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Video games have role as teaching tool for kids

Wednesday, 03.09.2011 / 9:00 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Not too long ago, the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League received a bit of attention for a post-game celebration that mimicked something from a 1994 hockey video game.

The stiff movements in that game from more than 15 years ago are laughable and kitschy today, especially when compared to today's video games, which look and play as real as the game on the ice.

So realistic, in fact, that some players and coaches have started using video games as teaching tools.

Younger players have gone from trying to imitate the moves they see Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Pavel Datsyuk make in highlight videos to trying to create them on games like NHL2K11.

"My son scored three goals this weekend with a move I've never seen him do," said Craig Wilson, a youth hockey coach in Maine who operates Maine Blizzard Hockey. "I asked, 'Where did you get the move?' He responded NHL11, when he practiced it on screen in the shootout."

The usefulness of video games as a true teaching tool is limited. It won't help a young player skate faster, pass better or shoot harder. However, vision, understanding of the game and creativity are among some of the things it absolutely can improve.

"My son scored three goals this weekend with a move I've never seen him do. I asked, 'Where did you get the move?' He responded NHL11, when he practiced it on screen in the shootout." -- Craig Wilson, youth hockey coach

"I don't think it's something (a video game) has anything to do with skills," Bob Nielsen, a long-time Philadelphia-area youth and high school hockey coach and operator of the coaching website IceHockeyDrills.info, told NHL.com. "If it has a benefit, it's maybe teaching systems and defensive-zone coverages, from looking at things from a higher perspective."

The default view for most video games is vertical, from a high perspective. It allows the player to see the entire width of the ice, as well as from above the blue line down to the end boards. Seeing more of the ice can allow a young player to see how action develops away from the puck-carrier.

"Maybe if they're running the power play on the game, you can see how the game goes for the four guys you're not controlling and see how the flow of some plays work," Nielsen said.

Nielsen also said the ages of the players changed what level of information they took from the games.

"The older players seemed to feel that they learned things about how the spacing on a power play works because they see the action from a high perspective," he said. "They had a better idea of the way a forecheck works and things of that nature.

"My surprise came with the younger players. A few of them told me that they learned moves from playing the video games. One player even discussed a specific move he makes often and said he picked it up playing one of the NHL2K-type of games. A few others said they have tried things on the ice in practice that they learned on a video game."

That level of creativity is one that should be cultivated, says Brian Yandle, a youth coach who operates Global Hockey in the Boston area. His brother, Keith Yandle, is an All-Star defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes.

"I encourage it and tell them to be creative," Brian Yandle told NHL.com. "We'll be doing a shootout at the end of practice, and I'll say where'd you learn that, and they'll say I did with it a certain player in a shootout, picked it up on my stick or went between my legs."

It's all about finding another way to keep kids having fun and staying interested in the real game of hockey on the ice.

"Our players play against each other on NHL11 on PS3," Wilson said. "They play in between tournament games at the hotel. They play as a team and talk about the game as it's occurring on screen as if they were actually on the ice. The kids yell cycle, get on the post, behind the net, D-to-D pass and more."

"People once they play the game, watch the game of hockey, they gain respect for what these guys do," Yandle added. "I've heard from a lot of different kids, the one cool thing with the video games is they can go online and play against their friends. You might have somebody that's not that big as a player or somebody who plays it for fun and isn't that serious into it, but they're playing their buddies and finding competitiveness. They're gaining a knowledge of the game and it excites them a lot."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK