The NHL (USA National (Ice)Hockey League) annual pre-draft combine was held last week with a new format and a couple of new tests. This combine does not compare to the hype and media circus of the NFL Combine, but the NHL realise that it needed to get with the times. For a start it moved the testing to an arena offering an increased viewing area with live result monitors, which means better media coverage and publicity for them. They know that watching potential champion athletes huffing and puffing through the tests provides a pretty good spectacle.
They were not just thinking about promotion, player welfare was also on their minds. The players do not make it to the testing stage until they have passed a thorough medical conducted behind closed doors. The two exhausting fitness tests, the 30 second all out Wingate anerobic test and the VO2max cycle test have been moved to separate days this year, so that fatigue from one does not affect the results of the other.
A new test this year was the Y-balance test for assessing flexibility, core control and proprioception. They have used a few different tests of this component over the years, recently a balance board. Though it has been scientifically studied, the Y balance test is pretty new and without established norms, and with no previous results it will be interesting to see what they take from it. It might take a few years before they get a feel for what’s good and bad in this test, and how the scores relate to performance and injury rates in the recruited players.
You can see the video of Conner McDavid as he goes through each of the fitness tests, including the new Y-balance test.
In the vertical jump, instead of measuring jump height using the Vertec apparatus as they have used previously (and as used for most other combines), they have decided to go high-tech and measure jump height with a Kistler Force plate, also allowing measurement of ground reaction forces (will anyone ever look at these?). Again by changing protocols the scores from previous years may not be comparable. The best vertical jump score this year was 28.74 inches, well below the best last year of 35 inches, and one of the lowest best score ever.
Another change in equipment was to use the BodPod for body composition assessment. Again they have the issue of not being able to compare to previous results, which was based on skinfold testing and % body fat calculation using the Yuhasz equation. You would expect more accurate measures with the whole-body air-displacement plethysmography method of the BodPod, however this year’s lowest percent body fat score was an unrealistic 4%, well below the previous lowest score of 6%.
Although the test protocols using the Y-balance, force plate and BodPod are scientifically valid and reliable, and may result in the collection of good data, I just feel like they have gone with the latest gadgets without a longer term view of results that they can understand, interpret and make good use of.
Does it matter anyway? Most pundits are saying that the fitness test results are not that important in ice hockey – the medical assessment and team interviews from the combine are more important. Of yeah, another thing that may be important for potential NHL players – how they perform on the ice. Is there a test for that?