Czech ice hockey may not be the titan it was twenty years ago, but in recent years young players have increasingly been able to profit from new training technologies. These incorporate virtual reality simulators, cameras and isolated skating boards to perfect individual technique.
The Czech national ice hockey team may be fighting for medals at the World Championships in Latvia right now, but the future of Czech hockey is busy training. One of the tools to perfect their technique that has become increasingly available to Czech players in recent years is the so-called skatemil - a movable artificial ice sheet that is monitored by high definition cameras. The technology enables coaches to get a detailed look at the skating technique of every player.
One of them is eight-year-old Jan Junek, who also uses the skatemil to improve his shooting. His father told Czech Radio that he is impressed with the new technology.
“Being on the skatemil is hard work, but it gives young players the opportunity to try out different things and find areas where they need to improve. While it does not replace the ice, this technology certainly helps players improve.”
The skatemil also serves as a tool to perfect young player’s peripheral vision. Surrounded by a series of screens, the player has to maintain his awareness, as one of the screens will suddenly show a direction in which he has to place his shot. The reactions and positioning of the player are then analysed on a laptop.
In the East Bohemian town of Trutnov, this analysis is done by Pavel Fedulov, a former CSKA Moscow player who has been coaching up-and-coming players in the Czech Republic for six years now.
“You can see how the player places the tip of their skate on the ice and how they distribute their weight. Most importantly, the coach can identify where the player needs to improve. For example, how they use their hands while skating, or if they move their hips too much, which can lead to needless loss of energy.”
Modern ice hockey is far more demanding, says the Russian coach. Players need to be far more versatile, which is why their skating abilities need to be polished to absolute perfection.
Aside from skatemils, players are also increasingly using VR tools which allow them to perceive their surroundings as if they were in a game. The technology made an impression even on the initially sceptical coach Fedulov.
“I didn’t really believe it before I tried it, but as soon as I put on the helmet and took my stick, I suddenly found myself inside a stadium. It allows you to train things which would not be possible in a normal environment. For example, the virtual goalie will always send the puck in the exact same direction, which gives the player an opportunity to practice scoring from rebounds.”
Defenders and goalies can also set specialised training routines using the VR technology, says Pavel Fedulov.
VR technology was introduced to the Czech Republic just a few years ago, but the virtual training has already been used by prospective juniors from Czech league teams such as Bílí tygři Liberec and is increasingly available in ice rinks around the country.