protocols For Ice Hockey Players: A Literature Review” by Nightingale, Miller and Turner (27(6)/1742-1748 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2013) who reviewed past research studies looking at performance in off-ice testing as it correlated with on-ice performance.
The truth is that Bench Press, Push Ups, Max Push, Max Pull, Long Jump, Vertical Jump, Cur Ups, Sit and Reach, Absolute Peak Power, Relative Peak Power, Fatigue Index and VO2max were all non-significant predictors of draft round entry.
So it looks like teams want you based on how you perform on the ice.
Some have found that on-ice sprint speed correlates with peak power derived from the 30-second Wingate test on the bike. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it – only 30-seconds long, how hard could it be?
When I do this test with athletes I train, typically 1 in 5 will barf their guts out after the 30-seconds – THAT is how hard it can be. The 30-second all out sprint feels like quadruple that much time.
Another fun fact from the article – off-ice measures (bike) of VO2max and anaerobic threshold are under predicted relative to the same tests don on the ice. The set up for an on-ice V02max test is a lot more tricky so I am pretty sure the bike or treadmill will stay the standard.
It is so hard to find an off-ice test that correlates with on-ice performance because there are so many variables that contribute to on-ice success. Some players with different physiological profiles can succeed based on their role on the ice. There is no one body type or fitness profile that leads to success.
Maybe you are good at battling in the corners – that requires one profile. Maybe you are a finesse d-man like Drew Doughty – that requires another profile. Maybe you are a shifty Martin St. Louis – another profile still.
So I don’t think we will ever be able to come up with off-ice tests that determine on-ice success.
So should we do any off-ice testing?
You might be surprised to hear me say ‘yes’. Off-ice testing helps us see if our program is accomplishing the goals of improving the quality of movement, strength, speed and stamina.
You could argue that there are top players in the NHL right now who have some of the worst fitness profiles on their team – and you would be right, there are exceptions to every rule.
But if you are going to do battle on the ice, I want you to have as many tools at your disposal to help you do the job.
Do we train for the tests? No, but we want to see improvement from phase to phase in the target areas.
Should players try to impress at off-ice testing or combines? Absolutely. Again, teams learn a lot about what kind of player you are, what is in your heart and soul, by watching you during testing. So battle for every rep, every last second. Show them that you take pride in training for your craft and you are ready to compete.
I’ll be back in the next day or two with a ‘Functional Test’ for hockey players that you can do at home – see how you measure up.