VIERUMAKI – At the 2016 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp the 123 female U18 players from 16 of the top hockey countries don’t only work on the ice and learn in class room. A significant part of their program includes fitness and off-ice training. And this year’s results are promising.
Everything started with a two-and-a-half-hour long test program on speed and acceleration with skating sprints, lower body power with jumps, upper body strength with bench press and pull-ups, aerobic capacity with the beep test, and body composition with skinfold callipers.
“The camp is about professionalism. We want women’s hockey to be taken seriously and approach it with the highest level of professionalism. We want to test, set standards, improve,” said Stuart Wilson, who works with Hockey Canada and together with Jill Zeller, who is with USA Hockey and Boston University, led the strength and conditioning sessions.
“We want to show the players where they are and compared with others. We want to help set some goals and give an idea of where to go. A goal could be to go to the Olympics and win medals. Everybody is here for a reason, they are top U18 female hockey players of their countries,” he said.
“The reason we test is to give them a benchmark, an idea where they are, like a road map. You need to know where you want to go and where you are right now. Once you have this you can plan how to get there. We give them the results and feedback to tell them what it means and what it tells about them as a hockey player.”
And the road will lead them ideally to the Olympics. Some of the young ladies present at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki may be seen in PyeongChang 2018 in less than two years from now.
“It’s amazing here. We went through the testing protocols and gave them the standard on the international scale where they are in their age group. We did strength sessions and a speed and agility session during the week. It will make them better hopefully on the ice and the next time they test,” said Zeller.
The duo announced an unpleasant beginning with the testing but the ladies took it with relative pleasure, eagerness and in between with fun. They knew they did it for a reason.
“We tell them being a good athlete makes them a better hockey player. You want to be faster, stronger, want to win the battles in the corner, need to be able to protect the puck, need upper-body and lower-body power, and you need endurance. If you want to be on the power play you need to be able to last longer than 30, 40 seconds and need good aerobic fitness as well,” Zeller said.
“What the former athletes in the penal at the opening ceremony said is that the off-ice training matters too. The message is that it gives the players the extra edge. It’s good to do the testing at this age. If we would do it at 20 we would miss a couple of years where they could have been preparing.”
And what was the impression of the two fitness experts?
“All these girls are amazing. They listen well, ask questions, take the time. My impression is just as any group of athletes. Some are good at one test, some at others, some are very fit, some very strong,” said Wilson.
On the track and in the gym the players worked on off-ice simulation, cool down, speed, agility, off-ice and weight training during the week – generally spoken how to train off the ice. They were also handed their test results and were explained how to interpret them as an athletes and for their hockey skills and how to continue work out once they get back home.
Comparing the results over time one can say that the aerobic fitness has continued to increase each year. This indicates that the players have been training properly to increase their baseline conditioning.
Melody Davison, the long-time head coach of the Canadian women’s national team who is the assistant chairwoman of this camp, is positive with the results.
“Continuing to increase their aerobic fitness will help the players sustain a higher level of play through 60 minutes and more,” she said about the development.
The upper body strength has made incremental gains each year. “We see this in the intensity of the battles, strength in puck movement and the continuous increase in shot power,” Davison said. Lower body power and the speed are areas that need improvement. These qualities are incredibly influential on the ice so training methods need to focus on posture, bilateral and unilateral strength, sprinting technique and plyometrics.
Overall the trend and the results with the camp class of girls born in 1999 and 2000 is positive.
“We have seen the speed, strength, power and quality of the games at camp increase each year which is reflected in the fitness results,” Davidson said.
And that’s a positive sign for the continuous improvement of the competitiveness level in women’s hockey.