SURVIVAL OF THE FITNESS
The importance of the NHL’s Scouting Combine held last week in Toronto wasn’t lost on Alex Galchenyuk. Among the highest rated players for this year’s draft, Galchenyuk missed almost the entire 2011-12 season with a knee injury he suffered during the Ontario Hockey League exhibition season with the Sarnia Sting. The 18-year-old knew that this was going to be one of the most important weeks of his hockey career, finally being able to prove to 30 NHL teams he is fully recovered and worthy of being selected in the 2012 Entry Draft in Pittsburgh later this month. So it’s understandable that he wrestled with a bout of nerves when he woke up early Friday morning before his fitness testing.
“I got up around 7:15 a.m., showered and went downstairs for breakfast. But I couldn’t eat anything. I was just sitting staring at the food. I couldn’t put anything inside me,” explained Galchenyuk. “Then I had medical testing that took just over an hour. After that it was the Combine. When I walked in the room, my first thought was ‘Wow! There’s so many people, and all these cameras.’ But it was all very exciting.”
Getting used to crowds and cameras shouldn’t be a problem for Galchenyuk and the other 100 prospects that attended the week-long event. All 30 teams were represented at the Combine, and were given a chance to hold one-on-one interviews with players in the early part of the week. But the final two days were reserved for physical testing.
Unlike the NFL Combine held in Indianapolis each year, the NHL version doesn’t involve any game simulation-type testing. There’s no ice, no pylons, and nobody being timed in a 40-yard dash. Instead, the NHL Combine runs players through a litany of individual fitness tests, everything from bench press and vertical jumps, to medicine ball throws and the dreaded VO2 max bike testing.
Buffalo Sabres Strength and Conditioning Coach Doug McKenney had a front row seat throughout the testing process, and says that individual fitness tests are just as important as knowing how a player performs in certain situations on the ice.
“This laboratory testing is just as informative. We’re looking for explosive power from the Wingate bike test, which is 30 seconds all out. And you’ve got the VO2 bike test which allows us to see what kind of level of fitness they’re at right now,” McKenney says. “The strength and body awareness testing show us what kind of development they have, and what kind of body issues they might have, positive or negative. The combination of the two will help us determine where the player is.”
In the same way that breaking down post-game video can expose a player’s flaws, the same can happen during fitness tests. Watching a player struggle during certain tests can reveal a player’s lack of commitment to off-ice training, and can be a red flag to someone in McKenney’s position.
“You can look at a guy, and we label them body-type wise. There’s a long, skinny-boned player; there’s well-developed larger-boned players, and then there’s that Pillsbury Doughboy kind of look,” he explains. “We look at all those things, and those are indicators as to whether or not there are able to put on lean body weight easily or it’ll be a struggle for them. We also look at the movements that they’re doing – does it show athleticism? All those things are part of flagging them, or putting them in certain categories that allow us to make determinations.”
Of all the tests the players were put through, which ones does McKenney think are the most difficult?
“The two bike tests are just miserable. They’re good tests because they are maximal in nature. Anytime you are going maximal it’s going to be a tough test. That 30-second Wingate test is extremely difficult, and so is the VO2 test. Both bike tests are very tough.”
But one of those tests didn’t pose any problems for Galchenyuk. Despite his initial nerves and the knee injury that sidelined him for most of the season, Galchenyuk posted the best peak power score on the Wingate bike test, indicating his explosive skating stride that could give him an extra step on a defender in open ice.
Now just imagine how well Galchenyuk could’ve done if he’d actually eaten breakfast on Friday.