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NHL Combine: Athletic Potential Revealed During Fitness Testing

Lack of on-ice activities allows chance to find "diamond in the rough"

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Dozens of the world's top hockey prospects gathered at the National Hockey League's Scouting Combine this weekend in Buffalo with the hopes of impressing the hockey operations staffs of the 31 participating teams enough to be drafted in a few short weeks.

The prospects - 104 of them, to be exact - attempted to show off their athleticism and their knowledge of the game, all while never coming close to a sheet of ice. Instead, they had to prove themselves during one-on-one meetings with team officials and the all-important - and grueling - gamut of fitness testing.

"We're looking for athletes, we're looking for the individuals that can use some improvement here and there," said Bruins sports performance coach Kenny Pitts. "Many of the guys, as the numbers are showing, have a lot of potential and that's what we're looking for."

The testing includes traditional measurements of height and wingspan, as well as the bench press, pull-ups, shuttle runs, and the Wingate test, during which the prospects pedal on a bike with resistance for 30 seconds.

"We see them on the ice. The coaches and the scouts know what they're looking for, they're obviously all good players…it's the top 100 players in the world," said Bruins sports performance coach Mike Macchioni. "But it's a chance to really see what their genetic potential is, what their athleticism looks like. Sometimes they're so specific to being a hockey player that you don't see all their athleticism. Over here, we get a chance to see that.

"Guys can be super skaters, and you see them running, there are things you can work on, whether it's arm action that translate into becoming a better skater. We can kind of see those things when you get them off the ice.

"It's actually a great process."

A process that has transformed greatly over the years. Gone are the days of relying on handwritten notes and a simple eye test. Technology has taken over the Combine and allowed clubs to gain a better understanding of each prospect's athletic strengths and weaknesses.

"Night and day," Macchioni said when asked how technology has changed the event. "It used to be strictly writing things down and taking notes, now you see most of the guys are on computers and they're sending a live feed back to the organization.

"Just the combine itself, the way they can collect data, capture it, it's so streamlined now. I'm really impressed with how they handle it and it helps us a lot. You can only see so much when you're seeing it live. We can go back and really review things. It's made our job a lot more detailed."

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Following the event, Macchioni and Pitts will prepare a thorough report on the prospects to be passed along to the Bruins hockey ops and coaching staffs.

"We take our notes and then we can go back and look at all the different data they collected and compare things and really kind of fine tune a good report," said Macchioni. "Hopefully we get one last look at what their physical capabilities are, how much they can improve."

The lack of any on-ice, hockey-related testing can even open up the opportunity to discover something - or someone - unexpected.

"A lot of times you can see it with coordination, the movement, the athleticism, the way someone may perform a vertical jump can tell you a lot about how athletic or coordinated they are with their lower or their upper body, things of that nature," said Pitts. "You may look at the agility run to see whether or not the person uses their upper body well with their lower body.

"We want to find a diamond in the rough, if you will, as well as the stars."

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