The season grinds on.
By mid-season, it’s easy to feel fate has been determined. But it’s actually an ideal time to do some reflecting and skill honing.
One skill that’s often overlooked but super important? Training hockey sense.
With her sights set on one day competing in the Olympics with Team USA, ninth-grader Avery Cheeseman has high hockey aspirations - and she’s putting in the work to improve all aspects of her game.
Avery, who plays on her Minneapolis high school team and in a Tier 1 league for Minnesota Hockey, has a regimen that includes gym workouts, alternating arm and leg day, and stickhandling practice on top of regular practices and games.
“I try to put in the work,” she says.
On top of her physical training, since August, Avery has been working on an element that is sometimes overlooked - her mental game. Using Hockey Intelligym, which is ideally used two times a week through 30-minute computer training sessions, she’s well on her way.
“I like it a lot, it’s really helped me kind of get a feel of the whole ice not just where you are on the ice, you start to develop eyes behind your back,” she says of results from the program. “You’re able to find more players, connect with other players without throwing the puck which has helped me a lot to gain confidence in making plays.”
She usually uses the program on the computer at home, while listening to calming music. She saw on-ice results about three weeks, or six sessions, after beginning Intelligym.
“I’ve been able to set up more plays in the corner, once I get a puck I’ll know what to do, and I won’t freeze up so much,” she says.
Her first year with the high school team saw her transition from defense to forward.
“I’ve never played forward before in my life and I have actually done a pretty good job because of this program,” she says, adding that the program is constantly changing to keep her on her toes. “It kind of randomly will put you out of position to play and will shuffle the game when you get a goal scored on you or when you score a goal, and I like that because it taught me how to play offense.”
Avery’s father, Mike Cheeseman, who is a previous association president and level four certified coach, had heard about IntelliGym before, but decided to take the opportunity to use it this summer with his daughter through Minnesota Hockey.
Avery, he says, loves hockey but had some challenges translating her skill set into games.
“The product [IntelliGym] has been really helpful in translating that for her; when to apply certain things in the game, maintain more puck possession, be willing to defer the puck less often when the game doesn’t call for it,” he says. “Her game has really blossomed nicely.”
He describes the changes he’s seen in her game as a positive feedback circle.
“From my perspective, I think it’s helped her game and by helping her game it’s improved her confidence and by improving her confidence, it’s made her want to do more,” he says.
He agrees the program has helped Avery’s transition from defense to center - a position she had previously only played five or six times.
“Bottom line, anything that can help you play heads up hockey, be that skill development, be that off-ice stick handling, be that confidence, be that better able to read the play and anticipate and see when potentially dangerous situations come up, is important,” he says.
During the season, practices and games put a lot of strain on players’ bodies - which is why mid-season is a great time to begin work on cognitive skills that are often overlooked - improving hockey IQ. Also referred to as hockey sense, this skill refers to the ability to predict game flow, set-up plays, find space, and overall have the ability to understand the ice. A strong cognitive game not only improves performance, but it’s also a valuable skill for safety.
Hockey IntelliGym was first created by cognitive psychologists, computer engineers, and game theorists to help military fighter pilots develop precise instincts. It was then adapted for hockey via a collaboration between USA Hockey and the original team of scientists and researchers.
Hockey IntelliGym is currently used by over 50,000 athletes aged 10 to 25. If a player trains twice a week, results usually show up on ice after about 6 to 8 weeks. With consistent use, the Hockey IntelliGym may just be what a player needs to round out their hockey IQ.
So while half the season is completed, the optimists within us say that there’s still half to go. It could be the perfect time to sign on with Intelligym to fuel an even better season ahead!