For years, parents have urged their kids to get “real” exercise and leave the video games behind. Recently, however, a rising number of elite hockey clubs throughout North America have implemented a video game-style program, called the Hockey IntelliGym, as part of their teams’ regular training regimen. The software-based "brain gym" is designed to enhance players’ hockey sense - things like spatial awareness, anticipation of plays and decision making.
The good news is that any player from PeeWee to Junior, with at least 2 years of on ice experience, can benefit from the Hockey IntelliGym.
The software was developed by USA Hockey and Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE), adapted from technology originally used to train pilots in the Israeli Air Force. Danny Dankner, CEO of ACE, who also served as an Air Force officer, can easily see the similarities between Hockey and air combat: “On the ice, as in aerial combat, you have many objects around you, thing happen very quickly; you need to respond; you need good spatial awareness; you need to have very good anticipation; and you need more complex skills, like executive function in your brain and attention control,” said Dankner.
As players develop and their skills improve, it becomes even more important for them to hone hockey sense, which increases the likelihood that a coach will rely on a player in key situations.
Physicality, stick-handling, shooting and skating are all key components in the makeup of any accomplished player; however, all the physical attributes in the world may not be enough to conceal poor hockey sense. Although, conversely, a player with supreme hockey IQ may be able to cover up certain deficiencies as he or she develops physically.
Knowing that elite players must continue to work on their hockey sense just like any other physical exercise, USA Hockey helped develop the Hockey IntelliGym and have been using the program since 2009. Within this period, they have gone on to win two of the past four IIHF under-20 World Junior Championships and four of the past five under-18 world titles.
Last year’s u-20 gold medal-winning team had plenty of IntelliGym in their DNA, as thirteen players had trained with the program, including NHL first-round picks Seth Jones (Nashville, 4th-overall) and Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg, 9th-overall). This year, 15 players on Team USA’s World Junior roster have trained with the Hockey IntelliGym - most of them for at least two years. This group includes phenom Jack Eichel.
USA Hockey’s success since implementing the program has captured the attention of many elite clubs and university programs across North America, including a number of Canadian Hockey League teams. Last season, the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL adopted the system, while this year’s group of CHL adoptees includes the Seattle Thunderbirds, Portland Winterhawks, Regina Pats, and Lethbridge Hurricanes (all of the WHL) and the Ottawa 67s of the OHL, whose use of the Hockey IntelliGym was recently featured on a CBC segment.
The New York Times, reviewing the Hockey IntelliGym on December 23, mentions that NY Islanders’ forward Ryan Strome, Niagara’s leading scorer last season, was a high performing user of the IntellliGym. When asked about how the program benefited his game, Shayne Rover, a defenceman for the Ice Dogs last season, said: “You recognize more on the ice without realizing you’re recognizing it.” Boston Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton said he enjoyed the program when he played for Niagara.
Despite its presence in elite hockey programs, the IntelliGym is specifically designed to adapt to any player age 10 and up with 2 years of experience on ice. As user progress, levels become more challenging by presenting new obstacles such as making a minimum number of passes before shooting, or forcing participants to train while elements on the screen are partially hidden.
Players train between one and three times per week for approximately 30 minutes per session, which makes the IntelliGym easy to implement into an overall training regimen.
For more information on the science and research behind the Hockey IntelliGym and how you can train and develop hockey sense, visit www.usahockeyintelligym.com/science-and-research.