I came across a study yesterday (thanks to my colleague Kevin Neeld) on ice hockey and the relationship of physiological components with actual on-ice performance. Before discussing the results of the study, what I found especially interesting with this specific study is that they were interested in the actual on-ice performance during games. Most studies measuring physiological attributes (such as strength, speed, VO2 max, body fat, etc) usually relate these aspects to on-ice performance, but not very often to actual in-game performance; results will most of the time be compared to on-ice skating speed, endurance and the like.
In this study by Peyer et Al., the physiological measures were compared to in-game performance in the form of plus/minus scores. The characteristics measured were:
- Body mass
- Body fat %
- VO2 Max
- Repeated off-ice speed test (in the form of 12 x 110 meters sprints)
- Strength tests (in the form of push ups, chin ups, leg press and bench press)
- On-ice speed tests (dot-to-dot, short lightning, and lap sprint)
- Plus/minus on the ice during games
A significant correlation was found between the repeated off-ice sprint test, 3 strength tests (chin ups, leg press and bench press) and the plus/minus scores. The players who performed the best on the repeated sprint test and the 3 strength tests had a better plus/minus score. What is equally interesting to me is that body fat percentage and Vo2 max, which are two highly rated and utilized tests in the hockey community, had no relevance whatsoever with actual in-game performance.
If you’ve been using a no-nonsense approach to training hockey players (prioritizing strength, using an interval-based system for conditioning, etc) you’re probably not very surprised by the results of this study. It’s interesting to me that the research world is actually coming up with concrete results that support and back some of the stuff we’ve been trying to spread in the strength and conditioning world.
It is obvious that there is a need for more research to be done on physiological components and their relation to in-game performance, as this study (like any study out there) has its flaws. The first one is the fact that the study has been done on only one college hockey team (NCAA D-1), so only 24 players were part of the study. In an ideal world we would want a bigger sample of players to contribute to the results. Also, the in-game measure that was used was the plus/minus score of each player. Although the plus/minus score gives a good idea about a player’s offensive and defensive abilities and reflects on-ice performance decently, there are other factors that affect this score. For example, the goalie’s performance can positively or negatively affect the outcome of one player’s plus/minus; if the goalie is really good and allows very few goals during games, even when he faces a lot of shots, it can positively affect a player’s plus/minus score. And the opposite is also true if the goalie is terrible and allows many goals, the plus/minus score will be affected negatively.
In conclusion, this study gives us a good lead on what might be more appropriate tests that actually co-relate to in-game performance and what physiological attributes might be more relevant for hockey players to focus on.
Peyer KL, Pivarnik JM, Eisenmann JC, 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):1183-92.