The Guelph Gryphons minor midget ‘AAA’ team is on the cutting edge of hockey development.
This season, the entire team is using Hockey IntelliGym technology.
IntelliGym technology helps develop a player’s “hockey sense” so they’re quicker, know where their teammates will be without having to look, and can keep themselves safer because they’re able to anticipate body contact, said IntelliGym chief executive officer Danny Dankner.
The Hockey IntelliGym took two years to develop and is based on a computer program originally created for fighter pilots in the Israeli air force. The program develops users cognitive skills at an accelerated rate that isn’t possible with physical practice alone, Dankner said.
“It turns out there are many similarities between pilots, in particular fighter pilots, and competitive athletes,” Dankner explained. “And I’m talking about cognitive aspects.
“So if you think about targeting and looking at many different objects at the same time, trying to anticipate where they’re going to be, devising the right strategy and what are the right reactions needed in order to cope with a certain scenario.”
The Hockey IntelliGym is a computer-based program that at first glance looks just like a video game. There are red and blue dots indicating players on two teams. The human participant is designated as one of those dots, playing with the rest of its computer-run teammates.
The icon is moved using keys on the keyboard and the playing field looks akin to a hockey rink, with similar lines and nets at each end.
Players are encouraged to use the program two times a week for half an hour.
For Jeremey Goodwin and Jacob Black, of Fergus, two 15-year-old Gryphon players piloting the program in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA), the IntelliGym isn’t a burden, but it’s not a video game either.
“It’s definitely more challenging so maybe I enjoy it a little more,” Goodwin said.
“It’s a lot harder, I would say, than a video game that you’d play,” Jacob said.
The 17 members on the Guelph Gryphons minor midget ‘AAA’ team are in their OHL draft year, coach Ryan Black said at his Fergus home.
“This age, this birth year, is a draft year for these boys so all these kids are looking on this team to get drafted to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this year, so it’s a very big year in their young hockey careers so I think it is beneficial for every player to get maybe an advantage or a head start on this new type of system that’s coming into hockey,” Ryan said. “We have scouts at our games, I have scouts calling me; it’s a very intense year for the boys.”
The IntelliGym couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I believe that the mental side of hockey right now is very [critical] and at a young age you can learn and develop the mind, which will pay off for the team this year and for their future in hockey,” Ryan explained.
Ryan said his players are fairly disciplined on and off the ice, so it hasn’t been a struggle ensuring they use the program for the allotted times.
Though he hasn’t seen any changes in their ice skills yet, Ryan said it’s still early. He was told it would take about 15 sessions for the results to appear and his team only began using the program this season.
Goodwin, however, did say he has noticed a change in his on ice skills, especially behind the net.
“You’re finding different spots on the ice to play…you’re learning how to get to open ice, where there’s no players, to receive pucks,” Goodwin explained.
Jacob added, “It will help us not make as many mental mistakes on the ice.”
Ryan explained he’s able to track the players’ statistics to see how they’re improving over time in the program. So far those results have been interesting, he said.
“Everybody is pretty near the same right now because it’s so new and then it shows a graph on every kid and the graphs might be a little different and that’s the interesting part,” Black said.
“They’re all at the same level but the slope in the graphs are different, how they’re getting to that point might be a little different route.”
The Hockey IntelliGym program is designed for each individual player so, apart from the start, no two players will ever be at exactly the same level, Dankner said.
And the player can never out-play the program – it will keep developing with them.
Development for the program began six years ago, Dankner said, and was rolled out commercially four years ago.
The U.S. U-18 and U-17 national teams have been using IntelliGym since its creation and it’s now starting to take off in Canada. Dankner said it’s unusual for an entire team to be on the program; usually it’s individual players that start training independently online and use the program throughout their careers.
Dankner did say other U-18 world coaches have said the U.S. team has an unfair advantage. But Dankner’s response is the program is available to everyone – they just need to use it.
For the Guelph minor midget ‘AAA’ team, the program is new, but the consensus from the coach and players is that they would like to continue using IntelliGym in the future.