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April 3, 2012 | 7:50pm ET
Raising the hockey bar
 A new program can help hockey players improve their awareness.

NEW YORK, NY -- In this day and age, athletes are willing to go to great lengths to make sure they can get a leg up on their competition. Whether it be extra hours at the gym, working with specialized coaches in the off-season, or spending an inordinate amount of time in the film room, players are always searching for that extra something to put them over the edge.

A new program created by Applied Cognitive Engineering, initially developed to train fighter pilots, and tested by NASA has been tweaked into the Hockey Intelligym. The new program is designed to improve awareness and anticipation on the ice through cognitive video game sessions.

An official release explains, "On average, teams utilizing the cerebral training tool show significant improvement on the ice, leading to the ACE guarantee that its program will improve players' on-ice point totals by 30 percent."

The product was adapted by the USA hockey program, and has been applied and tested at several different levels. At the NCAA level, the Air Force Academy implemented the routine in 2011, and at the CIS level the Concordia Stingers have also used the Hockey Intelligym. The Air Force Academy captured the Atlantic Hockey championship this year with the help of Hockey Intelligym.

The program has also been used at the national level, and yielded impressive results. Since 2009-10 both the U17 and U18 USA National Teams have added Hockey Intelligym. The players have, on average, increased their point totals by 42 percent after just eight short weeks.

The program is essentially a game using head-mounted cameras to simulate the on-ice experience. It is then used to simulate and emphasize different cognitive skills intentionally. One of the finest aspects is the lack of bells and whistles. Hockey Intelligym focuses strictly on the game, and making the players better. It teaches anticipation, something that can rarely be taught. The program hypothesizes that it will greatly increase your mental skills on the ice.

Shjon Podein, former Stanley Cup champion and current Minnesota High School Hockey Coach, has recently introduced the routine to his players, and has been incredibly thrilled with the results.

"As a former NHL player and Stanley Cup recipient, I got to be on the ice with the best players in the game of hockey. I learned one main thing from being around these great hockey players and that was you must have a great mind to excel at the highest level," he explained.

He continued by by describing its effect, "So far, our guys are completely into it and I personally know that the numbers on the ice will follow."

Podein is not the only former NHLer to preach to the success of Hockey Intelligym. Danton Cole, who is presently holding the reigns of the USA Hockey Under 18 program, very matter-of-factly believes in the positive results of the unique training system.

"The IntelliGym program addresses an under utilized aspect of training, and that is the mental side of the game. The deep learning sessions enable our players to work on a variety of situations in a controlled environment and continue to train their minds even after a day of practice and workouts."

Like all things however, these coaches openly acknowledge that you will get out what you put into it. It is no miracle drug, but a system that requires its students to put in the time in effort to get better.

"It is a system that is easily usable by many athletes and like all training, is limited only on how much effort the athlete puts into it," he clarified. He did admit however, that it could be very revolutionary, "The knowledge that we are gaining on how the mind works and learns is the cutting edge on mental training for the future."

Now, for the first time, the makers of the Hockey Intelligym program are bringing their training acumen to the Ontario Hockey League. Starting this summer, the Niagara Ice Dogs will begin utilizing the routine as an integral part of their off-season workout. This is a massive stepping stone towards making the program a mainstay in the NHL.

"In an increasingly competitive Ontario Hockey League, the Ice Dogs are always on the lookout for proven, innovative methods to better prepare and train our player. Upon learning about the IntelliGym and relaying its benefits to the coaching staff, the organization is fully behind the program's implementation," explicated Niagara Ice Dogs Athletic Trainer Pete Dobbin in an official press release.

Hockey IQ has always been something that needs to be developed at such a young age. Previously, the NHL has seen many players with world-class talent flounder because of a ten-cent head. Now, regardless of level of competition, players around the world will soon be able to build on their intangibles, and create a better understanding of the game for themselves.

With the way the speed of the game is today, quick cerebral thinking is a must for any players serious about making on a professional level. It's phenomenal that players still in the developmental stages of their game will now have a chance to learn one of the toughest trades in the entire game.

Hockey has evolved so many times over the years, and Hockey Intelligym just may help take the game to the next level.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.



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