TORONTO – The NHL’s 2012 Scouting Combine spent the first day of June putting hockey’s top prospect through the ringer.
While the interview portion of the combine may have been designed to test a player’s wits, the fitness portion is designed to test everything else. A series of physical challenges ranging from mild to extreme, the fitness segment of the combine is designed to test each player’s strength, endurance, pure athletic ability and in many cases, will.
While players might be in a dead-heat as far as on ice talent, the fitness-tests act as yet another measuring stick to help scouts gauge a player’s performance from all angles. Divided into a series of stations, players begin lightly with things like wingspan and grip strength evaluations before moving on to more physical activities like the bench press, the vertical jump and the standing long-jump. From there, it's on to a procession of dreaded exercise bikes where scouts learn how much a player can handle, as their endurance and lung capacity are pushed to the limits and beyond.
“It was really hard actually, but it was pretty much what I was expecting. I’m not feeling so good right now, but I’m happy I can put this behind me,” admitted Filip Forsberg, one of the top European prospects in attendance. “I went through some of those tests back home in Sweden before I got here. I’ve put a little extra work into the things I knew I was going to be tested on. I know some people got sick after the biking tests, but I didn’t!”
Top-ranked North American defenseman, Ryan Murray, wasn’t so lucky. Hailing from the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, Murray, following the mandatory recovery period all prospects take, met with the media to offer up a little insight on endurance-testing and what motivates a player to push past the pain.
“There was definitely a little rivalry between everyone here. We’re all trying to let each other know what we can do. They weren’t really giving us our scores after each station, but we were all talking a lot about the bike tests for sure,” shared Murray, who scored nine goals and 31 points with the Silvertips in 46 games this season.
“The testing here was hard today, but I’m glad it’s over. The VO2 was the toughest part. It’s 12 minutes on a bike with a tube in your mouth. It was a little hard to breathe,” he grinned. “I lost part of my breakfast. I might have had a little too much bacon this morning.”
If what Murray’s describing sounds more than a little difficult, imagine attempting it right after another equally gruelling test that’s already left you drained and winded. Now throw in about two-hundred pairs of eyes and over a dozen video cameras watching you and capturing your every move while you do it, and you’ll begin to have an idea what a prospect’s fitness-testing experience can be like.
"I think the toughest was definitely the V02. That's a killer!” confirmed Matthew Dumba, the 5-foot-11, 173-pound defenseman, also expected to be among the first drafted in Pittsburgh at the end of the month. “You've just come right off the windgate and guys are throwing up in the back and your legs are just shot, and then you have another one to go. It's really hard to bear down and it really challenges you.
“Talking to a bunch of guys, they all said it was a pretty neat experience and just to enjoy it and work hard. They told me to try and really dial in for all the physical tests. I'm pretty good at concentrating on one task at a time and I think that helped me do well,” continued Dumba, who had 57 points with the Red Deer Rebels this season. "I'm always working out as hard as I can and pushing myself to the max, so it wasn't too bad to find it within myself. But by no means have I ever done it under these circumstances, with hundreds of people watching me, and cameras and media – it was fun though."
The combine fitness tests represent an important chance for every prospect to prove themselves to potential NHL suitors. For players coming off injury, the importance placed on the event goes through the roof. Often, it stands as one of the last chances they’ll to get to prove they’re recovered and ready to go – a fact Alex Galchenyuk knows all too well.
“With these tests I wanted to show that I’m 100 % healthy, I think I did good,” stated Top 10 prospect, Galchenyuk, who was limited to only two games in his last campaign after being forced to undergo ACL surgery. "It’s important for me to show all the time that I’m healthy. Here was a big step for me to prove that I could do every drill.
“The tests on the bikes were the hardest parts. People who have been here before always say that and it’s absolutely true,” he added, finally able put the experience in his rearview mirror and look towards the future. “I’m just looking forward to the draft. I’m so relieved that all those tests are over – now the fun part can start!
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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