Brother and sister Joel and Sloane Matthews are among the young hockey players who compete as part of the Minnesota Hockey High Performance Tier 1 Leagues. Suffice to say, the Matthews’ are on a mission to improve their hockey sense.
Hockey IQ is a vital skill for both performance and safety, but only 10 years ago training the brain was the stuff of dreams.
Thankfully, that changed. Based on a desire to help players like the Matthews, Minnesota Hockey’s Tier 1 program provided young athletes with a three-month free trial of The Hockey IntelliGym for Fall and Winter 2017. The software program focuses on improving hockey I.Q. through 30-minute computer training sessions of a gamified program, ideally used 2 times a week during the season.
Joel Matthews has used Intelligym consistently for the past eight months. He started when a coach suggested it would help him better visualize the ice and anticipate the play - both of which he said have improved.
“I’m now able to make plays that catch people off guard,” said Joel. “And it’s fun - it’s not some program where it feels like work.”
His sister Sloane agrees. The 13-year-old right winger started using it a year ago and also received the Tier 1 package.
“I like that there’s different situations, because in hockey things are always changing,” said Sloane.
Mike Terwilliger, New Hockey Program Manager at Minnesota Hockey, spearheaded the effort to get more of the league's players participating in the IntelliGym program. It aligns well with a mission of the Tier 1 league to develop complete players.
“It helps players with their hockey sense and helps them see patterns, and to find open spaces.”
Terwilliger said the reception from players and coaches has been positive.
“Many players and parents opted to continue participation past the trial expiration date. We always want to improve what we’re offering players and the development they’re getting. We want to make sure this is a component of what they’re getting in this league and beyond,” he explained.
Hockey IntelliGym is currently used by over 25,000 hockey players aged 10 to 25. If a player trains twice a week, results show up on ice after about 6 to 8 weeks.
In addition to improved on-ice performance, IntelliGym has also shown to decrease the potential for concussion and other on-ice head injuries. Last year, a study out of the University of Delaware found that players who used IntelliGym saw a significant reduction in the number and magnitude of head impacts, compared to a control group who used a placebo program.
Among the Tier 1 Minnesota players who received a three month trial was U14 player Peyton Hemp.
“I love it,” she said. “I like how there’s a goal and you can actually score. I think it definitely helps with seeing the ice. I think I already have pretty good vision of the ice, but I think it sharpens that skill.”
Peyton’s father Jason Hemp agrees that Peyton - who has committed to playing college hockey after high-school graduation - has benefitted from IntelliGym.
“It alternates between being fun at times to being pretty challenging and frustrating at other times, which is good,” Jason Hemp explained.
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.
“USA Hockey seems to be quite supportive of it...the history of it with jet fighters is pretty compelling stuff, so we felt it was probably worthwhile to give it a try,” said Jason Hemp.
Both of Todd Weisjahn’s sons train with Hockey Intelligym and find it an entertaining means of gaining hockey awareness, including on-ice vision, and seeing patterns.
“He [his son Noah] doesn’t want to stop playing when he’s doing it,” he said. “We hope it will help with vision on the ice, seeing patterns, seeing plays and being one step ahead as much as possible.”
While cognitive training with IntelliGym can’t make any player into an NHL draftee it can help get a leg up on the competition. Perhaps this means making the varsity team, playing on the power play or getting a scholarship. In addition to on-ice and off-ice training, cognitive training has also shown to enhance player safety. The bottom line is, cognitive training helps develop the entire athlete.