HOUGHTON - Michigan Technological University has a solid history of scientific accomplishment and a historical pedigree on the hockey rink to match.
But rarely do the two interact more fully than they did in the summer of 2009, as researchers from the university's department of Exercise Science, Health and Physical Education examined one of the most fundamental ways pro teams evaluate the fitness capacity of potential National Hockey League draft picks.
The research, co-authored by John Durocher, then of Michigan Tech, now at St. Francis (Pa.) University, undergraduate student Angela Guisfredi, exercise science department chair Jason Carter and Portage Sports Medicine Institute physician Darin Leetun, was published in January in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, a bimonthy journal.
Michigan Tech women’s basketball player Angela Guisfredi presents a poster at the Undergraduate Expo earlier this month on the research she collaborated on regarding comparison of on- and off-ice aerobic testing on collegiate hockey players. Guisfredi, a Lake Linden-Hubbell High School alumna, earned a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship grant to support her work. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
He has been a part of several other hockey-related research efforts at Tech, including a study comparing Finlandia University men's and women's hockey players and his doctoral dissertation on aerobic fitness and lactate threshold in collegiate hockey players over the course of a season.
He is now carrying a passion that began very young into a professional career.
"I grew up being a hockey player, played from five years old up until now," Durocher said.
One of the most important factors prospects are tested for at the NHL scouting combine is aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, specifically the maximum capacity one has for transporting and using the oxygen inhaled with each breath.
How about the CO2 exhaled ?
However, the league's standardized test is done by riding an exercise bike. The Michigan Tech group tried to develop a procedure for testing aerobic capacity in a more realistic hockey environment -on the ice.
"We just didn't feel that (riding the bike) was a very good evaluation tool," Carter said. "When you're biking, you're using different muscle groups than when you're skating."
One of the biggest challenges of the process was developing a completely new testing procedure.
The participant pool, which included 11 Michigan Tech players and one from Finlandia's men's team, skated from the starting line to a cone 32 meters away and back, paced by background music that included beeps every 10 seconds.
Sounds familiar as a beep test ?
In each of four successive trials, the goal cone was moved three meters farther away, requiring each skater to ramp up their speed until they could no longer keep up with the music.
After 80 seconds of skating, each player got a 40-second rest period in which a small blood sample was taken, then analyzed for lactic acid content. While skating, the player wore a portable mask that collects the air the player exhales and measures its oxygen content.
Hmmm what equipment did they used to test lactic acid ? And I am wondering, how in the 80 sec load they where able to know , that the reading in the finger sample was the situation in the working muscle.
"You can set up all the equipment in the penalty box and the player basically wears a small harness that records their oxygen consumption levels and the CO2 they're exhaling," Durocher said.
In designing the experiment, the goal is to slowly increase the player's exertion level until reaching the maximum capability of his lungs to process the oxygen being taken in.
Hmmm capacity limit of the lungs ? to process O2 ???
"We had to figure out a way to slowly ramp them up without being too slow or too fast in our ramp-up," Carter said.
As a control, the players were then tested on bikes in a similar way to the conventional NHL combine method.
The research found that VO2 max and lactate levels from on-ice testing were significantly higher than those recorded from the bike.
"To our knowledge, the present study is the first to demonstrate a significantly higher VO2 max on ice compared with off ice. This finding should encourage sport-specific testing of hockey players in the future," according to the article.
Sure, great suggestion
Guisfredi, a member of Michigan Tech's women's basketball team, received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship grant from Michigan Tech to devote her summer to the project.
"We always stress academics first and athletics second. I had a lot of fun with it and I think it was special to be able to work on a project like this," Guisfredi said.
She assisted in recruiting subjects, experiment set-up and administering the tests. She also presented a poster on the study at the recent Undergraduate Expo in the Memorial Union Building.
Not only was Guisfredi grateful for an opportunity to combine the classroom learning she acquired in subjects such as bio-statistics with a practical environment, she was able to combine her passion for athletics with the academic field she has chosen to pursue.
"It's part of my everyday life, so it's applicable not only to my study, but also to me personally," she said.
The research combined the efforts of many different groups: trained professors like Durocher and Carter, undergraduates like Guisfredi, physicians like Leetun (and financial backing from the Portage Health Sports Medicine Institute) and even prospective undergraduates like Davy Sproule, currently a Houghton High School senior, who plans on enrolling in Tech's exercise science program in the fall.
"When you take a student and you immerse them into the project, they develop a passion for the research and it becomes a much more valuable experience for them," Carter said.
Durocher, who grew up in Freda, is returning to Michigan Tech to be a research assistant professor in the integrative physiology lab.
"I'm very excited to be coming back," he said.
Northern Michigan University has expressed interest in conducting similar work on its hockey players there. Only one NHL team (the Philadelphia Flyers) currently does on-ice aerobic capacity testing.
Carter said the project was a great way to put the scientific method in action.
"It's one thing to learn about it in a textbook, but it was a whole different experience to get the whole real-life thing," Guisfredi said.
How true this statement is and yes we should look at real live information . Well lactate is very indirect and VO2 is close to that. There are options for real live ( NIRS/MOXY) and we even can test as many athletes at the same time as we like, and without mask and problmes with respiration due to the equipment.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.