Pushing limits 14 seconds at a time

New skating drill tests Senators players

Senators players, left to right, Patrick Wiercioch, Colin Greening and Chris Neil watch teammates go through the skating tests on Monday. (Photo by: Bruno Schlumberger/Ottawa Citizen)

OTTAWA — By the end of the week, every Ottawa Senators player will have completed what is affectionately known as the “puke test.”

It’s an intense skating drill full of stops, starts and pivots, designed to mimic the movements of a National Hockey League shift and intended to push the physical and mental limits of every player.

The test works like this: Four players are on the ice at a time, each assigned to a corner of the rink: they complete an agility course, of sorts, alternatively skating forwards and backwards and pivoting left and right.

It usually takes 14-16 seconds to complete the circuit. Simple enough to do once, maybe twice, but Senators players go around the course five times with only 40 seconds between the start of each run.

Barf buckets, anyone?

“It is a demanding test,” said left-winger Colin Greening, who has always prided himself on being in tip-top shape. “For a lot of guys, this is their first time through it, so it’s fun to see their reactions.”

Greening was happy to get his test out of the way Monday, while much of the roster was on a two-game exhibition road trip to Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

“When you look at it on paper, it doesn’t look too hard, but I tell you, you’re changing your opinion after you do it,” Greening said. “When you’re in that situation, you want to do well, and you’ve got three other guys you’re going against, so you’re always trying to be the best and fastest, so every single rep is your best. I think everyone can agree (that), after the third one, you are pretty tired and you need to mentally grind through the last two.”

Most NHL teams have created some form of skating test, measuring players against each other and themselves. It’s one of many areas where teams try to get an edge on the competition, learning everything they can about the health of players and areas where they can improve.

The Senators exercise was designed by conditioning coach Chris Schwarz, director of hockey operations Randy Lee and skating consultant Marc Power. In some respects, the rink becomes a lab, with countless observers on the ice to monitor everything from speed to sharpness of turns to heart rates and recovery times. Power was armed with an iPad to screen players as they made pivots.

“We wanted to get away from the standard testing of how many times a guy can go around in a circle, and Paul (MacLean, Senators coach) can attest to that by just going into practice and running those kinds of drills,” Schwarz said. “How many times in an NHL shift will a guy skate around three times without stopping and starting? The game is about a seven-second interval. We know that from the science side, so, if we do GPS tracking, we know everything is stop and start. It’s almost like seven seconds of work, recover, seven seconds of work, recover. And they do that maybe three or four times within a shift and then they’re done. We wanted to try and simulate something.”

It’s not just physical, either. When a player has to push to complete the final few runs of the course, it becomes a mental challenge. Once each player’s turn, he often returns to the bench to watch the next wave endure the challenge.

“We saw some of the heart rates of the guys before they took the test and the blood pressure goes up right away,” Schwarz said. “We want that. That’s a healthy anxiety.”

Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, who will likely see first-unit power-play time this season following the off-season departure of Sergei Gonchar as a free agent, said was “a tough test,” but he was also excited about the improvements he had made since last year.

“I like it because it’s one of the few skating tests that might favour a defenceman (because of all the pivots),” Wiercioch said. “I think it’s a great test. It shows a lot of things. One of them is your character to get it done.”

While there are definitely elements of an NHL game in the test, Greening also laughs about the differences.

“There are no TV timeouts, no pucks, no silver lining,” he said. “They don’t even throw in a shot at an empty net at the end or anything, just to give you a little bit of hope.”

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

Tags:

What do you think? Leave a comment